Smiley used long transition to prepare

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Newly sworn-in Ascension Parish Assessor M.J. 'Mert' Smiley, right, gets a hug from his sister-in-law, Amy Hedberg, Jan. 2 during ceremony in Gonzales.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Newly sworn-in Ascension Parish Assessor M.J. 'Mert' Smiley, right, gets a hug from his sister-in-law, Amy Hedberg, Jan. 2 during ceremony in Gonzales.

M.J. “Mert” Smiley spent more than seven months working before he ever officially began his new job.

Smiley, a former state legislator elected to be the Ascension Parish assessor in October 2011, started working on his transition team in May. But it wasn’t until Jan. 2, when he was sworn in as Renee Mire Michel’s replacement, that he actually took over the office — 14 months after his election.

Despite a contentious campaign season that led to Michel saying Smiley wouldn’t be allowed in her office during the transition period, Smiley said the two ended up working together well during the transition period. Michel even gave up her office in Gonzales, allowing Smiley to use it, he said.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful,” Smiley said. “We got along just absolutely perfectly.”

Michel, a two-term assessor and the daughter of longtime Ascension Parish Assessor Pegram Mire Sr., lost by less than 150 votes during the Oct. 22, 2011, election. However, after cooling off for a couple of months, she called Smiley in early January 2012 to bury the hatchet and move forward.

Mire called the experience “very nice” and “enjoyable,” while Smiley said the transition period was “something that her dad would have been proud of.”

Having seven months of on-the-job training prior to taking office officially allowed Smiley to identify some areas in the Assessor’s Office that needed to be addressed.

Smiley said the office needed more people in the field to help appraise property tax values in the parish, and he hired four new full-time employees and four additional part-timers with appraisal experience. In addition, he changed the office hours to give the public more access to the Assessor’s Office.

Smiley also said he was committed to upgrading the office’s website — http://www.
ascensionassessor.com — and making it more user-friendly for the public.

“My goal is to make your Assessor’s Office the most modern, efficient and friendly in the state of Louisiana,” Smiley said.