Citizens’ calls for heads to roll at Tarrant County’s embattled appraisal district were finally answered after a local taxing entity initiated action to remove the head of the bureaucracy’s board.
Facing a recall, Tarrant Appraisal District Chairman Kathryn Wilemon instead resigned Wednesday via an email to the board.
Wilemon’s move allows the remaining board members to choose her replacement, taking representation away from the taxing entities that would have selected a replacement had she been recalled.
Recall and Replacement
Appraisal district board members are selected by local taxing entities such as cities, school districts, and the county. Entities that vote for a board member can initiate a recall of that member.
Keller City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday night to recall Wilemon, citing taxpayers’ complaints about the lack of accountability, transparency, and trust within the agency that sets property values for local tax purposes.
“The City of Keller is unapologetic about protecting our taxpayers,” Mayor Armin Mizani said following Tuesday’s recall vote. He said the council’s action was based on a series of questions:
Is the Tarrant Appraisal District today more accountable and transparent than it was two years ago? Do our taxpayers in Keller have more trust of the appraisal process? Are Keller taxpayers afforded a level playing field when protesting or representing others who protest their assessments? Can they do so without fear of retaliation?
The answer to these questions, which we have received from constituents, is “no.”
Had the recall process moved forward, Keller and other taxing entities that voted for Wilemon would have decided whether to recall her and, if the recall had been successful, the eligible entities would have chosen her replacement. The more property taxes an entity collects, the more votes it has.
Because of its size and previous support for Wilemon, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court would have had the most say in the outcome of the recall vote and the selection of a new board member.
Since Wilemon resigned, the replacement process is very different.
Unless the board decides otherwise, all taxing entities will be able to nominate candidates—they could even nominate Wilemon—and the remaining board members will pick one of the nominees to serve the rest of Wilemon’s term, which ends in December.
Why Wilemon, Why Now?
Wilemon was serving her second two-year term on the board, which includes five selected members plus the county tax assessor-collector as a non-voting member. Recall proponents reportedly wanted Wilemon replaced before a June budget meeting.
During Wilemon’s tenure, property tax appraisal protests skyrocketed.
Trust in the agency was further shaken when top TAD officials were caught using district resources to harass local realtor and tax consultant Chandler Crouch, who helps homeowners lower their tax bills by protesting their property appraisals.
Outraged Tarrant County citizens called for “heads to roll” at the bureaucracy. In June, a huge crowd lined up for hours outside the appraisal district office to protest TAD targeting Crouch with misleading complaints that have since been dismissed.
The TAD employees at the center of the scandal, Chief Appraiser Jeff Law and Director of Residential Appraisals Randy Armstrong, received slaps on the wrist in the form of temporary suspensions as punishment. Afterwards, Wilemon blocked the board from voting on whether to release a full report detailing results of an investigation into Armstrong’s and Law’s actions.
“We can no longer sit by and wait for others to act,” Keller City Councilman Ross McMullin said. “When we see government officials at the Appraisal District weaponize their power to attack private citizens, it indicates a dereliction of duty. Moreover, when citizens are left out of a public process to stand in sweltering heat, it indicates a betrayal by our elected officials.”
Keller resident Kathy May commended city officials, saying, “This is leadership. Thank you KCC and Ross McMullin for speaking out for the taxpayers of Keller.”
“The words and actions of Mayor Mizani, Councilman McMullin, and the Keller City Council exemplify the qualities of true servant leadership that citizens expect from their government officials,” Crouch told Texas Scorecard.
“Moving forward, I hope that TAD and the TAD board will adopt these same principles and approach problems proactively, showing sincere empathy for the impact of government on its citizens,” Crouch said. “This includes a deep commitment to accountability and transparency, which will help to prevent drastic measures like a recall in the future.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this article indicated that Board Secretary Rich DeOtte was acting chair. Kathryn Wilemon has since indicated she will continue serving as a holdover until her replacement is selected and installed.