For Floy Andrews, her master of science degree in bioethics from Columbia University is as important as her 15 years as an attorney in her quest to become Contra Costa County’s next assessor.
This makes sense, since the assessor who has occupied that office for the past 28 years, Gus Kramer, has repeatedly been accused of ethical violations, to the extent that the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted to censure him in 2018. The current five-member board has all individually endorsed Andrews in the 2022 June primary.
Kramer has been accused of sexual harassment by female employees in the 120-person assessor’s office, although he continues to stress that he has “never been convicted” of any of these charges. However, in 2009, the cash-strapped County of Contra Costa was forced to pay $1 million to settle a case brought by then-assessor-department employee Bernice Peoples accusing Kramer of retaliation for filing a claim of sexual harassment against him.
The board’s 2018 resolution declared “there was sufficient evidence to prove Assessor Kramer had engaged in the following conduct in 2014 and 2015:
“Kramer frequently visited the complainant’s cubicle on the first floor…On one occasion Mr. Kramer told her that he had given a vibrator to a woman…as a gift. She thought that this was inappropriate and offensive. Mr. Kramer sent her two text messages in 2014 that she believed suggested a romantic/sexual interest in her. She considered the texts to be inappropriate and unwelcome.
“As to the second employee/witness, there was sufficient evidence to indicate that Mr. Kramer made a comment in her presence in 2008 and told a story in her presence in 2013 concerning his social interactions with women that she thought were inappropriate and offensive; and that on one occasion in 2015 he made a comment to her that she believed was intended to be sexually suggestive and considered inappropriate, offensive and unwelcome.” Kramer sued the county over the censure.
In 2019, Contra Costa County prosecutors filed a grand jury accusation in Superior Court, seeking Kramer’s removal for alleged “willful or corrupt” misconduct in creating a hostile and abusive work environment.
But all this is far from the only questionable behavior by Kramer.
In 2011, he filed a tort claim against the Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Association, alleging that he should be able to double-dip, drawing his county pension and his county salary at the same time.
In 2019, a state ethics commission fined Kramer for improperly disclosing a loan, and failure to file several required financial reports. According to coverage in the San Jose Mercury News, “Between 2005 and 2008, Kramer was listed on at least 18 deeds that show real estate transactions listed as gifts without transfer taxes paid. That led to a Contra Costa District Attorney investigation that ended under a cloud of suspicion.”
And yet, Kramer has run unopposed, or against weak opponents, for multiple elections. This time, “Floy has bipartisan support from all five supervisors,” said Supervisor John Gioia. “This is about restoring ethics to the office.”
Andrews, a resident of Richmond for three years, was vice president, associated general counsel for California’s largest real estate, development and management corporation, The Irvine Company, for eight years. In this post, she investigated and managed a broad array of real estate-related legal and compliance issues.
Prior to that position, she spent seven years litigating with international law firm, O’Melveny & Myers, giving her a range of experience necessary to understanding the procedural and substantive issues with which the assessor’s office deals. According to the California State Association of Counties, the assessor “has the responsibility for annually discovering and assessing all property within the county. The Assessor is both a manager of employees and an administrator responsible for carrying out the rules and regulations imposed by property tax laws.”
Thus, this position, which is often misunderstood and flies under the radar in local elections, is actually of crucial importance to virtually all country residents, as properties’ assessed values are reflected in property tax bills. This affects both homeowners and renters, as an increase in a landlord’s property tax will be passed on to tenants. Commercial property tenants are affected in the same way.
In May 2021, Andrews was appointed to the Assessment Appeals Board, where she hears complaints from property owners who feel they have been inaccurately assessed. She began to consider running for assessor herself. “I can bring a culture of respect and dignity to the office,” she said.
“[In a situation like this], both employees and members of the public lose confidence,” said Gioia.
Andrews agreed that the continued dramas surrounding Kramer impact his ability to do his job efficiently and fairly, and that there has been both a loss of trust in the assessor’s office, and legitimate criticism of Kramer’s management skills. “Everyone should be able to rely on fair and impartial treatment by the assessor’s office,” she said. One of her campaign tenets is, “Protect taxpayers with transparency and accountability.”
“And the 120 employees do not need a leader who has been called out for creating a hostile work environment,” she added.
Kramer, said both Andrews and Gioia, likes to take credit for reducing taxes, when, in fact, residential and commercial tax rates are governed by the provisions of Proposition 13. “I have the knowledge and ability to assess and fairly apply current, applicable California law as required,” said Andrews.
In a typical local primary, such as the upcoming June 7 election, voter turnout is low. Andrews’ campaign is using emails targeting likely voters, text banking and canvasing to get her message out. “Many people, from Martinez, to Walnut Creek, are signing up to volunteer,” she said.
In addition to her support from the Board of Supervisors, Andrews’ endorsements include State Senator Nancy Skinner, multiple Contra Costa County mayors and city council members, the Central Labor Council of Contra Costa County and SEIU Local 1021.
It’s possible, Gioia suggested, that the wide range of county offices being contested, and the media coverage surrounding other races, such as sheriff and district attorney, will inspire more people to vote. Both Andrews and Gioia agreed that’s it’s fair to point out that the $1 million paid out in the lawsuit cited above could have been used, for example, to help fund West Contra Costa’s struggling school district, currently facing a budget deficit and the threat of another state takeover.
Additionally, in November, important state and federal races will likely drive increased turnout.
“I’m hoping the state of the country will inspire people to vote and make their voices heard,” said Andrews. In regards to her own race, she also noted, “Assessments are key to ensuring a fair and consistent taxation system. Such a fair and consistent taxation system is an essential pillar of a successful democracy.”