BATON ROUGE Former Livingston Parish Assessor Charles Abels III was hired by the state and started work last week in a civil service job as an appraiser with the Louisiana Tax Commission.
Abels was defeated in his bid for re-election by current Assessor Jeff Taylor in 1999 and resigned from office the next year as part of a plea bargain related to a hit-and-run accident with an assessor's vehicle while he was in office.
Abels, 35, says he is a recovering alcoholic trying to turn his life around.
Taylor protested the hire and said he was told by the Tax Commission that Abels will not be assigned work in Livingston Parish. Abels said he will work out of his home appraising property in St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa parishes. He was hired as a Tax Commission Specialist II at an annual salary of $38,100.
While seeking the job Abels received a reference of support from state Sen. Clo Fontenot.
Abels, the grandson of longtime former Assessor Charles "Bubby" Abels, worked for 12 years in the office, including the last four as elected assessor. However, his alcohol related problems cost him dearly in his bid for re-election after charges surfaced that he had arranged for another man to take the blame for a 1998 hit-and-run accident in Baton Rouge. Abels was also cited in a misdemeanor report in Hammond for disorderly behavior at a restaurant during the 1999 election campaign.
However, Abels now freely admits his mistakes from those days and says he has been completely sober for months.
"I have made a lot of mistakes in my personal life before and I'm trying to change that," Abels said. "I'm not trying to make problems for anybody."
Abels said he sought the state opening because it is the job he is most qualified for. He said he has 265 hours of instructional credit from the International Association of Assessing Officers in addition to his years of experience in the Assessor's Office.
While Taylor questions the politics behind the hiring of his former political rival, he said it will not affect the function of his office.
"This is not going to affect the way we run our office here," Taylor said. "We will try to keep improving."
Abels' tax rolls were once rejected by the Tax Commission, which ordered a reassessment of property in Livingston Parish, but the former assessor said that had nothing to do with his abilities to do the work.
Instead, that was a reflection of his attempts to keep assessments as low as possible because of the high millages in Livingston Parish.
"Livingston Parish is just about the worst parish in Louisiana as far as millage rates," Abels said. "It's all residential property and we have no tax base."
Abels said he was forced to raise assessments in his first year in office in 1997 just as Taylor had to do when he became assessor.