Mayor Nutter on Wednesday will name Richie McKeithen - the head of the District of Columbia's property-assessment operation - as Philadelphia's first chief assessment officer, according to sources close to the selection process.
If McKeithen is confirmed by City Council, it will be his job to create an entirely new assessment office out of the ashes of the Board of Revision of Taxes, while also managing a switch away from the BRT's antiquated assessment model to a new system.
Unlike many of his predecessors at the politicized BRT, McKeithen will bring to the job a wealth of technical expertise and years of assessment experience.
McKeithen has been in the assessment business for 22 years as both a senior manager and street-level assessor in Washington and the Virginia cities of Hampton and Richmond. He has never worked in Philadelphia.
In June 2008, McKeithen was named director of Washington's Office of Real Property Tax Administration, where he is responsible for overseeing all property assessments and handling numerous other duties he will not have to shoulder in Philadelphia.
By comparison, Enrico Foglia, the last full-time executive director of the BRT, had no management experience, no college degree, and was not licensed to assess properties.
After 19 years on the job, Foglia retired in September at 80. He said he had been under pressure to step down since an Inquirer series last year documented widespread cronyism, mismanagement, and poor assessment practices at the BRT.
Nutter administration officials were making the rounds in City Hall with McKeithen yesterday, but they declined to comment on his pending appointment.
In May's election, Philadelphians voted overwhelmingly to disband the BRT and split it into two new agencies. One office - which will be led by McKeithen, pending Council confirmation - will set property values for every parcel in the city. The vast majority of BRT employees will transfer to that office.
The other agency will be a Board of Property Assessment Appeals, which will hear appeals of values set by the new property-assessment office.
As the chief assessment officer, McKeithen will serve a four-year term, during which he can be fired only for cause, a provision intended to help insulate the new office from political interference.
Given the difficult and sensitive job on his hands, McKeithen may well need that protection.
In his first two years, McKeithen will be asked to organize a new office; improve the morale of the BRT's 160 employees; and complete the politically treacherous task of switching to a new property-assessment system that seems certain to increase property-tax bills of hundreds of thousands of homeowners.
It will not be McKeithen's first brush with controversy. Nor will it be the first time he has taken command of an assessment office in trouble.
McKeithen took over in Washington when the office was reeling from an enormous scandal. A small ring of mid-level employees had embezzled nearly $50 million in taxpayer money by issuing property-tax refunds to friends and family members.
Although McKeithen's predecessor, Thomas Branham, was not involved in the crime, Branham was forced to resign for failing to detect the fraud.
And in Washington and Hampton, McKeithen became a target of property owners who felt the values set by his assessors were too high.
McKeithen seems to have taken the controversies in stride.
"By nature, you're not going to be a well-loved person," McKeithen told the Newport News Daily Press in 2007 in a report on rising property values in Hampton. "You hope to be respected . . . but you're not going to get invited to a lot of cookouts."
McKeithen did not return a phone call seeking comment.