Ozark County Assessor Candidates

JAMA BERRY..... Personal information: I grew up in Nixa until my junior year of high school. Then we moved to Gaines-ville, where I graduated in 1993. I currently live in Brixey on part of the farm my grandparents bought in 1944. My daughter, Kursten Suter Hamm, and her husband, Brad Hamm, have one son, Colt, 3 1/2, and one son, Cord, due in September. My son, Westley Suter, and his fiancée, Taylor Clary, plan an October wedding. Employment and experience: During my seven years as assessor I’ve attended training conferences and have performed the daily tasks required in the job: budgeting, reading and mapping deeds, assessing personal property, measuring structures, assessing / valuing real property, entering assessment data, performing sales analyses, conducting market studies, interacting with the State Tax Commission and more. Earlier, I was in Walmart management for 10+ years involved in budgeting, scheduling, managing several employees, analyzing sales, researching internal and stopping shoplifters and external theft. In the two jobs combined, I have almost two decades of managerial experience. Why do you want to be assessor? I enjoy the opportunity to work in and for my community. I take pride in how I’ve improved the efficiency of our assessor’s office, and I look forward to improving it even more. I have done my absolute best to ensure everyone gets fair, consistent and equal treatment. Will this be your full-time and only job? How many hours per week do you expect to be in the office? Being assessor is my full-time job. I also have a part-time job on Friday nights and Saturdays April-October. The amount of time the assessor spends in the office depends on the time of year or what’s going on in the county. The job requires the assessor to work outside the office – for example, to measure new construction or to reassess structures for damage and possible depreciation. State law orders a total reassessment every odd-numbered year, which requires the assessor to be out of the office. Someone is always available in the office during business hours to help anyone who calls or walks in, and I can always be reached by phone. How have you shown excellent listening skills and public service? In April 2017, after our county experienced a flood like no one here had ever experienced, we immediately jumped into action. Earlier, I had asked the county commission to enact a law allowing the assessor to prorate damaged residences. After the flood, our office helped people fill out the prorating form. We provided structure information for insurance companies when requested. And then we spent weeks in the field reassessing the damaged property – and, most importantly, listening to those who had lost everything and needed to know someone cared and was there to help them. I have an open-door policy, and I’m always happy to look at and discuss issues with taxpayers. How have you demonstrated backbone in a business / public service setting? Many, many times the State Tax Commission has tried to get me to raise values, and I have tirelessly refused. I constantly battle to keep home values assessed as low as possible to keep taxes low. I’m not afraid to fight for our county or taxpayers. In contrast, I’ve also had occasions where taxpayers have complained about their values, sometimes politely but other times through bullying and being rude and disrespectful. Even after threats, cussing and being disrespected, I’ve continued to maintain their fair values. Being consistent is one of an assessor’s most important responsibilities. It’s not fair if neighbors’ values are lower because they complained. I will continue to treat everyone the same. Where do you stand on putting assessor’s records online? It would be GREAT to have this convenience for our county and taxpayers and a great service to anyone who wants to file personal property assessment forms online. Those who prefer could still mail or deliver paper forms to the office. Three years ago, I got quotes from three companies that provide this service and then met with the commissioners about the possibility of sharing the setup cost ($20,000) and annual maintenance ($10,000). The Road and Bridge Department would benefit by having maps online and being able to find property owners’ names quickly and easily. Also, sheriff’s deputies, in their vehicles, could pull up a map with property owners’ information. Unfortunately, neither the commissioners nor the sheriff’s department agreed to support the idea, and there’s no way the assessor’s office can absorb that kind of expense alone. I certainly wouldn’t raise values to produce extra revenue to absorb the entire expense. One possibility is selling assessor website subscriptions to interested parties, but I doubt that would offset the cost enough to be feasible. What distinguishes you from your opponents? When life has thrown curve balls my way, I’ve learned that to survive you have to think outside the box, work hard on your own, be able to adapt and sometimes do hard things. I have fought and worked hard for what I have. I have raised two very amazing children. I have an associate’s degree in business management. I’m blessed with a strong, supportive family. I look forward to continuing as Ozark County assessor.

JENNIFER COLE.....Personal information: I was born in a small rural town in Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. The oldest girl and third oldest of eight children, we were raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic, Christian morals and the importance of a good education. Throughout my adult life I have lived in nine states; while living in Montana I met my partner of 16 years, Scott Jacopian. In 2006, we moved to southwest Missouri, where he is from, and we currently reside in Theodosia. I have two grown sons and three grandchildren who live in Colorado. My oldest son is a Green Beret who has served in the Army for 16 years. My father was also an Army veteran. My youngest son is in the construction trade. Employment and experience: For the last eight years I’ve worked in the health insurance industry serving as director of client relations for an insurance agency. In my current job, I’m the direct contact for all clients who call with any questions or problems they have with their coverage. I also provide full administrative support for our business owner groups and their employees, serving as their one-person HR benefits department. I work with both state and federal government agencies, filing appeals for clients who have been billed incorrectly. I also receive direction on federal and state law for employer compliance with their group coverage and employee benefit rights (like COBRA). I’ve held a state license as an insurance agent. In Montana, I worked at a title company where my position required proofreading for accuracy all legal documents to be recorded at the courthouse and writing legal descriptions for new land parcels. I’m a natural with real estate. I listed and sold our home without a Realtor in five days at full asking price after having it listed with two Realtors over 1 1/2 years and never receiving an offer. Why do you want to be assessor? I have always desired to run for public office. I firmly believe public office equals public servant. I have the experience, background and desire to be a public servant to Ozark Countians and better the county where I reside. Will this be your full-time and only job? How many hours per week do you expect to be in the office? Yes. If elected, I would leave my current employment of eight years where I have the best employer, 100 percent employer-paid benefits, three weeks’ paid vacation, the freedom to work with little or no supervision, and the employer’s understanding of the importance of family when an emergency arises. Taxpayer dollars pay for the assessor position, so I would expect to work a 40-hour week (and on rare occasion, no less than 30 hours). How have you shown excellent listening skills and public service? I have over 30 years’ experience in customer service; my employment history has ranged from restaurant and ranch management to corporate environments to being a flight attendant, insurance agent and more. How have you demonstrated backbone in a business / public service setting? When a client receives a medical bill that has been wrongfully charged to them, I take over, find the problem and determine who made it, and I don’t stop until it is corrected. These claim issues can take up to a year to resolve, and if the parties who made the error do not correct them, I file an appeal with the Missouri Department of Insurance. To date, I have resolved every claim issue and won every appeal in favor of our clients, saving them thousands to a hundred thousand dollars that they did not owe. Where do you stand on putting assessor’s records online? I’m for it because the information is public record regardless of where it is obtained. What distinguishes you from your opponents? I’m not a native of Missouri. Instead, I’m here because I’ve chosen to live here, and I want to serve this community where I live. I have an extensive customer service background and am experienced in working with people from all walks of life in many states and with government agencies in a very complicated industry. National studies, including the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit group that promotes lower taxes, estimate that, nationally, as many as 60-70 percent of property tax assessments are incorrect. Why? Because a tax assessor’s top priority is to generate tax funds, not to ensure accuracy of the assessment. If elected, I will be easily and directly accessible to all Ozark Countians to make sure their personal property taxes are accurate and to fight to keep their property taxes low.

KAREN CUNNINGHAM.....Personal information: I have lived in Thornfield my entire life, and I have deep roots in Ozark County. I have been married to Donnie Cunningham for 25 years; we have three children and two grandsons. We currently live on property we bought back in 2000 that was just up the road from my parents, Rex and Patty Donley. Employment and experience: For the past 11 years, I’ve owned and operated my own nail-care business, leasing space in area salons. Also, I am a clerk at our family-owned Gainesville Livestock Auction, a job I’ve held for over 10 years. I’ve also been an office manager at Pocahontas (Arkansas) Stockyards for the past three years. And I have five years’ past experience in banking as a teller, loan secretary and loan officer. Why do you want to be assessor? Holding the position as county assessor would be a way to serve everyone in the county. I have been a part of this county my whole life, and this position would be a way to give back to my community. Will this be your full-time and only job? How many hours per week do you expect to be in the office? Yes, this will be my full-time and only job. Right now, I work three jobs. If I am elected, I will give up those other positions to be fully devoted to the office of assessor. As a taxpayer, I feel it is expected of our county officials to be devoted to the office they were elected for. How have you shown excellent listening skills and public service? My years of experience in working with the public have trained me to have excellent listening skills. From serving my nail-service customers to working with cattle farmers at the livestock auctions – setting appointments, ordering and budgeting, running a personal business and giving attention to clients and customers on a daily basis – I’ve learned what it means to offer excellent public service. A priority I take seriously is serving the public to the best of my ability. How have you demonstrated backbone in a business / public service setting? In my experience as a business owner, believing in what is right always comes first. When there’s a dispute, I take the time to understand the customer’s concerns, and I’m always willing to work with them to come to a resolution. Where do you stand on putting assessor’s records online? I would like to see our county utilize online accessibility. It would be a great convenience to the assessor’s office and also to the community, considering that all records are public record. In the uncertain times we are having, online access would be very beneficial to those who need assessor’s office records, maps and other information but don’t want to make a trip to the courthouse. Even if records are moved online, however, our office would still happily accommodate anyone who needs assistance in person. What distinguishes you from your opponents? I am eager to take on the challenge of learning all I need to know for the assessor’s job. Through the years I’ve proven to be a quick learner in acquiring the skills needed to work in banking, in the sale barn and in training for and operating an independent nail-care business. I was raised with a strong work ethic and grew up seeing how hard my parents and my grandparents, Willis and Lucille Donley, and Don and Dorcas Rackley, worked to support their large families. I will be fully devoted to the assessor’s job. My proven ability to multitask will be valuable in managing the workload of the office while I continue to provide the customer satisfaction I’ve delivered for years to clients and customers in my current and past jobs. I believe I also have the skills, experience and temperament to create a successful working environment for my colleagues in the assessor’s office so that we all work together to serve Ozark Countians efficiently.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423