When new King County Assessor John Wilson was elected last November, he was very clear about his goals.
“We want to embrace the Executive’s issue of being the best-run government and be recognized nationally as the best assessment department,” he said. “We can do this by setting fair and equitable property values, and creating and sustaining a stable revenue stream for the government to operate.”
John is passionate about using technology to better improve the lives of residents and customers, and he draws on his communications and technology background in this new role.
A University of Washington alum, his extensive communications skills build on experiences with local news outlets as well as national affiliates. His King County work dates back to 1997 as Communications Director and then Chief of Staff under former Executive Ron Sims. Since then he has served as Chief Deputy Assessor and worked with King County IT before being elected to his current position in November 2015.
In each role John has made great strides in utilizing web technology and data collection, bringing innovation and adaptability to the forefront of providing excellent customer service experiences for King County residents.
With this in mind, during his term as Chief Deputy Assessor he revamped the assessment website, adding tools for the public to search, explore and file paperwork online.
“We developed the state’s first online property tax appeal system, taking this intensive paper process and putting it online,” he said. “We tried to make it as intuitive as possible, giving the public tools so they could do this much easier process.”
Already the system has garnered praise and success. Currently up to 60 percent of property assessment appeals are filed electronically, as compared to only three years ago. John plans to build on this achievement, expanding to incorporate video and online appointments that will ideally make things even simpler for King County residents.
“These are just examples of things we can do to make us more transparent and helpful to the public,” he said. “We do great work already, but how do we do it even better?”
Internally, John also led the development of an iPad app for employees that allowed them to easily collect data on properties and dramatically improved employee effectiveness in the field. Use of this application alone has saved the County hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We created a beta team of employees and sent an app developer into the field, building this app on employee input and buy-in,” he said. “By really engaging employees and providing peer-to-peer training people felt it was developed with them in mind and for them.”
“When you give people better tools to do their job and work in a collaborative environment it works better because it’s not just from the top down.”
It is this foresight when matched with a pragmatic approach to daily challenges that has allowed John to create ongoing, meaningful changes in a process that can often be confusing for many residents.
“We can ensure we are treating taxpayers fairly and in an equitable manner by making the office run better both internally and externally,” he said. “It’s important we make a difference in our community, even if people don’t necessarily understand what we do.”
John is able to see how this ongoing strategic planning will have long-term positive effects for King County, both for property assessments and the overall community.
“By truly setting fair and equitable values we can start to meet our other goals on a broader basis,” he said. “We can find out how to have an influence and impact on different issues, like affordable housing.”
He is confident in his staff, their commitment to the values of continuous improvement and the overall direction King County is moving in regards to using lean practices and becoming a best-run government.
“There’s a lot of really great employees working on behalf of the people of King County who agree that we should deliver and offer services in an effective way so they don’t have to go looking for them,” he said.
“It’s about providing clear vision and transparent leadership to make a difference in the community. I call it a ‘King County state of mind’.”