Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

New Assessment Commissioner Chosen

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson picks Nicole Larsen to first serve as Chief Assessor, then Assessment Commissioner.

By - Jan 17th, 2022 12:43 pm
Houses on W. Windlake Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Houses on W. Windlake Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson is making his first major appointment.

“I am pleased to announce Nicole Larsen will be returning to Milwaukee city government. She has accepted my invitation to join the City Assessor’s office as Chief Assessor,” said Johnson in a statement Friday.

But Larsen, a former assistant city attorney, isn’t expected to stay in her new job for long.

Following a transition period, Assessment Commissioner Steve Miner will retire and Larsen will be appointed to the cabinet-level post. The latter appointment is subject to Common Council confirmation.

Miner announced his intent to retire last year, but said he would delay his departure to allow a replacement to be found and to avoid further disruption following the retirement of chief assessor Peter Bronek. As of October, the office had 35 employees.

The Assessor’s Office is likely to be a very busy place in the coming months. It must complete a reassessment of the more than 150,000 properties for the first time in two years and is doing so in a climate of rising property values. With council approval, the 2021 reassessment was suspended due to a record number of appeals in 2020. It was the first suspension in nearly two decades.

The net result of the assessor’s actions does not generate increased revenue for the city, but does change the portion of the state-capped tax levy an individual property owner pays. The city has seen a surge in home values in some neighborhoods while impoverished areas have seen declining or stagnant values. The values are required by state law to reflect the fair market value of the property as of Jan. 1, 2022. An announcement of the new values regularly comes in late April.

Larsen is no stranger to the many layers of federal, state and local statutes and ordinances impacting real estate. Since May 2021 she has served as deputy city attorney for the City of Racine.

From 2018 to 2021 she served as an assistant city attorney for the City of Milwaukee. Her role was focused on supporting the Department of Neighborhood Services in its myriad code enforcement issues, including the demolition of Northridge Mall. Larsen was the successful litigator for the city on the mall’s demolition, but a Court of Appeals decision is now pending.

She is no longer on the Northridge case as Larsen was one of more than a dozen attorneys to leave city employment because of the management of City Attorney Tearman Spencer, first elected in 2020.

“I decided to leave because it had become, seemingly overnight, a toxic work environment for my colleagues,” said Larsen to Journal Sentinel in 2021. Alongside Naomi Gehling, who is now chief of staff to the Fire & Police Commission, she was one of a handful of employees to speak on the record about their decisions to leave. “It seemed like the management style was to keep everyone on their toes, to govern using fear, and a complete lack of valuing the skills and experience of the extremely talented colleagues that were there.”

Larsen’s eventual leadership of the Assessor’s Office is also significant for what she is not: a white male. Miner was the highest-ranking, white male department head by the end of Mayor Tom Barrett‘s administration after Karen Dettmer replaced Jeff Polenske at the Department of Public Works.

Miner has served as the commissioner since 2015. He served as chief assessor for a year before replacing Mary Reavey after her retirement.

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