Someone has had enough of Rick Singh‘s two-term reign as Orange County Property Appraiser.
Is it the community tired of scandals? Singh has continually denied and fought off a relentless flow of charges that he and his office have been places of sexual harassment, document altering and destruction, steering business to family, and in-house reelection politicking, as a flood of third-party attack ads maintain
Is it the big business community, particularly the theme parks, in Orange County? They’re tired of his increased tax assessments on their properties, and tired of losing challenges and appeals through administrative channels and courts, as Singh insists.
Is it former Rep. Amy Mercado and businessman Khalid Muneer? They vow to restore faith, trust, accountability, and stability to the office?
Will it be voters?
Tuesday’s election essentially will decide the next property appraiser. There are no Republicans or independents challenging, except for two write-in candidates who have forced a November general election.
At stake is oversight of Orange County’s tax base, appraisals for every single property owner, and tax revenue for governments, and schools. Singh is, unlike his predecessor or his two current opponents, a licensed professional property appraiser. And when he was first elected in 2012 he vowed to bring professional standards and state-of-the-art appraisal technology and methods to the office. A slew of national awards for innovation and roughly a doubling of the county’s tax rolls suggest he has.
But it has not been pretty. Whistleblower complaints, lawsuits, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement criminal investigation all have raised myriad allegations. Singh denies them, blaming them on big property owners trying to take him out. An investigation he commissioned declared them baseless. The State Attorney’s Office in Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit decided not to prosecute.
That doesn’t stop the attack ads on TV, on the internet, and in mailers. At least $600,000 in dark money has poured into a group called the Florida Public Corruption Task Force PAC, which has spent it all in the past three weeks. It has flooded Orange County with advertising both attacking Singh and supporting Mercado.
By comparison, the official election campaigns for Singh ($214,000), Mercado ($72,000,) and Muneer ($69,000) have combined to raise just over $350,000, and have spent about $268,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Mercado, a former chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, entered the race in May as a popular two-term state Representative from House District 48 in Orange County.
While she lacks Singh’s professional credentials in real estate (Singh also is a licensed real estate broker) and as a property appraiser, she points out that the office is an administrative one. It requires someone who can manage and direct a professional staff. She has that, overseeing an agency with a similar staff size and budget, she said.
Mercado’s day job is director of operations for the National Mango Board, a program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that oversees and promotes the national mango agriculture industry. Mercado said it is an administrative role with a government agency that has a budget in excess of $10 million a year annually.
Muneer is a real estate broker, and prominent civic activist who has been active for decades in a variety of civic boards and chambers of commerce. He is a former banker who is president at Jupiter Properties, a commercial real estate brokerage, and Monessar & Muneer Consulting.
“Credibility and trustworthiness are what is lacking right now,” Muneer said.