POCATELLO — A state certified tax appraiser who Bannock County hired last year to conduct local property assessments has filed a civil suit against the county, its three commissioners and the assessor claiming a breach of contract.
Kevin Franck, of Idaho Falls, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on July 2 after the Bannock County Commission terminated his contract with the county in January without cause because he did not hold a specific license associated with home assessments, Franck told the Journal during a Monday phone interview.
Franck says the county still owes him approximately $70,000 for work he performed before he was fired.
“(My termination) definitely came as a shock, and we gave the county every opportunity to respond and to work this out,” Franck said about the county failing to respond to a tort claim, which is a mandatory precursor to a lawsuit filed against a governmental entity in Idaho. “I have never sued anybody before, but I feel like my hand was forced at this point.”
The Journal provided the Bannock County Prosecutor’s Office with a copy of the suit Monday, as the office had not yet been served with a copy. Bannock County Prosecutor Steve Herzog said his office has retained Idaho Falls attorney Blake Hall to defend the county against the suit.
Hall told the Journal on Monday that he intends to file a response to the claim within the next three weeks.
According to the suit, Franck has been a property tax appraiser, certified and authorized by the Idaho State Tax Commission since February 2010.
On Oct. 1, 2018, Franck entered into a contract agreement with Bannock County to which he was to complete 20 percent, or 1,100 assessments of county properties by April 15, 2019. On Oct. 4, 2018, the County Commission including current commissioners Terrel “Ned” Tovey and Steve Brown, and former commissioner Ken Bullock approved the contract.
Pursuant to the agreement, Franck was to complete a minimum of 250 assessments per quarter at the contract rate of $125 per parcel for commercial assessments and $100 per parcel for multi-unit residential assessments, with a total contract amount not to exceed $125,000.
The contract included a 90-day notice of termination clause, which meant that even upon a proper end to the contract, Franck was required to complete and receive payment for approximately 250 assessments before the county relinquished his role, the suit reads.
“The initial contract included a 60-day notice,” Franck said. “But when we were crafting the October addendum, we knew there would be someone new that came into the assessor’s office because (former) assessor Jared Stein lost the primary. We changed it to a 90-day notice to ensure the county had the assurance the remaining work would get done and I would get the assurance that I receive the money I was owed.”
On Nov. 6, 2018, current assessor Sheri Davies defeated Margie Woolf in the Bannock County General Election to become the new assessor.
“Davies had campaigned on the promise of ending the county’s practice of hiring an outside certified property tax appraiser to perform commercial appraisals in the county,” the suit reads. “Almost immediately upon being sworn in, Davies leveled a series of false and defamatory accusations against Franck maligning his reputation by falsely accusing him of, (among others), improper use of county property, non-compliance with commercial appraisals and collusion.”
”Essentially, the first day on the job the new assessor basically accused me of everything under the sun,” Franck said. “That included breaching the contract, being out of compliance and colluding with the previous assessor to get the job.”
Furthermore, the suit claims Davies accused Franck of conducting appraisals that were not yet due, despite the contract stating the county determined all the properties Franck was to appraise for the year. Davies also questioned Franck’s ability to complete appraisals in a timely fashion, the suit reads.
“Davies appeared to be intent on establishing a pretextual basis for breaching the agreement and terminating Franck’s rights thereunder,” the suit reads. “On or about Jan. 15, 2019, Davies, acting under the color of state law, attempted to terminate the agreement by demanding the immediate return of all county files upon which Franck relied to complete his work.”
Franck added, “I was required to return the files or face felony charges. That is what shocked me the most — that I rightfully had possession of those files and then they threaten me with felony charges of theft unless I brought them back.”
On Jan. 24, the County Commission sent Franck’s Idaho Falls attorney, Lance J. Schuster, a letter that said it determined Franck was the entity to violate the contract for, among other unlisted claims, “his failure to maintain the required license to perform the work under the contract and promptly notify the county if his license is revoked, suspended or not renewed for any reason.”
”We, as the Board of Commissioners, hereby demand Mr. Franck return ALL BANNOCK COUNTY PROPERTY in his possession to the Bannock County Clerk, Jason Dixon, no later than Friday, Jan. 25, 2019 by 4 p.m.,” the letter read. “Said property includes the (700-plus) files Mr. Franck admitted to Commissioner Brown on Jan. 18, 2019 as being in his possession, keys to the Assessor’s Office ... and any and all records of Bannock County.”
The suit continued, “In the event Mr. Franck does not comply with this request, by the above date/time, your client could face felony grand theft charges.”
Franck said he was bewildered at the county’s explanation, considering he, for nearly the last decade, has held the same license that every county-paid appraiser holds — a certification from the State Tax Commission as opposed to a real estate appraiser license with the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensing.
“Only the individuals who are assessing properties for banking and lending purposes are required to hold a real estate appraiser license with the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensing,” Franck said.
The lawsuit states the county violated the contract and Franck’s constitutional rights when it demanded Franck return the files back to the assessor’s office, which in turn prevented him from fulfilling his duties as outlined in the agreement.
Suing the county was never Franck’s ideal resolution to his contract dispute, he said, adding that he attempted to set up several meetings with the County Commission to no avail. Moreover, Franck said he was hopeful the tort claim notice filed approximately six months ago — a document that informs the county a party has the intent to sue unless a situation is resolved — would encourage the county to resolve the matter without getting the courts involved.
“We initially offered Bannock County 30 days to resolve this and we received no response at all,” Franck said. “Then with the tort claim we basically gave the county 120 days notice that we had the intent to sue them. Still, the county offered no negotiation, mediation or communication at all. We’ve got nothing from them. That time is now up and in order to get some type of relief, we felt like we had to file this lawsuit.”
Though Franck said the county owes him approximately $70,000 for assessments he completed before he was terminated and the remaining assessments he was required to complete between Jan. 15 and April 15, the suit states an award of damages must be proven during a trial, which the suit requests.
No trial date has been set for the case. Once served with a copy of the suit, the county has 20 days to respond before Franck can ask the court to rule in his favor by default.