Tarrant County taxpayers are finally seeing some accountability from the troubled Tarrant Appraisal District, the agency that sets property values used by local governments to calculate tax bills.
The head of the appraisal district’s board of directors, Kathryn Wilemon, will be recalled from office—ending any chance that the remaining directors could put Wilemon back on the board, and allowing the local taxing entities who put Wilemon in office to focus on choosing her replacement.
Wilemon submitted her resignation a day after a recall was initiated, in an apparent attempt to avoid being recalled and instead have the board appoint her replacement—which could have been Wilemon herself.
Meanwhile, the district’s controversial chief appraiser, Jeff Law, will keep his job—despite revelations he unilaterally acted to declare the recall process was “canceled,” which would have created the opportunity for the board to appoint Wilemon’s replacement.
However, Law must complete a 90-day “repair” process to be prescribed by the board that requires him to address complaints about the agency he administers.
The Tarrant Appraisal District board made the decisions at a meeting Friday to address the shenanigans surrounding Wilemon’s replacement.
Following a two-hour closed session, the four remaining voting members of the board— Rich DeOtte, Jungus Jordan, Joe Ralph Martinez, and Tony Pompa—voted to rescind Wilemon’s resignation.
The board’s vote made it clear that the recall process will go forward and the board would not be filling the vacancy.
The City of Keller initiated the recall of Wilemon on February 21, citing taxpayers’ complaints about the lack of accountability, transparency, and trust within the agency.
On March 7, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court also voted to recall Wilemon, sealing her fate because the county controls a supermajority of recall votes.
Keller and Tarrant County threatened TAD with legal action if the recall did not proceed.
TAD board members also confirmed Friday that Law had taken it upon himself to say that the recall was “canceled” and the board would pick Wilemon’s replacement.
During a March 3 board meeting, presided over by Wilemon despite her resignation, board members voted 3-1 to declare Wilemon’s seat vacant and directed Law to notify taxing entities of both the recall and the vacancy.
Yet Law wrote in a letter to taxing entities dated March 3 (but received days later) that the district’s lawyer, Matthew Tepper, “provided advice to the board” and “concluded” that Wilemon’s resignation created a vacancy, thus the recall “is now canceled as a result of the vacancy.”
Tepper since confirmed he did not give such advice.
In a March 14 letter to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, Law made no mention of his earlier claim that the recall was canceled.
On Friday, Law said, “[It] wasn’t my intention to circumvent any taxing entities’ authority.”
DeOtte called for Law to be fired, but no other board member seconded his motion.
Wilemon was absent from Friday’s meeting.
Her resignation set up the conflicting replacement processes, which are completely different for a recall versus filling a vacancy.
Under the recall process, the eight taxing entities eligible to participate in the recall will select her replacement.
Had the recall been canceled and the vacancy process followed, as Law had suggested, Wilemon could have been nominated by any of the 73 taxing entities that participate in selecting appraisal board members, and the board could have chosen her to fill the vacancy left by her own resignation.
That option may have been considered.
Former Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley acknowledged to tax consultant Chandler Crouch that he had been whipping support for Wilemon among local taxing entities—suggesting he thought she could be reappointed to the board under the vacancy process, if the recall was canceled.
During public comments at Friday’s meeting, two speakers claiming to represent multiple TAD employees described their boss Law, who was present at the meeting, in glowing terms. One praised Law’s “honesty and integrity.”
The board can re-evaluate Law after he completes his 90-day repair process. By that time, Wilemon’s replacement will have joined the board.
For more details, see Texas Scorecard’s previous coverage of trouble within the Tarrant Appraisal District administration: