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Ethical Challenges Confronting Parties
In Property Tax Appeals
Prepared by

Wayne D. Llewellyn, CAE, AACI
2000 Municipal Assessors Institute
Wisconsin Association of Assessing Officers

        This paper was first presented at the 20th Annual Legal Seminar, International Association of Assessing Officers in Chicago, Illinois USA on November 18 and 19, 1999 and a third time at the September 2001 International Association of Assessing Officers' Ineternaional Conference on Assessment Administration in Miami, Florida USA.
(Property taxes) can be likened to the human involuntary nerve system: we all enjoy its benefits, from the cradle to the grave, but we are apt to ignore it in everyday life, and then be surprised when our neglect results in its failure. We must think of the 'physiology' and the 'pathology' of (property taxes) in the same way.

Adapted from the words of the late Keizo Shibusawa, first chairman of the Japan Real Estate Institute

The goal of this paper is to share several experiences to assist in wrestling with the general question of ethical challenges confronting parties in property tax appeals. This is an interesting topic and the multiplicity of issues makes it significantly more complicated than it first appears.
The single most important challenge facing all participants in a property tax appeal is to put the system of property taxes ahead of our personal interests and the interests of our customers. The fact that taxes can be shifted unknowingly from one individual to another requires that the public interest supercede other interests. Several subordinate objectives of this paper include:
Ψ sensitizing readers to ethical issues in property tax appeals,
Ψ generating discussion of ethical differences in such matters,
Ψ improving abilities to analyze and resolve ethical dilemmas,
Ψ promoting awareness of personal and professional responsibilities,
Ψ Identifying factors that contribute to an ethical environment in property tax appeals.
Clear Definitions of Right and Wrong
Regardless of our profession, upbringing, religious belief and other social characteristics it is fair to say that there is widespread agreement on what is generally right and what is wrong. The following qualities which can be likened to ethical behavior or moral conduct - dutiful, excellent, faithful, good, honest, honorable, incorruptible, just, pious, religious, right, righteous, true, upright, virtuous and worthy. Unethical behavior or immoral conduct can be characterized by terms such as bad, corrupt, criminal, depraved, dishonest, dissolute, evil, loose, profligate, sinful, unprincipled, vicious, vile, wicked or wrong.1

Ethical Dilemmas
Ethical issues cannot always be defined in purely black and white terms given our tendencies to balance individual and public interests. The debate over what constitutes unethical practice in property tax appeals often can relate to issues that fall between the extremes in interests. Adding professional responsibilities to the concerns to be dealt with further complicates the matter. The ethical dilemma, or selecting between competing choices, arises when it can be argued that several positions are right.
In determining right from wrong, we know it is wrong to steal, lie, cheat and so forth. However, in right versus right decisions, it can be argued that it is fair for an individual to want to pay as little taxes as possible in their efforts to pursue their individual interests. It is also right for each of us to ensure that others are also paying their fair share in taxes.
From a professional perspective, it is right to provide advice and guidance that results in taxpayers paying no more than their fair share. It is also right that as professionals we advocate that individuals also pay no less than their fair share. This position potentially places property tax professionals at odds with clients.
It is wrong to simply advocate or only work toward lower assessments. This position is reinforced by the requirements of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice and is consistent with the policy statements of the International Association of Assessing Officers that holds market value as the value standard for property. It is right to work toward the fair distribution of taxes.

Unethical Behavior in Property Tax Appeals Is Tantamount to Stealing
Property taxes are used to fund government and our 'civilized society' and are distributed based on the value of property. If one property is incorrectly valued too low, the property tax not paid by that property is picked up by other properties that are valued either correctly, or that are valued too high.
Many owners of property never get involved in a property tax appeal and many do not understand the concept of incidence in taxation. In a property tax appeal unethical conduct resulting in a shift in taxes can therefore contribute to taking something from someone else without them knowing it, or without their permission.
For example, in many residential property tax appeals, the amount that can be shifted to other properties incorrectly may be only pennies. If a $100 'tax break' is given to a property owner in a jurisdiction with 10,000 parcels, the shift in taxes is $0.01 to all other residential parcels, on average. However, if a major downtown property in a municipality with 10,000 properties is under-valued resulting in $100,000 fewer taxes, the remaining properties in that tax class pay, on average, $10 more.
To say that the amount shifted is equivalent to only a few pennies or is negligible is wrong. Proper conduct and adherence to professional principles should be required 100% of the time. If it is acceptable to shift 0.0001% of the tax burden to someone else, then it is also acceptable to have 3 jet plane crashes annually at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. While this illustration may stretch the point, it is nevertheless improper to knowingly advocate for an incorrect assessment.
The fact that there can be any incidence in tax demands that that all parties in a property tax appeal act in a manner that is beyond reproach. Also, it is this fact that requires all parties in a property tax appeal to place the greater public interest ahead of the interest of an individual taxpayer, a municipality or any other customer. The parties include the complainant, respondent, sitting member(s) of the panel hearing a complaint or appeal and the property owner(s) and agents.
A moment considering the human tendency for greed and competition is worthwhile to test the extent to which we will go to gain more than we need or deserve. Each of us can only answer the following questions personally. Should we all become or be so incredibly selfish that we push others to pay our way through personal or corporate tax advantages? At what point do we stop arguing for more? At what point can we individually justify placing a disproportionate share of property wealth on someone else? On whose shoulders should the pennies fall?
If we take the view that having enough is not nearly enough for us to have all that we want, then the system breaks down and chaos begins. Even though the needs of the individual must be balanced against the need to fund public operations through taxation of any form, the nature of tax incidence places parties to property tax appeals in a position of trust. That fiduciary responsibility is one that should not be ignored, particularly by professional advisors.

Societal Issues and Changes Related to Ethics
Every day there are millions of business people that trust others with whom they work and serve without really giving it much thought. If we could not trust others, it would become virtually impossible to do business at all. The concept of ethics is not new and we have come to make the assumption that others share roughly the same moral norms as we do. With this in mind it is easier to make predictable, generally sound decisions in the interest of doing what is right.
This assumption developed in a world that shares similar beliefs in what is right and what is wrong and a system of moral development through our families, schooling, institutions and society. In the last twenty or thirty years though there have been several significant developments that impact our definitions of ethical conduct.
The 'me first' attitude in North American society has grown out of the seventies and eighties. This has resulted in some individuals disregarding moral systems and advancing their individual interests at the expense of others with whom they share communities, work or do business with. The pressures and opportunities for unethical action have increased with that particular change in society.
Part of the 'me first' attitude can be attributed to pressures beyond control of the individual. Pressures for unethical action also include increased global competition, unending demands for high level, short term return on investment and the popularity of "lean and mean" management downsizing.
Institutions devoted to the study of ethics argue that opportunities for getting away with unethical actions have also increased. New and complex business technologies, regulatory activities and definitions of property have created many ethical gray areas in the property tax world. These conditions have created openings to pursue legal, but unethical courses of action. Defining benevolent activities, what constitutes religious activities and so forth are among the examples of areas where minorities are given preferential property tax treatment.

A Clear Cut Case for Defining Ethical and Unethical Conduct
Rushworth M. Kidder2 , president for the Institute of Global Ethics argues that ethics are universal and that they are essential to our survival into the next millennium. The universality of ethics is illustrated by several examples.
He states that we have fallen into the trap of believing in arguments that there are no absolutes, common values, standards, or core set of moral ideas that can be shared. To make the point, consider the example of a school setting where it is decided to teach ethics to students and someone in the room asks 'Whose ethics will be taught?' The inquiring party states that if ethics are taught, it is objectionable that the values held by someone else would be imposed on their child. This argument fails on the grounds that there is generally agreement on several fundamental forms of ethics whether in professional or personal lives.
Kidder holds that ethics can be as absolute as concepts such as the speed of light, the value pi and that gravity will always pull an apple toward the earth. The analogy used is that if you were parachuted into a foreign country and you walked up and took something from the first person you saw, they would object to that conduct. Basic moral concepts can be taught in various cultures, peoples and professions.
In another example, Kidder uses the situation where our senses of dignity and compassion keep us from entering a supermarket and just as an elderly person is about to put their hand on the last shopping cart you rush up, take the cart and move down the aisle with it. There is no law that says you shall not steal shopping carts from elderly people. However, it is fair to say that we all know that taking shopping carts from the elderly is not a nice thing to do.
Kidder concludes by saying that there is only one set of values and that to have two or more is to invite contradiction and double standards. It is on the basis of this argument that the public interest must be put ahead of individual interests in property tax appeals. It is worthwhile to note that imposed regulations are the law and self-regulation defines our ethical conduct. In this respect it would be fair to say that ethics are above the law.
The one test put forward to test for ethical and unethical conduct is consideration of The Golden Rule. That rule simply means that we should treat people the way we want people to treat us. Kidder argues that unethical conduct can be detected by this simple, but effective rule. This is true in a property tax appeal where the interests of customers, whether they are the municipality or the individual taxpayer, must be put behind the interests of all other members of the taxpaying public.

Blurring the Lines Between Ethical and Unethical Conduct
The lines between ethical and unethical conduct are easily blurred when individual or minority interests are contrasted against public interest. The development of the societal notion that all taxes are bad has resulted in the position that everyone is entitled to pay the minimum amount of tax, regardless of how it is achieved. Strict adherence to this principle can only result in advocating for something that is wrong despite the position that unethical conduct is tantamount to theft. In most cases, the need to balance private and public interest in property taxation is the root of disagreement.

Revisiting Contingent Fees
To illustrate the blurring of the lines, private interest can include arguments that an appraiser or attorney is entitled to make a living and that contingent fees provide a justifiable means for that. A recent reprinting of an article by the Appraisal Institute of Canada's Canadian Appraiser3 argues that there compelling arguments against the use of contingency fee agreements. The article presents a comparison between the legal profession's use of contingency fees and the appraisal profession adhering to a fee for service.
As part of the discussion surrounding contingency fees, it is argued that that such an arrangement is far beyond a form of risk sharing agreement. A contingency fee is further defined as any arrangement where a person offering to perform a task or service does so on the basis of being compensated only if there is success in obtaining a benefit for the person for whom the work or service is being performed. In presenting a description of what a contingent fee really does, the position of the courts is also presented.
It is contended in this article that the courts disapprove of conduct that has the effect of encouraging litigation. Given its adversarial nature, litigation is considered evil and promotes strife in society. Two terms are introduced to further the discussion of contingency fees i.e. maintenance and champerty.
Maintenance is defined as improperly stirring up litigation by giving aid to one party without just cause or excuse. Champerty is described as a form of maintenance when one person maintaining for another takes part of the property under dispute as his own reward. Offering contingency fee agreements can be likened to champertous action to the extent that a property tax appeal is filed for the purpose of generating unjustifiable public concern.
The authors present three reasons why contingency fees, or champerty, should be rejected:

First, the most compelling argument against the use of contingency fees is that they create inherent conflicts of interest. Given that the professional must win, there is the temptation to go beyond the bounds of fair play and ethical conduct.
ΨSecond, the client may be paying substantially more than would normally be achieved had a fee for services been paid to the professional. Had the client paid a contingency fee similar to a fee for service, then a contingency fee is meaningless. Also, if the contingency fee was less than a fee for service, there is no guarantee that the services rendered were at a particular standard.
ΨThird, one reason used by the legal profession to justify the use contingency fees is that poor members of society cannot have their concerns addressed through an expensive legal or judicial system. Given the amount of property taxes relative to the total value of property in virtually any jurisdiction in the world, it seems that this argument also has no place.
The contingency fee can only have a negative effect on the real estate professional's objectivity and impartiality. Similarly, there also appears to be some question whether the objectivity of members of the legal profession can be assured when the question of contingent fees arise, particularly in property tax appeals.

Balancing Individual and Public Interests
Ethical conduct, like taxes, is a precondition for the preservation of a civilized society. As stated earlier, despite differences, there is generally wide spread understanding of what is right and what is wrong.
There are some minor differences between the United States and Canada that can influence perceptions of ethical and unethical conduct. The American political system is predicated on 'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.' Individuals are entitled to be a member of the human race, to be politically free and depart from normal rules or procedure (within reason) and to chase satisfaction based on ones own goals. The Canadian equivalent is 'Peace, Order and Good Government.' In Canada, individuals are entitled to freedom from civil disturbance and oppression; systematic regulations and arrangements; and advancement of prosperity or health (e.g. the good of the community) through the exercise of authority over the performance of functions for a political unit.
Despite the differences, practice throughout North America has generally been that ethical and unethical practices generally fall within the more clear cut definitions of right and wrong contained in the introduction to this paper. In both countries it is clearly wrong to take something that belongs to another without permission (i.e. to steal). It is also wrong to lie and cheat. Several situations where it is more difficult to prove unethical behavior, or where we as individuals have not always had the courage to stand up and say the practice is wrong, can be categorized into areas of unprincipled conduct and conflict of interest.
Unprincipled conduct is that which is by general opinion, or custom, considered to be immoral, unethical or dishonorable. It is any action that violates an ethical code of a race or profession.
Our society depends on property (and other forms) taxation to fund government. Further, given the possibility of incidence in taxation, there is a fiduciary responsibility placed on all involved in a property tax appeal to operate in the public interest rather than in the interests of the individual. Operating in the public interest requires an objective standard for the delivery or taxes. The market value of property is the only objective standard for the distribution of property taxes4. A conflict of interest therefore occurs when we place the interest of the individual ahead of the public interest.
The basis for determining what is right or what is wrong is often clouded by the competition that occurs for the public good and individual interest. In a property tax appeal, the individual interest is usually the desire to pay as few taxes as possible. The public interest should be limited to ensuring each member of society pays only its fair share relative to all other members of society.

Ethical Rules of Various Professional Associations
The appendix contains selected excerpts on ethical considerations from IAAO's Standard on Property Tax Policy; the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice promulgated by The Appraisal Foundation, the American and Canadian Bar Associations and the American Judiciary.
The footnotes to this paper also indicate various associations that have developed rules that outline the nature of their profession and how their codes of professional conduct are designed to protect the public. There are codes of ethical conduct for librarians5 , anthropologists6 , bartenders, planners7 , culturalists8 , financial managers and accountants9 , engineers10 , astronauts11 and physical therapists 12 . These associations, along with lawyers, appraisers and the judiciary have several similarities. The similarities include:

Working to preserve the public trust and gaining credit for their peers, the organization to which they belong and themselves by acting with integrity and honesty.
Maintaining a professional level of competence for the performance of duties.
Disclosing actual and potential conflicts of interest and limitations in experience and analyses.
Maintaining objectivity through impartiality; independence; providing full, clear and accurate information and opposing censorship and professionally unfounded restrictions.
Maintaining confidential arrangements with and acting as faithful agents for clients or employers unless disclosure is required by law or the greater public interest.
Supporting professional colleagues by respecting their opinions, reputation, knowledge and expertise.
Presenting personal and corporate qualifications, education and experience accurately.
Providing safe working environments, appropriate acknowledgements, opportunities for professional growth and development, clearly defined responsibilities and fair and equitable conduct with clear lines of communication for employees and customers.
Signing and taking responsibility for work prepared or supervised.
It is fair to say that there is a very clear emphasis on the role of the professional and their obligation to others which is taken to mean putting the interests of the public ahead of our own.
Examples of Unethical Conduct
Numerous individuals were interviewed over the last six months and asked for examples of unethical conduct in property tax appeals. Consider the following examples that were provided. These have been classified based on a lack of subscription to principles and as a conflict of interest.
Conduct with No Principles
In virtually all of the examples, a lack of full and complete disclosure is obvious. The lack of disclosure of all facts and evidence is the most obvious form of unprincipled conduct.
1. A very common complaint included not fully disclosing all of the facts by both the complainant and the respondent, particularly when the facts are known. Simply acting in a manner with the sole goal to reduce property taxes and not fully disclosing all of the facts regardless of how damaging those facts may be personally, or to a client, can influence the outcome of an appeal hearing. For this reason, the requirement of appraisers to perform "assignments with impartiality, objectivity, and independence, and without accommodation of personal interest13" and to report on what was done is justified. In property tax appeals particularly, this requirement could also be extended to members of the North American Bar Associations.
2. In another case, an employee of an assessment jurisdiction knows an assessment is wrong due to a difference in property coding and that if it is recommended to an appeal tribunal that the assessment be corrected, it will cost the jurisdiction $500,000 in taxes. By not revealing the nature of the error, the assessment could be corrected for the following year and the current 'tax-hit' avoided. The individual property owner has clearly had something taken away without knowledge.
3. Working within the rules when it is obvious that the rules are wrong and there is sufficient latitude to arrive at a fair and equitable assessment is another example of knowingly shifting the tax burden to some other unknowing party. Consider an employee of an assessment jurisdiction that has regulated rates to use in the valuation of property. Those rates produce varying levels of assessment depending on how properties are stratified or grouped. If it is obvious and readily demonstrable that a group of properties is unfairly assessed relative to another group, the assessment jurisdiction has several choices. The preferred choice would be to adjust all property groups to the same level as far as reasonably practical. At a minimum, the jurisdiction should acknowledge the inequity and act as an advocate for change.
4. An appellant in an appeal matter wrote to the solicitor of the municipality and stated "…. Your performance demonstrates you have conduct over nothing other than the lying department …" and further " …. I have little tolerance for any L.L.B., and I am not referring to the City's lying little bastards." A letter was also written to the assessment review board on the same date in reply to a notice of decision "Your letter is only further confirmation of the blatant and inherent oneness of the Assessment Review Board and the City of ….."
The chair of the assessment review board was requested by counsel for the jurisdiction to comment on the foregoing behavior and stated in his decision that he did not want to get involved in the personal grudge match. In this example, not only was the appellant's behavior unacceptable, the chair should have disclosed his thoughts on the unacceptable conduct.
5. One appraiser reported deliberately failing to look at the assessments of similar properties known to have considerably lower values that the subject property before heading to the appeal tribunal. When attending the appeal tribunal the assessor's representative wanted to avoid having to speak to the differences by saying that an inspection of the comparable properties was not undertaken but that the assessment to market relationships were to the best of her knowledge fair.
6. Several individuals report attending hearings with 'professional boxers'. These are the people that know that they have already won the fight. However, taking the extra shot when it is unnecessary to do so was this individual's greatest victory in hopes of a smaller final assessed value and lower tax bill.
7. During an appeal hearing a very prominent citizen received a 'better than average' hearing of unsubstantiated, uncorroborated evidence related to the market value of property in an area where that citizen resides. The review board allowed politics into what should be an objective process.
8. A series of provincial government notices, advisories and instructions to assessors were issued from 1994 to 1997 on the use of stratified ratio studies to prepare equalized assessments for municipalities. A member of a provincial government department while defending an equalized assessment responded with "No" to the following question "Does stratification play any part in the equalization process?"
9. During an appeal hearing, several key facts were held back to improve the chances of an assessment reduction. For example, the cost of a brewery reported at $16 million in a recent newspaper announcement was not included in a complaint where the complainant requested a value of $5 million compared to $7 million on the assessment notice. Disclosure of sales evidence is critical to both sides of a property tax appeal.
10. Several individuals had left the employment of an assessment jurisdiction after preparing the assessments on hundreds of properties. The knowledge associated with the assessments that were prepared was then later used to attack assessments they had prepared.
11. Appraisers are frequently requested by their clients to use exactly what their client provides in terms of income statements and other basic economic data. Clients misunderstanding the nature of proper research or appraisers acquiescing to the requests of clients to rely on questionable data or information place an appraiser in a tenuous position.
12. Defending an assessment that is on a "fence line." Market areas are frequently established based on subjective judgement and can involve rigid geographic lines. When this occurs, models developed right across the street for very similar properties can have significantly different assessed values.
13. Informal appeal tribunals have been accused of treating appraisers like 'journalists' and allowing the fabrication of stories, the creation of feeding frenzies and do not thoroughly test whether sources have been checked. Appraisers cannot, and should not, fabricate facts that should be based on real world facts in the market place.
14. The citizen (or their agent) requests information and data that can only be used to advocate their cause ... rather than requesting data that demonstrates the fairness and equity or the accuracy of the final value.
15. In numerous situations it was reported that the sole purpose of the complaint or appeal was to have the assessment reduced rather than arriving at a fair or correct assessed value. Obtaining a lower amount of tax dollars paid was the sole objective.
16. The parties should be able to competently deal with the issue. Individuals with no experience in the valuation of properties for the purpose of taxation are being accepted as experts.

The foregoing examples illustrate two extremes inappropriate conduct. One extreme is outright commission or misrepresentation with outright omission at the other end of the scale. In between these two extremes falls a third classification of half-truths. Members of the legal, appraisal and judicial professions must hold themselves to the highest possible standard in order to generate public confidence and trust in the property tax.

Examples of Conflict of Interest
The concept of conflict of interest can be viewed from two perspectives. The first is a clash between public interest and private interest. The second is in cases where the individual is obviously biased.

1. An appointed member of an assessment review board, who is also an accredited appraiser, had completed an appraisal report intended to negotiate a tax settlement with the municipality. The review board member began using and relying on the report he had prepared while the board was considering the valuation of that property.
2. Several individuals had left the employment of an assessment jurisdiction after preparing assessments on hundreds of properties. The knowledge associated with the assessments that were prepared was then later used to attack the assessments they had prepared.
3. Another individual accepted employment with an assessment jurisdiction. While employed by that jurisdiction, the individual continued to work for private clients to challenge assessments that he was also now responsible for defending. The employer had allowed this to occur as part of the employment contract.
4. A member of an Assessment Review Board appointed by a Municipal Council in Alberta had the following to say while inquiring into his own assessment during the period in which complaints may be filed against an assessment:

"It is obvious that the entire system is flawed and that the assessed values struck by the assessment department are not realistic. Please provide all data, reasoning... that demonstrate..."

In property tax appeals some may argue that the evasion of taxes through any means is ethical because the government does not ask to take our hard earned dollars. The government just takes them. This is a fundamentally flawed proposition. Governments do ask for our tax dollars in terms of the amount of tax it will take based on measures of ability to pay, such as the value of property.

Property appraisal and litigation involves making decisions. It is hoped the following will assist in avoiding falling into traps that could be classified as unethical behavior. According to researchers at Texas A&M University, the ten most common decision traps14 are reproduced below:

1. Plunging In -- Information is gathered and conclusions are reached without understanding the critical point of the issue.
In most property tax appeals, the issue should be what is the market value of the property.
2. Frame Blindness -- Solving the wrong problem because of a created mental framework for your decision.
In many property tax appeals, the problem is often discontent with the amount of taxes paid rather than the valuation of the property.
3. Lack of Frame Control -- Failing to define the problem in multiple ways or being influenced by previous frames.
In addition to taxes paid, complaints can often relate to services received rather than what is the value of the property.
4. Overconfidence in Your Judgment -- Failing to collect information because you are sure of your assumptions and opinions.
Each property is unique and requires a degree of individual analysis. In any circumstance and particularly when the assignment involves attending an appeal tribunal, whether under oath or not, assumptions and opinions should be supportable.
5. Shortsighted Shortcuts -- Relying on "rules of thumb," such as trusting convenient facts and readily available information.
Relying on published studies and not undertaking adequate analysis of the property under appeal are examples of this potential trap.
6. Shooting From the Hip -- Making spontaneous decisions rather than following a systematic procedure.
Unsubstantiated adjustments, poor analysis and advocating for a quick decision are examples.
7. Group Failure -- Failing to manage the group decision-making process because of the assumption that the group will make good decisions.
Over-reliance on other members of the team to deal with technical issues or ensuring proper procedure is followed can be disastrous.
8. Fooling Yourself About Feedback -- Failing to accurately interpret the evidence from the past.
Not considering previous decisions, the success of previous actions or the familiarity of tribunal members can be a mistake as much as not considering judgements regarding past sales transactions.
9. Not Keeping Track -- Relying on experience, and therefore failing to keep track of results of decisions and to evaluate those decisions.
Keeping records of successful actions and strategies that work can assist in preparing for future appeals.
10. Failure to Audit the Decision Process -- Failing to create an organized approach to understanding your own frame.
Structured analysis is part of good analysis.
Classifying Personal, Professional and Global Ethics
Larry Colero15 of Crossroads Programs Inc. provides a framework for classifying ethical principles that can be applied to various cultures, philosophies, faiths and professions. Crossroad programs is part of the University of British Columbia's Center for Applied Ethics that was created in 1993 as an independent unit in the Faculty of Graduate Studies. It is primarily an interdisciplinary research center that studies a diverse range of topics, including health care practices, business and professional procedures, new information technologies and environmental issues. Colero contends that ethical dilemmas can be likened to noticing a snake after you have been bitten and that unethical conduct can be based on searching for signs that a snake might be present. The signs have been organized into three categories: personal, professional and global ethics.

Principles of Personal Ethics
Personal ethics are similar to morality and reflect general expectations of anyone in any society, acting in any capacity. These are the principles we try to instill in our children, and expect of one another without needing to articulate expectations or formalizing them in any way.

Principles of Professional Ethics
Individuals acting in a professional capacity have an added burden of ethical responsibility. Professional associations have codes of ethics that prescribe required behavior within the context of a professional practice such as property appraisal, medicine, law, accounting, forestry or engineering. These written codes provide rules of conduct and standards of behavior.

Principles of Global Ethics
Each of us influences the world by being a part of it. It is wise to think in global terms if the property tax is to gain and even maintain credibility. Added accountability is placed on globally influential enterprises such as governments and international corporations and societies. (Responsibility comes with power whether we accept it or not.)
Personal Ethics
Professional Ethics
Global Ethics
Concern for the well-being of others
Impartiality; objectivity
Global justice (as reflected in international laws)
Respect for the autonomy of others
Openness; full disclosure
Society before self / social responsibility
Trustworthiness & honesty
Environmental stewardship
Willing compliance with the law (with the exception of civil disobedience)
Due diligence / duty of care v Interdependence & responsibility for the "whole"
Basic justice; being fair v Fidelity to professional responsibilities
Reverence for place
Refusing to take unfair advantage
Avoiding potential or apparent conflict of interest
Benevolence: doing good
Preventing harm

Individuals in property tax appeals are leaders that should ultimately attempt to influence society and world affairs in a positive way. It is also another example of the importance of placing the public interest and the total system of taxation ahead of our personal interests or the interests of our individual clients. Modern and complete ethical models should consider the impact of actions on humanity.

All of us have experiences dealing with ethics. It is up to each of us to be our own best judge of our own behavior in light of what we want the property tax to be. We all know that there are standards against which any person can be judged. Deviation from standards is only one basis for others to perceive us as being unethical or immoral.
Ethical behavior and compliance with standards can be likened to individual sports. We all assume responsibility for our own affairs and want to excel.
Consider ethical behavior compared to the challenges of a veteran skier. Expert skiers take on mogul fields as part of the ultimate skiing experience. A mogul is a rounded lump of snow usually encountered in situations where many other expert skiers have gone before. Navigating each turn means you can't cheat in terms of skills and ability. The skier requires good balance and other essential techniques to carve through differing terrain. The more that balance can be maintained through each turn, the easier it is to turn. The same is true in a property tax appeal.
We all want to take on challenging assignments such as property tax appeals and encounter obstacles such as client demands, lack of information and competition between public and individual interests. Meeting these challenges by being appropriately prepared, ensuring full disclosure and holding public interest ahead of the interest of our clients and customers will make it easier to determine which decision should be made.
One final word on this topic is that every effort should be taken to educate the general public on the value of property taxes to our society. Rather than working toward unending exemptions or property valuation practices that favor one property class over another, society would be well served by education directed at fairness and equity in taxation rather than contributing the smallest possible amount to the cost of government.
Fairness, impartiality and an even-handed approach are essential to the future of the property tax. Staying at arms-length from our client's interests and being fair to all taxpayers and society are highest on the list of challenges confronting parties in property tax appeals.


American Bar Association
Excerpts from the American Bar Association16 are reproduced below.
"…. As intermediary between clients, a lawyer seeks to reconcile their divergent interests ….
…. A lawyer should use the law's procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials. While it is a lawyer's duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer's duty to uphold legal process.
…. a lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers.
…. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from conflict between a lawyer's responsibilities to clients, to the legal system and to the lawyer's own interest in remaining an upright person while earning a satisfactory living.
…. The profession has a responsibility to assure that its regulations are conceived in the public interest and not in furtherance of parochial or self- interested concerns of the bar.
Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society.

A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis for doing so that is not frivolous,
(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:
(2) fail to disclose a material fact to tribunal when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by the client;
(3) fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel; or
(d) In an ex parte proceeding, a lawyer shall inform the tribunal of all material facts known to the lawyer which will enable the tribunal to make an informed decision, whether or not the facts are adverse.

Canadian Bar Association
The Canadian Bar Association has a (emphasis added) similar code of ethics17 to the American Bar Association with some differences.
The legal profession has developed over the centuries to meet a public need for legal services on a professional basis ….
…. lawyers and the quality of the service they provide must command the confidence and respect of the public ….
…. the desire for the respect and confidence of the members of the society which he serves and of the members of his profession should motivate him to maintain the highest possible degree of ethical conduct.
…. The principle of protection of the public interest will serve to guide the reader to the true intent of the Code.

3. Illustrations of conduct which may infringe the Rule (and, often, other provisions of this Code) include:
(c) making untrue representations or concealing material facts from a client with dishonest or improper motives;
(d) taking improper advantage of the youth, inexperience, lack of education, un-sophistication, ill health, or un-business like habits of a client;
(h) failing to be absolutely frank and candid in all his dealings with the courts, his fellow lawyers and other parties to proceedings, subject always to not betraying his client's cause, abandoning his legal rights or disclosing his confidences;
(i) failing, when dealing with a person not legally represented, to disclose material facts, e.g. the existence of a mortgage on a property being sold, or by supplying false information, whether he is professionally representing a client or is concerned personally;
1. The advocate's duty to his client "fearlessly to raise every issue, advance every argument, and ask every question, however distasteful, which he thinks will help his client's case" and to endeavour "to obtain for his client the benefit of any and every remedy and defence which is authorized by law"-' must always be discharged by fair and honourable means, without illegality and in a manner consistent with the lawyer's duty to treat the court with candour, fairness, courtesy and respect.
The lawyer must not, for example:
(b) knowingly assist or permit his client to do anything which the lawyer considers to be dishonest or dishonourable;
(d) endeavour or allow anyone else to endeavour, directly or indirectly, to influence the decision or action of a tribunal or any of its officials in any case or matter, whether by bribery, personal approach or any means other than (by) open persuasion as an advocate;
(e) knowingly attempt to deceive a tribunal or influence the course of justice by offering false evidence, misstating facts or law, presenting or relying upon a false or deceptive affidavit, suppressing what ought to be disclosed, or otherwise assisting in any fraud, crime or illegal conduct;
(g) knowingly assert that for which there is no reasonable basis in evidence or the admissibility of which must first be established;
(h) deliberately refrain from informing the tribunal of any law or jurisprudence which he considers to be directly in point and binding on the tribunal and which has not been mentioned by his opponent;" dissuade a material witness from giving evidence or advise such a witness to absent himself;

Judicial Conference of the United States
Judicial Code of Conduct
The code of conduct(emphasis added) of the Judicial Conference of the United States18 applies to all federal judges but is only advisory and non-binding on Supreme Court justices. The rules explicitly permit judges to accept and participate in awards programs and to receive certain benefit from legal publishers. Below are the official canons, followed by excerpts of commentary provided by the Judicial Conference.
Canon 1: A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. ("Public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is maintained by the adherence of each judge to this responsibility.")
Canon 2: A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities. ("A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.")
Canon 3: A judge should perform the duties of the office impartially and diligently. ("A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances in which the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party ... ")

Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice

The following excerpts19 from the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) are directed at the practice of property appraisal in the United States. In Canada, the Appraisal Institute of Canada has adopted USPAP guidelines. Apart from that, only members of the International Association of Assessing Officers through their membership with IAAO are bound to comply with USPAP guidelines.

…. The intent of these Standards is to promote and maintain a high level of public trust in professional appraisal practice.
It is essential that professional appraisers develop and communicate their analyses, opinions, and conclusions to intended users of their services in a manner that is meaningful and not misleading.
…. These Standards …. (set) forth the requirements for integrity, impartiality, objectivity, independent judgment, and ethical conduct ….

To promote and preserve the public trust inherent in professional appraisal practice, an appraiser must observe the highest standards of professional ethics.
An appraiser must perform assignments ethically and competently in accordance with these standards, and must not engage in criminal conduct. …. (and) perform assignments with impartiality, objectivity, and independence, and without accommodation of personal interests.
An appraiser must not accept an assignment that includes the reporting of predetermined opinions and conclusions.
Whenever an appraiser develops an opinion of value, it is unethical for the appraiser to accept compensation in developing that opinion that is contingent upon:
1. the reporting of a predetermined value, or
2. a direction in value that favors the cause of the client, or
3. the amount of the value opinion, or
4. the attainment of a stipulated result, or
5. the occurrence of a subsequent event directly related to the value opinion.

Excerpts from IAAO's Property Tax Policy Standard
4.4 Appraiser Qualifications
Ensuring a high-quality valuation system requires highly skilled and trained professional staff. Assessors may need legislative direction or administrative rules and regulations to ensure that this objective can be promoted and achieved. Accordingly, states and other governments have implemented legislation requiring practitioners in all branches of property appraisal to demonstrate appropriate qualifications before being allowed to practice independently, to maintain and improve their skills used in the course of practice, and to conduct themselves in accordance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) and equivalent standards that may be in place outside the United States. Such legislation may establish different qualifications depending on the type or value of property to be appraised and the purpose of the appraisal. Some states require assessing officers to obtain a license, certification, or professional designation (such as the IAAO Certified Assessment Evaluator [CAE] or designations awarded by states and other professional societies). Legislation regulating independent appraisers, such as fee or contract appraisers, should be coordinated with legislation affecting assessing officers. When similar qualifications are indicated, transferability of experience, credentials, and course credits should be permitted. Objective standards should be developed and used to evaluate experience, credentials, and education.

4.6 Appeals
Appeals can function as part of the external quality assurance program of an assessing jurisdiction. Often, problems that may extend beyond the property on which the appeal is filed will be uncovered and potentially serious inequities quelled. Assessment personnel should view the appeals process as a positive element of quality assurance in the assessment system.

4.6.1. Appeals Systems
Appeals systems should be designed to facilitate the taxpayer's right to appeal. To do this, the process should be clearly spelled out in a written brochure or other document that can be given to the taxpayer. Before filing a formal appeal, the taxpayer should have an opportunity for informal discussion, which may resolve many issues and may even obviate the need for the appeal to proceed. To the extent practical, the taxpayer should have access to all records pertaining to the valuation of the property in question. Each assessing officer should become familiar with statutory requirements that may make some of this information confidential. Aside from such restrictions, information should be willingly and openly shared and this sharing should include information on sales used as comparables. (See Standard on Assessment Appeal [IAAO 1981].)

4.6.2 Planning and Staff Allocation
Adequate resources must be provided to defend values. The need for response to appeals typically increases during reappraisal years or periods with rapid property value inflation. Proper planning and staff allocation must be done to ensure sufficient resources to address anticipated higher than normal numbers of appeals.

4.6.3 Taxpayer Representation
Appeals typically involve two types of assessment issues: appraisal and legal. Individuals trained and educated in ad valorem tax procedures are considered qualified to provide professional representation for taxpayers in the early stages of the appeals process, provided that appraisal issues are the focal points. Such representation does not constitute the unauthorized practice of law. Valuation questions often involve legal issues. When issues of law are in question, trained legal practitioners must be employed by both the taxpayer and the assessing agency.

Readers can visit http://www.reinet.or.jp/index-e.htm for the complete text published by the Japan Real Estate Institute.
1 See definitions Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Thomas Allen & Son Limited, Markham Ontario. 1988.
2 See http://www.globalethics.org/corp/keynotes.html for a complete copy of the manuscript.
3 See The Canadian Appraiser, Summer 1999. The Contingency Fee: A New Dimension, A New Victim, Graham Allen and Devon Carbol, Appraisal Institute of Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
4 See International Association of Assessing Officers, Policy Statements, 1996. Chicago, Illinois.
5 See http://www.ala.org/acrl/guides/rarethic.html Standards for Ethical Conduct for Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Librarians, with Guidelines for Institutional Practice in Support of the Standards and The Code of Ethics of Slovenian Librarians adopted at the Library Association assembly at Bled, November 8, 1995
6 See http://www.massey.ac.nz/~NZSRDA/nzssorgs/nzasa/ethics.htm for the Association of Social Anthropologists of Aotearoa/New Zealand (formerly New Zealand Association of Social Anthropologists)
7 See http://www.rain.org/~calapa/ethics/a.html for the American Planning Association.
8 See http://www.mindspring.com/~wheaton/Ethics.html for the American Cultural Resources Association
9 See http://www.rutgers.edu/Accounting/raw/ima/imaethic.htm for PRACTITIONERS OF MANAGEMENTACCOUNTING AND FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT and http://www.wam.umd.edu/~mckinney/Organizations/IMA/standards.html Standards of Ethical Conduct for Management Accountants and
11 See http://www.aiaa.org/information/ethics.html for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc.
12 See http://www.apta.org/Ethics/PTA_ethics.html for Standards of Ethical Conduct for the Physical Therapist Assistant
13 See Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, The Appraisal Foundation. 1999 Edition.
14 See http://www.taknosys.com/articles/art02.htm published by Taknosys Software Corporation, Texas A&M University.
15 See http://www.ethics.ubc.ca/papers/invited/colero.html
16 See http://www.law.cornell.edu/lawyers/rule_3.1.html through http://www.law.cornell.edu/lawyers/rule_3.1.html of the American Bar Association's Internet Website
17 See http://csep.iit.edu/codes/coe\Canada_bar_ass.html of the Canadian Bar Association's Internet Website
18 See http://www.newshare.com/west/guidelines.html of the Judicial Conference of the United States
19 See https://www.appraisalfoundation.org/uspap1999/toc.htm and subsequent documents with the Appraisal Foundation's website.
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