County retaliation alleged

By Robin Fornoff

CMI PROJECTS EDITOR

rfornoff@cnjonline.com

Clovis City Commissioner Dan Stoddard — also a former Curry County Commissioner — is threatening to sue his former employer for yanking his 100 percent property tax exemption as a disabled veteran.

Stoddard hired Portales attorney Eric Dixon, who filed a tort claim last week against Curry County and Assessor Candace Morrison.

Stoddard’s claim filed Nov. 13 notes he received a letter from Morrison dated Oct. 31 claiming he had moved his principal residence from a house on Murray Street.

Stoddard, a frequent critic of County Manager Lance Pyle, claims Morrison’s decision to toss his tax exemption “has created a ‘hostile and retaliatory’ environment.”

“Mr. Stoddard believes he is being harassed and retaliated against because … he has exercised his free speech rights under the State and Federal constitutions,” Dixon said in his notice.

Stoddard was accused by a private consultant in 2011 of creating a hostile work environment after a confrontation with Pyle in front of county staff. Stoddard, then a county commissioner, denied the accusation. Stoddard later left office after being defeated in a 2012 primary election by Curry County Commissioner Ben McDaniel.

Dixon said the tort claim doesn’t imply anything about Pyle.

“Mr. Stoddard was a Curry County commissioner,” said Dixon. “He was very outspoken as to the operations of the county. We are concerned. We don’t understand why this has come about.”

Morrison said Stoddard’s exemption was rejected following an investigation by her office that determined when it comes to Stoddard’s property on Murray Street, “he does not live there.”

Morrison said to qualify for the exemption, Stoddard must “own and occupy” the property. She said her office was notified Stoddard had a different mailing address, prompting the investigation.

Morrison declined to say how the assessor’s office was notified of the discrepancy.

“I really am not supposed to talk about this specific case because there is pending litigation,” said Morrison. “The law is it must be owner-occupied.”

Morrison said her office keeps a close watch on the disabled veterans exemption because it means no property taxes have to be paid by those who qualify.

“We do a yearly audit,” she said. “We’re just doing what we are supposed to do.”

Dixon said Stoddard has for the last 20 years received his mail at a post office box in Clovis. He insisted Stoddard lives in the house on Murray Street.

“That’s where he sleeps at night,” said Dixon. “It’s where he puts his head down at the end of the day.”

Dixon is demanding the exemption “be restored immediately, and an apology be issued by the assessor’s office.”

Stoddard said when he filed for the exemption last year that he was hurt in an in-service connected event and honorably discharged from the Coast Guard as a 100 percent disabled veteran. Stoddard said he served on an ice breaker from 1976 through 1980.