New era at Tarrant Appraisal District? Board tries to move forward after controversy
After more than a year of tension and mistrust between the Tarrant Appraisal District and some taxpayers, the board of directors selected William Durham as interim chief appraiser on Sept. 18.
Directors unanimously voted for Durham to temporarily take over former chief appraiser Jeff Law’s position after two and a half hours of deliberation in executive session. Durham currently works as director of commercial appraisals at the appraisal district.
Thanking the board, Durham said he would work hard to be transparent with taxpayers.
“I did hear the emotions and the voices from the public, and I want to assure those voices that we may not be perfect here at all times,” Durham said. “But there should never be a moment where you question whether you are treated with respect. … We're going to incorporate that to move forward and be the district that the public expects.”
The board will begin looking for a firm to help find a new permanent chief appraiser. A contract is expected to be signed in October.
The district also voted to allow TAD’s attorney, Matthew Tepper, to investigate the comments made by former IT director Cal Wood and work with a third-party firm to conduct a forensic analysis on whether there was a security break in the agency’s IT system.
“Truly, the only way to know what happened is going to be by bringing in a third party to look at the logs, to do some forensic analysis of that to figure out whether at any point there was truly a breach into our systems or not,” said board chairman Tony Pompa. “We cannot tell you that yet until the firm is done with our investigation.”
The board also took a vote of no confidence against Law, citing new information that has surfaced since the last meeting when the board voted that they had confidence in Law.
“We need to make it clear with the public and the media where we stand,” said board member Vince Puente Sr.
Puente and Rich DeOtte voted no confidence in the former chief appraiser. Pompa and directors J.R. Martinez and Jordan abstained.
The next TAD meeting is scheduled for Oct. 2.
Scandals shake up the appraisal district
Tensions between the Tarrant Appraisal District and taxpayers spilled over in June 2022 after the Fort Worth Report reported on an internal investigation into former Director of Residential Appraisal Randy Armstrong potentially abusing his position to file a complaint against a tax consultant.
The board called a meeting to discuss the event, resulting in an overflow crowd of residents. But locked doors during the public meeting put the board in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Following those two incidents, Law and Armstrong were suspended for two weeks.
Law’s job was again on the chopping block, but the board voted to keep him employed as chief appraiser.
On Aug. 24, the mayors of Colleyville, Keller and Southlake issued a joint letter asking the board of directors to appoint a new chief appraiser after a Star-Telegram investigation revealed IT director Cal Wood asked staff to lie about issues plaguing the district’s website. Wood was eventually fired.
However, Law’s decision to fire Wood did not save him from a unanimous vote of no confidence from the Tarrant County Commissioners Court on Aug. 29. Commissioners said the vote sent a message to the district that it was time for a change.
Colleyville, Southlake, Keller and Mansfield’s city councils also voted no confidence in Law.
The chief appraiser turned in his resignation letter on Sept. 1 after 15 years as head of the agency, giving the board just two days' notice, Puente said.
Law is now head of the Hood County Appraisal District.
Most recently, several governments and taxing entities plan to take a vote of no confidence in the Tarrant Appraisal Board of Directors. The Tarrant County College board of trustees is scheduled to take that vote Sept. 21.
A new board of directors?
The board’s actions come as all of its appointed members are up for election later this year.
The Tarrant Appraisal District Board of Directors is composed of five members appointed by the taxing units — the districts within its jurisdiction — and the county assessor-collector, who is a nonvoting member of the board.
Each taxing unit, cities, counties and school districts, can nominate one candidate to fill one of the five “appointed by vote” director positions. The deadline to nominate candidates in Tarrant County is Oct. 15.
Once the chief appraiser receives nominations, they will prepare a ballot before Oct. 30 to present to the taxing units for votes. Based on a formula in the Texas Tax Code, each taxing unit is allocated a certain number of votes, which they can give to a single candidate or split among several.
If voters approve a constitutional amendment in November, the board of directors will expand to nine members next year. Three new directors would be elected through a countywide election by voters.
Board members who are appointed by taxing unit votes are selected every other even-numbered year, while the countywide elected directors would be picked every other odd-numbered year.
Cities in Tarrant County will notify the chief appraiser of their votes by Nov. 5. Having an interim chief appraiser will not delay the board election.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that the Tarrant Appraisal District Board of Directors is composed of five members appointed by the taxing units, and that it will expand if a constitutional amendment is approved by voters in November.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at@ssadek19.