Kathryn Wilemon, head of the troubled Tarrant Appraisal District’s board of directors, is on her way out.
The question now is whether she will be recalled and replaced by local taxing entities, or if the board will fill the vacancy created by her resignation.
A board decision Friday set up a confusing situation for the local government entities involved in selecting Wilemon’s replacement, as the process is completely different for filling a vacancy versus conducting a recall.
The Tarrant County Commissioners Court may clear up the confusion during their meeting on Tuesday.
Appraisal district board members are selected by local taxing entities such as cities, school districts, and county governments. The more property taxes an entity collects, the more votes it’s entitled to cast. Entities that vote for a board member can initiate a recall of that member.
Last Tuesday, the Keller City Council approved a resolution to recall Wilemon, citing taxpayers’ complaints about the lack of accountability, transparency, and trust within the agency, which is responsible for setting property values used by local governments to calculate property tax bills.
With the recall process already set in motion by Keller, appraisal district directors held a special board meeting on Friday and decided they also needed to initiate the process for filling a vacancy created by Wilemon’s resignation.
“Neither action supersedes the other,” Chief Appraiser Jeff Law told the board.
The board voted 3-1 to consider Wilemon’s board position vacant.
Wilemon presided over Friday’s meeting and participated in the closed-door session to discuss the issue, although she abstained from voting.
Board Secretary Rich DeOtte cast the lone “no” vote.
“Friendships can’t override the law,” DeOtte said. “A recall has been duly started, and there’s no provision for stopping it.”
“The tax code doesn’t talk about resignation,” he added. “It talks about a vacancy.”
DeOtte said treating the situation as a vacancy, while Wilemon is still serving on the board—she cited Texas’ holdover rule that directs elected officials to perform the duties of their offices until a successor is “duly qualified”—takes away from the eight entities who put Wilemon in office and will select her replacement following a recall.
He added the board should consider the taxpayers first, and taxing entities second.
What Happens Now: Recall vs. Vacancy
The appraisal district will notify all 73 participating taxing entities of the vacancy, pursuant to Texas Tax Code, section 6.03(l).
Under the rules for filling a vacancy, every taxing entity in the county with voting privileges is allowed to nominate a replacement candidate, and the board picks one.
At the same time, the eight taxing entities eligible to vote in the recall will also receive recall notices: the cities of Grand Prairie, Hurst, Keller, Mansfield, and North Richland Hills; Mansfield ISD; the Tarrant County College Board; and the Tarrant County Commissioners Court.
Under recall rules in section 6.033 of the Tax Code, only the entities that voted for the recalled member participate in the recall vote. If the recall succeeds, they choose the replacement to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term (in this case, through December 2023).
The Tarrant County Commissioners Court controls more recall votes than all of the other entities combined, and the issue is on the court’s agenda for Tuesday, March 7.
The timetables for the one-step vacancy-filling process and the two-part recall-and-replace process overlap.
The tax code allows entities 45 days to submit vacancy nominations—until April 17, according to Chief Appraiser Jeff Law. He then has five days to submit the list of nominees to board members.
Yet following the tax code’s timetable for recalls, the votes on whether to recall Wilemon will be counted by early April, before the board can fill the vacancy. If the recall process is successful, the process to nominate and select a replacement would take until June, after the vacancy is filled.
The question is whether a successful recall vote would render the vacancy process moot.
In the meantime, Wilemon continues to head the board and thus control meeting agendas, as the board did not select a new chairman at Friday’s meeting.
Why Taxing Entities Want Wilemon Out
Wilemon, a former Arlington City Council member, is serving her second two-year term on the appraisal district board, which includes five selected members plus the county tax assessor-collector as a non-voting member.
The appraisal district has been plagued with troubles in recent years, from skyrocketing property tax appraisal protests and accusations that Law and others tried to cover up an inquiry by then-State Sen. Jane Nelson, to faulty software that produces error-filled tax bills.
Trust in the agency was shaken again when top TAD officials were caught using district resources to harass local realtor and tax consultant Chandler Crouch, who has helped thousands of homeowners protest their property appraisals free of charge.
Last June, hundreds of Tarrant County citizens lined up for hours outside the appraisal district office to protest TAD targeting Crouch with misleading complaints that have since been dismissed. The employees at the center of the scandal, Law and Director of Residential Appraisals Randy Armstrong, only received brief suspensions as punishment.
Crouch told the board Friday that what’s important is helping all the people who depend on the appraisal system.
“People are getting bills over $10,000 because of an error going on with the Tarrant Appraisal District. We need to focus on the problems that are affecting people,” he said. “You have an interest to stand for higher principles of transparency and accountability. We need leadership.”
After Friday’s board meeting, Crouch told Texas Scorecard, “This is an opportunity for the judge and commissioners to stand as leaders in Tarrant County, vote for the recall, and vote to fill the seat with [former Tarrant Appraisal District director] Gary Losada, the candidate that 23 taxing entities voted for.”
“I urge all Tarrant County residents to email the commissioners and judge, and also attend the meeting this Tuesday asking them to stand up to be leaders and do the right thing,” he added.
Tarrant County residents can contact their local elected officials to learn more about how the entities will vote in the recall and/or select appraisal district board nominees.