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Salt Lake County Assessor Lee Gardner has received his LDS mission call and is planning to leave office in August for Barcelona, Spain.

His impending departure already has sparked interest in the elected position. From what he's heard, Gardner expects three to five candidates to vie for the job, which pays about $164,000 a year, including benefits.

One is his preferred choice, chief deputy Kevin Jacobs. Another is Jake Parkinson, an appraiser supervisor in the Tooele County Assessor's Office who formally declared his candidacy March 27. Gardner also has heard rumblings of at least two other potential office-seekers.

"After 18 years, I have no idea why anyone wants to be an assessor," he joked, citing the rigors of trying to value 350,000 properties "fairly and equitably," listening to the complaints of landowners who disagree with those assessments, and managing a staff of 104 employees.

"It makes for sleepless nights sometimes," Gardner said. Still, "going on a mission is the only thing other than health issues that would prompt me to leave mid-term … for a higher calling, if you will."

He is scheduled Tuesday to brief the County Council on the legal process for replacing an elected official midterm.

Once he resigns, Gardner said, the council will ask the chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party to nominate a successor. Party rules then take effect, said outgoing County Republican Party Chairwoman Julie Dole (her term ends April 20), meaning the party's central committee of just under 800 countywide delegates will pick from among any number of candidates.

Gardner said he informed GOP officials in February of his mission application "to ensure that there's time for everyone to have an equal opportunity to make their case to the party," whose nominee is subject to council approval.

Now in his fifth term, Gardner was first elected in 1994. He has worked closely for years with Jacobs, a CPA who also worked in the county auditor's office. "Kevin's a fantastic individual, competent, mature, a man of complete integrity and an excellent manager," he said.

Parkinson, a Salt Lake City resident who has been endorsed by his boss, Tooele County Assessor Wendy Shubert, said in his announcement that he would "draw more heavily on private-sector appraisal practices" and would apply more "free market principles to solve public-sector problems."

Gardner said he and his wife, Ursula, both fluent in Spanish, have been assigned to a young, single-adult program in the LDS Church's Barcelona mission, possibly in the Basque region. One of his ancestors is from there, he noted.

They are set to report to the church's Missionary Training Center on Aug. 26.

Twitter: @sltribmikeg

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