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Published: Thursday, 11/9/2006

Lopez cites expectations

THE BLADE/HERRAL LONG Anita Lopez will have to adjust to a larger staff and budget in her new office. THE BLADE/HERRAL LONG Anita Lopez will have to adjust to a larger staff and budget in her new office.

Anita Lopez is going to have to get used to more - more employees, a larger budget, and an office with more responsibilities.

In an upset that clinched a Democratic sweep of Lucas County's top offices, Ms. Lopez took the county auditor's job from Republican incumbent Larry Kaczala by an unofficial 74,981 to 62,783 vote Tuesday. The victory by Ms. Lopez, who has been the county recorder since 2004, ended a 13-year run by Mr. Kaczala and dashed GOP hopes of holding a key county office.

Ms. Lopez sat behind her desk in Government Center yesterday and outlined how she will move from a recorder's office of 16 employees with an $850,000 general fund budget to managing more than 150 employees and a $10 million budget when she takes over as auditor March 30.

"We will create a transition team that will assess each department. The number one focus is the revaluation department," she said. "We plan to evaluate each individual at the office, see what their commitment is, and how they match up to our goals. We know there are talented individuals in the auditor's office. Bottom line, we're going to raise the bar in government and we're going to need individuals who can meet that bar."

The auditor's three major functions are to serve as the county fiscal officer, which includes paying the bills; tax assessor, which involves setting values on some 200,000 properties; and heading the county's data-processing division.

Under Mr. Kaczala's leadership, the auditor's office built a nationally known reputation for its advanced information technology department. That includes the ARIES or Auditor's Real Estate Information System that provides tax and other information online over several years for individual properties as well as street location maps and aerial photos. He had also emerged as the lone Republican with staying power in a Democratic majority county, until Tuesday's defeat.

Mr. Kaczala announced through his office he would not be available yesterday to discuss the election outcome and did not return numerous calls from The Blade for comment.

After running an aggressive campaign that repeatedly criticized the auditor's property revaluation process, Ms. Lopez said she plans to fix the system. Specifically, she said she plans to create a new department to focus solely on reaching out to property owners during the revaluation process.

Now in the final stages of establishing an electronic recording system that will enable users to file documents with the recorder's office online, Ms. Lopez said she also plans to bring the system to the auditor's office.

In addition, Ms. Lopez will bring her chief deputy recorder, Cynthia Geronimo, with her to the auditor's office. Because of the small size of the recorder's staff, she said she does not plan to raid the staff there much more.

Who replaces Ms. Lopez as recorder will be up to the Lucas County Democratic Party.

She declined to speculate on possible candidates.

John Irish, the Lucas County party chairman, said the central committee will chose a replacement for recorder, but added that there are currently "no real thoughts" on who that might be.

He called Ms. Lopez's victory important for Democrats because it was a difficult race against a longtime incumbent and helped unite the often fractious Democratic Party. "Anita has been very open with all factions of the Democratic party. She's been a healer in the party," he said.

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