By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – Longtime Newport Tax Assessor Allan Booth retired last month. According to City Manager Jane Howington, Booth's last day at City Hall was May 25. He had worked in tax assessor's office for the past 32 years, including the last 25 in the top post.
Though his was not a job to be envied, Booth carried on with a jovial disposition and was known for his quick wit.
In his place, the City Council were due to award a contract for temporary assessor services to John Laurent J. Gelati for a period of six months.
The cost of the contract is $50,000, plus $500 per week for travel costs.
Gelati, the former assessor for the City of Providence, was contacted shortly after Booth announced his retirement.
During an interview just across from City Hall on Tuesday, Booth said that he hadn't given much thought retirement until only recently.
"A year or so ago, if you had asked me [if I was ready to retire], I'd have said 'No,'" he began.
However, the ongoing debate over the state's pension system coupled with the city's own efforts to reduce retiree liabilities, prompted him earlier this year to contemplate a life outside municipal government.
"I did begin to tire of the politics of the job," he says, noting that, "politics is the word, and it's not the word."
"It wasn't political pressure," he said that led him to retire. Rather, it was just the general politics that surrounding the position – from the debate over the city's car tax to property revaluations. After 30 years, he said, it can begin to weigh of you.
As far as Newport's actual politics are concerned, Booth said that compared to some other communities across the state, the city's political culture is by and large upright and earnest.
Adding in an e-mail on Wednesday, the former assessor who had a front row seat to the inner workings of City Hall for the past three decades, offered this: "Reflecting on the morals and ethic of Newport politics, not once was I approached, asked or told to change an assessment by any elected official."
Booth, now 63, began his career with the city's tax collection in 1982 amidst a revaluation.
"A lot of people who would have wagered that I would have stayed with the job for more than four or five years would have lost their money," he said. "I have a truck driver license, I had a hoisting license, I've run backhoes and front end loaders, and driven garbage trucks and built houses and done all kinds of things and everybody thought I'd wind up doing something else."
But at some point, as Booth described, he "became part of the furniture."
Over his tenure, Booth worked for five city managers, five finance directors, and more mayors and city councilors than he could count.
"There's a certain amount of ownership that comes with being there for that many years," he said. "At some point, the job and I became one."
Booth's replacement Gelati will be charged with a range of activities, including certifying the tax roll and prepare billing for next year's taxes based on a FY2013 Adopted Budget, field questions related to the recently completed revaluation, and handle grievances and tax appeals filed with the city.
Whether the position is filled on a full-time basis remains to be seen.
In a memo to councilor's, Howington wrote that the city is, "continuing to discuss the possibility of combining the assessment function with the Towns of Middletown and Portsmouth. The administration decided to contract out the assessment function for a period of six months in order to give us more time to study and possibly implement a combined assessment function."
No RFP was issued for the temporary assignment.
As Howington explained: "The City did not issue an RFP because the Assessment function is highly specialized and experience is critical to successfully providing assessment services in Newport. The Director of Finance was able to put together a list of experienced and well-regarded Assessors in the State ofRhode Island. We approached Mr. Gelati about a potential contract based on his experience in the City of Providence, as past President of the Rhode Island Association of Assessing Officers, and how well he was regarded by individuals with the ability to evaluate assessing credentials. Mr. Gelati was further evaluated based on formal interviews with the City Manager and Finance Director: Mr. Gelati's pertinent knowledge, education and experience; and through discussions with his references by our Human Resources Department."
Gelati is expected to take over duties June 18. Booth, a licensed real estate appraiser who lives in Newport, said he plans on pursuing opportunities in the private sector. He also didn't rule out a run for city council.
"A number of people have suggested I run for a council seat. I haven't decided on that…yet," he said.