Last year, the grassroots fought to elect three new members to the board of the appraisal district in Tarrant County. One of those newcomers is now calling on the grassroots, asking them to help continue the fight to reform the organization that sets the taxable value of people’s homes.

Rich DeOtte—a business owner, board member of Texas Right to Life, and recipient of a 2019 Conservative Leader Award—was elected to the board of the Tarrant Appraisal District in December. Even though board elections are decided by local governments in Tarrant County, the local grassroots joined a campaign—led by property taxpayer defender Chandler Crouch—to ask their local elected officials to support DeOtte and the two other newcomers.

“For me, it was very humbling to go places and hear that they had received up to 2,000 emails advocating for my candidacy,” DeOtte told Texas Scorecard in an exclusive interview.

However, DeOtte emphasized that his election should not be the end of the grassroots’ engagement—it should be the beginning.

“Now, fixing the problems at TAD is not going to be five people on a board making decisions; it’s going to have to involve the community, so all those people need to stay engaged. And it is also going to involve interaction with the school boards and city councils. Fixing this problem can’t be left to the five board members. It has to be done with the help of the entities that elected [the TAD board].”

DeOtte went on to identify what he believes the problems are at TAD and how he plans to address them, starting with the reason he decided to run for a seat on the board:

“[My wife and I] were directly involved down in Austin with legislators and giving testimony on the property tax issue. And what I heard from many local elected people from around the state—and certainly around Tarrant County—is almost the same phrase. They say, ‘That property tax appraisal system is out of control.’”

DeOtte believes one of the sources of these problems is the software Tarrant County adopted about six years ago, which he understands to be “a train wreck.” He also believes people at TAD have made “workarounds” for the software issues, but those very workarounds are resulting in bad data that directly affects how TAD sets the taxable values of people’s homes.

“This is my theory, and I will be working to ascertain exactly where the grievances are in the system,” he said. “But the result is what is important. The result is that people’s property taxes can go up, I’ve heard in a number of cases, over 100 percent in one year.”

Many local elected officials like to blame appraisal districts for homeowners’ skyrocketing property tax bills. Colleyville Mayor Richard Newton is an exception, acknowledging that the problem is local elected officials who set the tax rate resulting in your property tax bills—not the appraisal district. And DeOtte agrees.

“The appraisal board’s job is to collect data and to process data. That’s it,” he said. “And when basically their result is bad data … [and] they are getting some bad data … that translates into problems for cities and school boards. And those are the people that I think deserve to have better data.”

As part of his research, DeOtte found over the past five years that property value protests at TAD have tripled. “Is that just because property values went up, or is it because the system is unfair?” he asked. “I think it’s probably a little bit of both.”

DeOtte says he does not believe corruption is the problem. “I think this is just people … struggling to deliver with resources they may not understand—like the software, for example.”

When asked when Tarrant homeowners can start seeing changes in their home appraisals, DeOtte says this will not be a quick fix.

“I think some results are probably achievable within months, but this is going to be a longer process than that, I believe.” He estimates that there should be noticeable results next year.

But he needs the help of the grassroots.

“It would be great if they would call the elected people that they emailed before and tell them, ‘Thanks for considering Rich DeOtte. We’d like you to support his efforts to reform TAD.’”

He also encourages people to keep their eyes peeled for social media pages that pop up on this subject and to stay engaged with conservative groups like local Republican clubs and True Texas Project.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.