Incoming Portsmouth city assessor has controversial past

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth’s incoming city assessor has been mired in controversy in similar roles in the past.

Anthony “Tony” L. George, who was appointed with a 4-3 vote Tuesday night during a heated council meeting, has resigned or been terminated from two high-profile former real estate assessment positions.

In 2012, George resigned from his post as the chief tax appraiser for Washington, D.C. after the Washington Post reported his office made hundreds of deals with commercial property owners that cost the city about $2.6 billion in tax revenue, and allegations that he lied on his resume about why he left his previous job.

Two years prior, George was terminated from his position as the assistant chief appraiser in Fulton County, Georgia, after concerns that he forced lower-level staff to lower property values against their wishes. The Post also reported that Fulton County faced a lawsuit from female staffers who alleged George cultivated a culture of bullying and favored men over women.

George has since served as the chief appraiser for Jones County, Georgia, after being appointed to their board of tax assessors in December 2016.

WAVY has reached out to George for comment, and from county officials regarding his past and recent performance, but had yet to hear back at the time of publishing.

Meanwhile, it’s still not exactly clear how Portsmouth City Council came to select George, though at least one member of council said the move “reeks of politics.”

Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke moved Tuesday night to appoint George, after it was revealed that now former Interim City Assessor Janey Culpepper was not being retained amid undisclosed allegations made against her. Lucas-Burke said a “very reputable source” brought the allegations against Culpepper to her and she shared them with council in closed session on Monday.

Culpepper told WAVY she believes the allegations that led to her abrupt departure deal had to do with a request she made to City Treasurer Paige Cherry’s office, which she says was routine and “made to sound a lot worse than it was.” She said she has “nothing to hide” and is awaiting the city attorney’s investigation into the matter.

Councilman Bill Moody said during the meeting he believes the allegations are unfounded and that “four members of this council have used to get in place the person that they want to be the assessor. That’s the truth of the matter. I can’t wait to hear the city attorney’s findings on the matter.”

In a follow-up interview on Friday, Moody said he couldn’t speak further on the personnel matters involving Culpepper and George, but said he thinks it’s all “a political move on the four people on council, led by Vice Mayor [Lisa Lucas-Burke] who wants to be the mayor.” Lucas-Burke, Councilman Mark Whitaker, Councilman Vernon Tillage Jr. and Council De’Andre Barnes were the four on council who voted for George.

WAVY reached out to Lucas-Burke multiple times for an interview but did not hear back. Requests for comment from Mayor Shannon Glover and Interim City Manager Mimi Terry via the city clerk’s office were also not returned before publication.

George will take over an office that’s been plagued by turnover in recent years. Culpepper stepped in last year after former City Assessor Patrick Dorris was fired, and said she had the department on the right track. Culpepper told council back in December that one of her big goals going forward was an audit of commercial properties in the city, which in turn could lead to an increase in the city’s tax revenue.

This all comes as Portsmouth, which has the highest percentage of tax-exempt property in the state at 41%, looks for ways to preserve and grow its tax base. WAVY reported this week that a potential purchase of the Virginia International Gateway by the Port of Virginia could cost the city $9 million in yearly tax revenue.

On a more positive note, Portsmouth’s casino netted more than $15 million in tax revenue for the city in its first year of operation, per Virginia Lottery data.

Rivers Casino celebrates 1-year anniversary with time capsule ceremony

George is expected to start the new role on April 1, with a $130,000 salary. Victor Edwards, who was already with the assessor’s office, has taken over as interim city assessor in the meantime, with a 10% pay raise.

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