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O'Connor: Assessor veteran, facing challengers, touts long experience

Arlington attorney Mary Winstanley O’Connor is a candidate for reelection to Board of Assessors, a familiar role since 2001, when she was appointed to fill a term.

Mary Winstanley O'Connor, Board of Assessors candidate, 2020 photoO'Connor

Now, for the first time since her election that year, she faces challenges from two hopefuls.

Having served that partial term, followed by six unopposed terms, she seeks reelection, buoyed by 37 years of experience as a lawyer in private practice.

The Board of Assessors reviews the work of the town assessors' office, which is responsible for uniformly and accurately valuing all property, real and personal, within the town.

Here are O'Connor's responses to basic questions to all who take out papers. They have been edited:

Q: In general, why are you seeking this seat?

I am running for reelection so that I am able to continue to utilize my education and training as an attorney to serve the town.

Q: What specific qualifications do you have that support your candidacy?

I have a bachelor’s degree from Boston College, a law degree from Suffolk University Law School and a master of law degree from Boston University Law School. My education and years of practice in, among other areas, civil litigation, tax law and real estate provide me with the necessary expertise to serve as an assessor and to review and provide legal analyses of matters before the board.

Q: What are the key issues facing the Board of Assessors?

Among the important issues the board deals with are continuing to ensure that the assessors' office provides quality services to the taxpayers, including providing information as to property data, assessments and information as to how to apply for exemptions and abatements.

The board works to ensure that the property valuations represent full and fair cash value to ensure fairness and to satisfy its constitutional and statutory duty. Of importance and significance is monitoring the sales to ensure that the board has accurate market data.

As property values have risen in Arlington, the board spends additional time and resources providing taxpayers the reasons for and data supporting the increases in property values. It is often difficult for longtime homeowners to comprehend that the home they paid $50,000 for in the 1970s is now worth close to $1 million. The board works with those homeowners to provide the supporting data and to explain options, such as the ability of seniors who meet certain eligibility criteria to defer their property taxes.

Q: How would you address these issues?

The board uses its website, its employees, board members and various hearings to provide information to homeowners. Information and patience in explaining the basis for the valuations and options available to taxpayers is key. Also important is directing homeowners, such as the elderly, who meet the asset and income test, veterans or surviving spouses of veterans, the blind and surviving spouses of firefighters or police officers, to the appropriate state-sponsored exemptions.

Q: What personal background can you provide?

I have lived in Arlington since 1972. I graduated from Arlington High School in 1975 and have a son who is a 2003 graduate of Arlington High School. My siblings are graduates of Arlington High School and several continue to make Arlington their home.

Over the years, I have served as the Arlington School Committee’s appointee to the Arlington Educational Enrichment Fund, now known as Arlington Education Foundation, president of the Arlington High School Alumni Association and member and past president of the Zonta Club of Arlington.

ACMi profile >>

Challengers

Two others are seeking the seat – Errol Tashjian, 1 Robin Hood Road, who took out papers Jan. 28, and Gordon Jamieson, 163 Scituate St., who took out papers Feb. 13. Similar profiles of each are to be published.

Background

In the 2017 town election, O'Connor received 2,044 votes. In 2014, 3,993 votes and in 2011 4,715. In all those years, and going back to 2001, she has been unopposed.

The last time a candidate for the Board of Assessors was opposed was in 2015, when Stephen Harrington challenged Kevin Feeley, who prevailed in the election.

In 2012, Martin Thrope challenged Feeley, who won.


This news summary was published Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. All potential candidates in the April election have been asked a similar set of questions. All responses received will be edited and published.

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