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New York State Assessors' Association, Inc.

The NY State Assessors' Association President's Page

I would like to say a special thank you to Sue Otis who, at the Buffalo conference in 2010 as I plopped down next to her to take my shoes off because my feet hurt from dancing, said to me, “You should really consider throwing your hat in for a board seat. I think you’d be good at it.” Thank you, Sue, for your encouragement and trust in me. I would like to also thank Laverne Tennenberg, who may just be the most sweetest and supportive person I know. Throughout my years on this board, whether Laverne knows it or not, her supportive glances, kind words of support, encouragement, or advice have been just what I needed to not throw in the towel, thank you. Thank you to David, Susan, Annie, Roger, and Edye for always answering my questions and offering sage advice whenever needed. Last, but certainly not least, this fabulous executive board that you see here. Warren and Teri, you and I had been the three amigos for a few years it seemed. Thank you both for being there for me from day one and being such wonderful friends, mentors, and confidants to me. Luckily, we expanded our amigos to five and then seven and now eight. Scott, Maggie, Lloyd, Jeneen, and Chris - you are all fabulous to work with, great balls of energy. We  have made so many changes together and will continue to do so. A very special thank you to Maggie for believing in me and all the encouragement! Looking forward to Rob, Tom, and Michael joining our good fight and making changes and working towards a better association and profession! 

Like many of you, this career path just happened by accident in 1985. I had just quit a job abruptly; fortunately my husband’s boss was looking for a secretary for the office. I interviewed for it with Tom Polzella, who was the project manager of Finnegan Associates at the time, working on the countywide reassessment in Dutchess County. Tom saw something in me and told me right there he was going to put me out in the field. For this I thank Tom because he unknowingly set me up for the greatest ride of my life! So that week I was shipped down to Orangetown to train with Josette Polzella and Kathy Conklin! Little did I know the impact and effect these ladies would have on me throughout my career and right to this day.

I have been teased a bit since coming onto the board that I was all puppies and rainbows and tend to wear my rose-colored glasses. I look to keep the peace, build strong ties and bonds with other organizations like the county directors, town clerks, town tax collectors, County Legislative Association, Association of Towns, Conference of Mayors, and so forth. I believe that we cannot waiver in our attempt to work together with these organizations for positive change in Albany and for our profession, finding our common ground and working towards solutions for our profession and the taxpayers. In my opinion, in the grand scheme it is better together as a team, and as a unified front we can move mountains. I wish that I could stand here before you and have this huge platform and rally the troops to fight the big fight for it, but I don’t. My main focus is to keep doing what we are doing, gain respect from Albany to help, and work with them some how to make the changes that will help us and in the end help the taxpayers that we serve every day. We need to continue educating others, people we come into contact with every day. I would like to challenge each and every one of you in this room to every day educate someone about what we do, whether it be your supervisor, your taxpayers, a school official, a local politician, senator, assemblyman, the clerk at the grocery store, your kids, your extended family. Start the conversation somehow some way, even if it is a menial comment, it starts the conversation and the education process. If we can continue to let people know what we truly do every day, that will help to elevate the respect level that we so deserve. Too many people have no idea what we do. Educate them so they know we are there to help them, not hurt them, and my hope is that this will lead to better results and relations in Albany. Most importantly, educate yourselves. When you have the opportunity to take a class, take it, or if you don’t have the time, make the time to take it! Sometimes the best part of these classes is to meet your fellow peers, exchange war stories. God knows we all have them, but that sometimes is the best education you can get. 

Speaking of educating, in my formative years my main concerns were clothing, social activities, boys, and lip gloss, not necessarily in that order, rather than my education. I did have aspirations to be a social worker, but I learned quickly higher education was not for me. Unfortunately, I lasted one day! Yup, one day! At that point, I started working any job I could get to gain experience. Through the years I was lucky enough to always have an opportunity come about. One thing I have told my kids through their lives has been to get an education. Work hard so you can pave your way and not just be lucky. I heeded my own advice in 2010. I made the decision that I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny. I decided that I would take the IAO course at Cornell and look to receive my IAO designation. I took the weeklong course with Kathy Conklin and Andrea Nilon. I sweat out that whole week. I had never worked so hard or had been so stressed about anything in my life before. Granted, I had by that point been in the business for 17 years, but this was different. I had to prove to myself and to everyone that I was worthy of this position. That test, THAT test, the hardest and most satisfying thing ever! I heard every tick of the clock from 8:00 a.m. when I started to 12:58 p.m. when I finished. Yup, I remember that time well, because I looked around the room and saw that others were still working and I was the first one done. I thought to myself, "oh boy, rocket scientist, you surely failed this!" I think Pat Duffy can attest to that just by the look on my face when I handed him my test. So you can imagine my surprise one sunny early August afternoon when the mail came, and I saw the return address, I will admit to staring at it for a few minutes and not wanting to open it, because I knew I had to have failed it. I was the first one done! So as my daughter was in the other room, I opened the envelope. I let out a scream and a few expletives! My daughter jumped from the couch thinking something was wrong, and I told her the news. I don’t think she understood the magnitude of what just happened, because little did she know for the first time in my life, I felt smart, I felt validated, and I felt worthy. It, in many ways, was my college graduation. I actually, for the first time in my life, felt proud of myself. My whole career I looked at Josette Polzella, Kathy Conklin, Andrea Nilon, and my own personal inspiration Steve Harris, and countless others as the smart and knowing ones. I looked up to each and every one of them as someone that I aspired to be like, and now I felt I was one of them. One of the proudest moments I had was the day I was installed, and Josette came to the installation to be there for me and told me she was proud of me. That day will be etched in my mind forever.

As I look to this year that I have coming up, I want to be that person that is looked up to. I want to be that person that inspires change and unity to solidify our team. I want to “be that person I needed when I was younger.” So please, take that opportunity to educate and be educated. We at some point are going to run out of assessors. We need to recruit and mentor new assessors and keep the candle burning. Engage young people about our profession - try to create a spark. One thing that I have always wanted to do in my tenure on this board is to find a way to recruit new assessors so the youth can learn this is a viable, interesting and, yes, even rewarding career path. I am hoping to spend some time during this year as president to reach out and revitalize the work that was started by Anne Sapienza many years ago to bring the assessing field into schools. My thought is, why not take this opportunity to partner with our town clerks, code enforcement officers, and others to create a curriculum that would encompass the local government jobs and have a mini-module for each position. This would tie in perfectly with my goal to create a viable succession plan that we can work on to create a program that we can share with our municipalities to bring on new people to work in our offices, as support staff and, ultimately, to work as assessors in the future, whether we have someone in place for our retirement or use as a training ground for other municipalities so we can preserve our profession and work proactively to maintain the assessor positions throughout the state. I am so excited to have such capable committee chairs and committees that I can entrust these tasks to and to all work together to create these programs.

Looking back I would come to these conferences and think, "Oh boy, what a clique. Whose hand do I hold to break into this 'club'"? But as I reached out and got to know people, I realized we were all on one team and in it for the same reason - to make our profession better. I also realized that it wasn’t a clique. It is a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood that occurs. These people become your close friends, many extended family and teammates. That is how I see our profession - a community, a brotherhood and sisterhood, a team, Team NYSAA. We need to look out for each other and have each other’s backs. I want to be that person that when the new assessors come to this conference for the first time and sit out there, they think, "I aspire to be where she is. I want to be the next generation of Josettes, Kathys Andreas, Sues, Lavernes, Annes, and Edyes. So please, any new assessors - actually any assessor - in the building, don’t ever, ever think this can’t be you up here. Look at me from a little podunk town in Chenango County, whoever would have thought! Every single person in this room has the potential to do great things. I challenge you all to get involved in the association. Get on a committee, come and chat with any of us at any time, come to Cornell, enjoy drinks by the pool and exchange those war stories but, most importantly, please get involved. Your opinion and your input absolutely matters. Answer the surveys that come out. Send your opinion to liaisons when they email you or contact you. This board is here for you. I truly believe that, together as a team, we can do anything we put our minds to. So please, for the rest of the conference sit with someone randomly that you’ve never spoken to before, introduce yourself, start that conversation, come introduce yourself to a board member. Sometimes we are so busy with meetings and events that we can’t break away, but I know that we all want to be there for you and become your colleague, your friend, your teammate.  When I first came on the board, I made it my mission to try and sit and chat with someone I’ve never met or have seen and I plan to continue that. I learn so much and it truly makes me feel it’s worth it to be here.

Once again I thank you all for the confidence and opportunity to lead you on this journey that will be my presidency, the 74th president of NYSAA. I will leave you with some words of wisdom.

– Mother Teresa  “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot, but together we can do great things.”

– Vince Lombardi  “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of every individual.”

I look forward to a year of unity, inspiration, teamwork and great things, so to start off my year, the year where everything is coming up roses, puppies, rainbows, and sunshine, I ask you all to take this journey with me. Let’s all put on those rose-colored glasses in front you to not only look forward to this coming year but be sure to take them home as my gift to you, to have them nearby in your offices when you’re ready to throw in the towel or throw something at someone so you can look at life through rose colored glasses! And remember we are better together as Team NYSAA!

Who would have thought that at the age of 12 when my initial aspiration came to me to be an assessor, that it would lead to my becoming the president of this great association. I would like to, of course, take a moment to thank some very special and important people, absolute first and foremost my husband, who has stood by my side, been my cheerleader and my greatest confidant and teacher. He always says to me no matter what “you can do it Shel, don’t sell yourself short,” Thank you for always being there and believing in me, Steve. I would like to thank my kids, my son Cody and his wife Tiffany, who could not be here tonight, my son Dylan and my daughter Karli and her husband Bart, for whether they know it or not, they have always been my inspiration to better myself, to be all I can be and to make them proud to call me Mom.

I would like to thank my town officials and co-workers who made the trip today, our invited guests, and my friends Chairman of the Board of the County Directors Joe Maciejewski and current President Tom Bloodgood.   

Rochelle A Harris, IAO

Rochelle A. Harris, IAO, President, New York State Assessors' Association 2018 - 2019