After Losing Court Battle With Assessor, Council Votes To Reimburse $9,000 Of His Legal Fees

Jun 27, 2018

Unalaskan Coe Whittern (left) and assessor Mike Renfro, photographed at Unalaska City Hall. The City Council has voted to reimburse about half of Renfro's legal fees after he sued the city in a dispute over the value of Whittern's property.
Credit Courtesy of Jim Paulin

The City of Unalaska is shelling out $9,000 to resolve its role in a years-long dispute over property values.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to reimburse appraiser Mike Renfro for some of the legal fees he incurred while suing the city last year.

The unanimous decision came after several councilors admitted they made a mistake in overturning his assessment of a lot in the Unalaska Valley.

"To kind of equate the situation and allow ourselves to move forward with a good relationship with our appraiser, I think we can split the attorney's fees and move forward," said Councilor Dave Gregory.

The court battle centered on property owned by Unalaskan Coe Whittern.

In 2016, Renfro assessed the 11-acre lot at almost $500,000 — much higher than the roughly $60,000 that councilors said it was worth when they approved Whittern's appeal. They did so in their quasi-judicial role as the board of equalization.

The Alaska Superior Court, however, sided with the appraiser and his argument that the property had been extremely undervalued.

Councilors accepted the court's ruling this spring, and their decision to grant Renfro's reimbursement request will cover about half of the legal fees for his firm, the Appraisal Company of Alaska.

Meanwhile, councilors' public vote on the issue explains why they held a closed-door session to "discuss litigation." Officials had previously declined to comment on the legal matter at stake.