COLUMBIA — It was a newspaper article that first inspired Barb Bishop’s run for Boone County Assessor.
The Feb. 18 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune described a grass-roots effort launched by Citizens for Property Tax Fairness, a group of about eight county residents who were soliciting candidates to unseat 19-year incumbent Tom Schauwecker in the 2008 election.
Bishop’s husband, Bernie Martin, first noticed the article and said to her, “Why don’t you do this?”
The assessor is elected to a four-year term and oversees the appraisal of all county property, which in turn affects property taxes.
Bishop, who represents the Third Ward of Ashland on the Board of Aldermen and has been a certified real estate appraiser since 1999, was later contacted by a member of the citizens group who was familiar with her background.
And she was further encouraged by a friend who told her, “‘This is a no-brainer. You like public service; you like being an appraiser.’”
So with one day remaining before the filing deadline, Bishop drove to the county clerk’s office in Columbia and put her name on the ballot for the Aug. 5 Democratic primary election.
She will be Schauwecker’s first opponent in his five terms as assessor.
Since throwing her hat into the ring, Bishop has also thrown tremendous energy into the campaign effort — introducing herself to Columbians at Twilight Festivals, interviewing with Gary Nolan and Tom Bradley on KSSZ/93.9 The Eagle, speaking to the Boone County Libertarian Party and campaigning door to door with her husband — all while running on a platform of fairness, change and a personal commitment to public service.
* * *
In 2005, the mayor appointed Bishop to the Ashland Park Board, a position she filled until a seat became available on the Planning and Zoning Commission in May 2006. Bishop served as a board member until 2007, when she was elected an alderwoman for the Third Ward. She continues working with Planning and Zoning as a liaison to the Board of Aldermen.
Paul Beuselinck, who was chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission when Bishop was appointed, said Bishop puts “a tremendous amount of volunteer effort” toward Ashland’s government and is diligent about coming prepared to meetings.
“This is a woman who does her homework, really does her homework,” he said.
Beuselinck cited water drainage issues as one example. Bishop has inspected proposed development sites and has had conversations with developers about property engineering to ensure that storm water would be dealt with properly and not create a problem for neighbors.
“She tries to take care of these issues before they hit anybody else,” he said.
In return, Bishop expects the same level of preparedness from developers and anyone else who comes before Ashland’s boards.
“She’s not confrontational, but she is sometimes considered an obstacle because she comes so prepared and others do not,” Beuselinck said.
He said Ashland is like a “little sister” of Columbia.
He thinks Bishop is adept at anticipating what the next major issues in Ashland will be, mostly by keeping an eye on Columbia, whose issues might “trickle down.”
“She’s kind of got her fingers on the pulse of the citizens of Ashland and maybe Boone County, too,” he said. “She reads the news. She’s a prolific reader. She knows the issues.”
* * *
Bishop grew up in the mid-Missouri town of Otterville, which at the time had a population of about 200.
One of her favorite childhood pastimes was to read under lilac bushes in the summers.
Reading was “what we did back then,” especially in a small town, Bishop said.
She attended Otterville School for 12 years and graduated in 1974 with only 17 other students.
When Bishop was 12, she and her family moved from the city to the farm, which was only five minutes away, where she and her two older brothers enjoyed riding horses.
“But the problem with a horse farm is that we’d raise the horse and train it, and then we’d sell it,” Bishop said. “That was kind of hard to deal with.”
The Vietnam War also colored much of Bishop’s coming of age. Many of her brother’s friends were drafted, and Bishop said the town was supportive of the troops who, she observed, “didn’t brag about their service.”
“They stepped up to the plate and did what they had to do,” she said.
Another childhood memory that stands out for Bishop is when her oldest brother became one of the first people in town to grow his hair out.
The style prompted raised eyebrows in the rural community that was accustomed to crew cuts, and some took to calling him a “longhair.”
But Bishop’s dad, a Korean War vet who himself wore a traditional crew cut, defended his son.
Bishop remembers that he instructed the town scandalmongers:
“‘Don’t judge him by his hair.’”
* * *
Immediately after high school, Bishop got married and became a mother. She had two kids: a daughter, Keri, now 35; and a son, Koby, now 31.
“I made the choice to start a family but never gave up on the chance to go to college,” she said.
On her 21st birthday, Bishop began classes at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, working as an assistant to the dean of the vocational-technical college so she could pay for school. The job also introduced her to “a lot of government budgeting,” she said.
Bishop observed her favorite courses throughout school dealt with law and real estate, because they involved “interpretation of the law” — something she sees as a vital link in the chain of public service.
“I try to bring information to people and help them become more knowledgeable,” she said.
In 1978, Bishop earned her associate’s degree in accounting from State Fair College. And by transferring several credits to Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, she also earned a four-year management degree in just three-and-a-half years.
Meanwhile, she continued working full time and raising two children by herself.
* * *
In retrospect, Bishop said she believes she benefited from delaying college because it gave her time to clarify her goals.
“I would have been an English teacher after high school, but by 21, I knew I wanted to be in business,” she said.
She added she was encouraged by “super” mentors at State Fair College.
Bishop’s next step was to work management positions. Between 1985 and 1989, she worked her way up through the ranks of the Allenberg Cotton Co. in Memphis, Tenn.
It wasn’t until 1996, by which time Bishop’s children were grown, and she had returned to Missouri, that she began real estate certification courses. An ad soliciting a real estate appraiser in Sedalia had sparked her interest.
From 1996 to 2001, Bishop worked for various appraisal services, including Cannon & Blaylock in Columbia; in 2001, she became the ultimate businesswoman, setting up shop as an independent appraiser out of her home in Ashland.
Even today, on top of her public service and running a home business, Bishop continues her education.
She is studying to become a certified general appraiser (so far she’s certified for residential real estate) and has enjoyed recent online courses including “Appraising Historic Homes” and “More Oddball Appraisals.”
“When you’re talking about historic homes, the No. 1 thing that needs to be realized is that the cost approach doesn’t really apply because how can you put a price on craftsmanship that was done 100 years ago?” she said.
And regarding the “oddball” category: “It means it’s atypical, unique. It could also be appraising over-improved houses. It was great to review,” Bishop said.
* * *
In the midst of Bishop’s career development, she met her husband, Bernie Martin, a longtime U.S. Postal Service employee.
They were set up on a blind date in 1997, when Bishop’s then-supervisor in Sedalia mentioned that one of his hunting buddies needed a dancing partner one night.
“And that was it,” she said.
For one of their subsequent dates, Martin introduced Bishop to turkey hunting.
The two still recall a particular trip in which Bernie put out a decoy and instructed Bishop to get ready.
But when a big tom suddenly came dancing across the field, Bishop wasn’t prepared for the magnificent spectacle, and she froze.
Her heart pounded furiously as she watched the tom scuttle across the field, with Bernie whispering in her ear: “Shoot, shoot, shoot!”
But by the time her gun was in position, the turkey had scurried away.
“I missed the big one,” Bishop said.
“She got too close to it,” Martin said.
Bishop and Martin also like to unwind by going bass fishing, and together they “do a $3 deal,” Bishop said.
The person who catches the “first fish, biggest fish and the most fish” wins a dollar for each category.
Then they pool their collective jackpot into the “red worm replacement fund,” she said.
But Bishop won’t reveal the best spots for bass.
“That’s private,” she said. “You never tell where you go fishing.”
Regrettably, Bishop has had to cut back on some things, including turkey and deer hunting, as her schedule has gotten busier.
But she still reserves Friday nights through Sundays for NASCAR.
Like many mid-Missourians, she is an avowed Carl Edwards fan.
“What always impresses us is that he takes off his sunglasses so you can see his eyes,” she said.
But her interest in the sport runs much deeper.
“I’m not just a gunning-for-Carl fan,” she said. “I watch the pre-race shows and get into the mechanics. I want to know about the banking and calibration.”
This curiosity fits into Bishop’s lifelong habit of wanting to be well-informed.
She tries reading all the local newspapers on a regular basis and often mines national news stories for locally relevant themes.
In a recent Wall Street Journal, for instance, she was intrigued by an article describing how small towns like Ashland were dealing with growth and developers.
Bishop’s newspaper consumption is so habitual she can describe her set pattern for reading.
“I go: front page, back page, political page,” she said.
She has also memorized Bernie’s pattern: front page, obituaries, back page.
Bishop said that her mother, who is 75, calls her almost every day to ask: “‘Did you see what so-and-so said?’”
They always have something to talk about.
* * *
It was another news item that fueled Bishop’s commitment to public service: Hurricane Katrina.
“9/11 made me appreciate again that life is short, but then when I saw Katrina, it made me want to get out there and make sure things are in place,” she said.
Bishop often reflects on how New Orleans’ local government “dropped the ball” in responding to the 2005 disaster, which demonstrated why it’s important for people to understand how their local governments work.
Bishop said that if elected, she would try to help taxpayer-voters be informed and to “guide them through the ordinances.”
“Because not everybody can take care of themselves,” she said. “I like to help the underdog, so to speak.”