NASHVILLE, TN — Everybody commenting at the swearing-in of Metro’s new property assessor said it’s historic, many adding; she’s up to the challenge of a job that’s especially hard now.
Hundreds attended Vivian Wilhoite’s community breakfast at the antebellum GranDale Manor, prayer services in Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Jefferson Street, and Aug. 31 inauguration at the Howard Office Building.
Wilhoite is Davidson County’s first African American property assessor, the second woman in the job after JoAnn North, and one more county appraiser facing re- appraisal issues.
“I’m the property assessor, not the tax assessor,” said Wilhoite, echoing a distinction made by assessors who set property values upon which local governments set property tax rates for bill collection by county trustees.
Each penny in the property tax rate generates about $2 million. Countywide, there’s a 35-38 percent average increase per appraisal. There’s four more months of sales to consider in that projection. A public hearing is required if the council wants to set a tax rate higher than what Tennessee’s Board of Equalization sets as revenue neutral.
Wilhoite said she’s realistic as property values are up and most tax bills will change; some up, some down.
“It’s coming” and appeals are possible, she said.
Wilhoite thanked God, relatives, campaign workers, voters and, “for bringing the office to this point,” her predecessor, George Rooker, who’s now a planning commission special projects manager. His annual salary is $120,000 for a newly-created job, or some $5,450 less than the assessor’s pay, two sources said Friday. Assessors’ pay increased July 1 based on population under state law.
“I’m very happy for her and wish her the very best,” Rooker said. He lost Super Tuesday’s Democratic nomination to Wilhoite. She was unopposed Aug. 4.
Mayor Megan Barry said Wilhoite is passionate about her community. They served together on Metro’s council. “I look forward to working with her in this new role,” Barry said.
Wilhoite promised transparency and to be purposely proactive to educate residents about reassessment.
She’s capable, said Homer Wheaton,89, who’s known Wilhoite since she was a high school junior in Gulfport, Miss., where he visited his aunt, Vivian’s grandmother, after recruiting students in Biloxi for Tennessee State University. They talk- ed. As director of student financial aid, he invited her to TSU.
During college she worked on appraisals at a federal housing agency. Thereafter, she did similar, more complicated work at Tennessee’s Regulatory Authority, previously Public Service Commission.
Wilhoite’s election wasn’t expected.
She’s smart, diligent and lucky, Wheaton said, suggesting she buy lotto tickets. If she won big, Wilhoite said, she’d continue in office without a salary.
“This is a happy day for Metro,” U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper said at the ceremony. “She’ll do a good job.”
Shelby and Gerald Fowler campaigned for Wilhoite with “a lot of people” for Wilhoite’s election.
Former Councilwoman Edith Langster said Wilhoite “worked for it 28-hours a day.” Langster’s mother, Willa Taylor, said, “I don’t think anybody is working harder, other than Hillary Clinton.”
Councilman Nick Leonardo said, “Every politician in Washington could pattern their campaigns after hers.”
The Rev. Enoch Fuzz said Wilhoite “showed the world is inching toward progress. It looks good in Nashville.”
Bishop Jerry L. Maynard Sr. prayed that “every obstacle be a stepping stone” for Wilhoite.
Thursday and Friday, she listened to employee suggestions. Sessions Court Judge Allegra Walker swore-in 57 deputy assessors and chief deputies Jim Clary, a 40-year office veteran, and Cristi E.Scott, former clerk and master of Davidson’s Chancery Court. Scott was the first African American in that position.