Most people do not know that the entity that sets the taxable value of your home—Tarrant County Appraisal District (TAD)—is having an election right now.
Let me first say I hold no ill will towards any of the fine folks working at TAD. My team of REALTORS® helped over 16,000 homeowners protest their property tax value this past year, free of charge. The ability to help this many people and learn about this election process would not have been possible if it weren’t for the generous help of the employees at TAD and the Appraisal Review Board, from people working at the front desk all the way up to the chief appraiser himself. We are sincerely grateful for the work they do.
Virtually nobody knows this election even exists, much less how it works. It’s also disconcerting that the entity in charge of such an important job as establishing our tax values runs their own election. An election with that much responsibility needs more transparency and accountability from taxpayers.
Here’s how it works: Every two years there is an election for all five seats on TAD’s board of directors. These individuals are ultimately accountable for everything that happens at TAD.
There are two phases in this election:
- The nomination phase – Each city, school district, the county itself, and a few other taxing entities (such as Tarrant County College) are invited to nominate up to five candidates each for the board. If an entity nominates a candidate, they will appear on the ballot to be voted on by the taxing entities.
- The voting phase – The appraisal district distributes ballots to each taxing entity (city, school district, county, etc). They can submit their votes to the appraisal district anytime between October 31 and December 15.
Of all the problems and unfairness I found in this election, I’m only going to mention two problems in this article.
The first problem is found inside the nomination phase: Out of 63 taxing entities that are eligible to participate in the election, only nine entities (14 percent) nominated a candidate this year. This number seems oddly low to me.
Here are the participating entities and how many candidates they nominated:
Taxing Entity # of Candidates Nominated
- City of Haslet: 1 (candidate dropped out)
- City of Bedford: 1 (candidate dropped out)
- City of Colleyville: 2
- City of Southlake: 2
- White Settlement ISD: 5
- Birdville ISD: 1
- Tarrant County (Commissioners Court): 2
- Fort Worth ISD: 1
- Arlington ISD: 1
As you can see, White Settlement ISD is by far the most active taxing entity involved in the nomination phase.
Four of White Settlement ISD’s nominees are current TAD board members (i.e., incumbents). Their fifth nominee is a candidate that served on the board previously from 2010-2013.
Why is White Settlement ISD so active and also interested in keeping all the same members on the board?
Much is left to speculation; however, consider this fact: The president of the school board at White Settlement ISD is also a high-level employee of the Tarrant Appraisal District. His name is Randy Armstrong. He is in charge of the entire residential appraisal division at TAD. He is pictured here on the White Settlement ISD website.
Even if he abstains from voting, this conflict of interest is unsettling, to say the least.
The second problem is found in the voting phase. The Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court manipulates legal loopholes in how they cast their votes. The best way for me to explain how they do this is by using an analogy.
Have you ever bid on an item in an eBay auction? It used to be simple to win. All you had to do was wait until the final seconds prior to the auction deadline, then place a bid just a few pennies over the highest bidder to ensure that you would be the winning bidder.
Taking the analogy one step further, what if the vast majority of bidders were forced to place their bid early and a very wealthy person got the advantage of bidding in the moments prior to the deadline?
This is similar to how the court manipulates the election. Except instead of money, we’re talking about votes, and the entity with the power and ability to vote at the last second is the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court.
The court realized the other entities are practically forced to vote early, and the court uses their massive voting power to unfairly swing the election, guaranteeing to get their favorite candidate elected.
This video of a Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting, recorded 1 week prior to their vote in 2017, says it all:
“As you know, we have 541 votes… You might also recall that we have nominated four individuals… There have been jurisdictions [i.e., entities] that have already cast their votes… We’re trying to keep tabs on those. What we do know is that Mike O’Donnell, who is one of our nominees, has already been awarded 765 votes. It looks like anywhere close to 700 is pretty well assured that you’re going to be on the board.
Mr. Wood has 468 votes so far. It is our understanding that there may be a major jurisdiction that is also going to cast all their votes for Mr. Wood.
Mr. Leyman has 287 votes. There may be some others that may be casting their votes also.
Because the window is closing December 14, and because we still have another commissioners court meeting, if you would like, we can defer any action on casting these ballots until after some of the other jurisdictions [i.e., entities] have also cast their ballots, which is public record, and we have access to that.
That will give you a better understanding as to where we are on how the other jurisdictions [i.e., entities] have cast their votes … if that’s important to you on how we place our votes.”
– G.K. Maenius, Tarrant County Administrator
I would like to know why they care about the outcome of the election so much. Much is left to speculation.
It’s clear that something needs to change. The solution is quick and easy, but it relies on you taking action (quickly).
We must tell our elected city and school district officials who we want them to vote for. Until now, the missing component making this possible has been actionable data.
My team and I have interviewed the candidates, researched all the entities’ meeting schedules, and found email addresses for them. The election ends on December 15, and the deadline for your entity to vote could be any night.
Take action now by following these steps:
- Share this commentary with neighbors, on social media, and with other media outlets.
- Click here and look in Column C to find out when your county, city, and school district is voting. (Tip: If it says the vote hasn’t been scheduled yet, urge the entity to put it on their agenda and vote before December 15. Everybody should email Tarrant County Commissioners Court.)
- Copy the email addresses in Column D for your taxing entity.
- Click here to watch video interviews I did with the candidates (not all were available for an interview).
- Email your elected officials, telling them which candidate to vote for.
You are the one that goes to your mailbox once a year to find your blue TAD value notice in the mail. Take 2 minutes and simply send an email so that you, the property owner, have a voice in this election.
This is a commentary submitted and published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to [email protected].