A Texas state senator agrees that a county’s chief appraiser should not simultaneously serve in locally elected office, stating that such an arrangement undoubtedly presents a conflict of interest.
The Texas Scorecard previously reported on a glaring conflict of interest concerning the Mayor of Lewisville, Rudy Durham, who simultaneously serves as the chief appraiser of the Denton Central Appraisal District (DCAD).
As a mayor, Durham has strong influence over the property tax rates his city imposes. And as chief appraiser, he has absolute power over every property value that all local tax rates are levied against, including those inside the City of Lewisville. Durham having influence or control over both property values and tax rates presents a clear conflict of interest.
The chief appraiser is appointed by the appraisal district’s board of directors, who are all elected – not by local taxpayers, but by the local taxing entities. Two members of DCAD’s Board of Directors – Charles Stafford and Dave Terre – are also elected officials. Stafford serves on the Denton ISD school board, while Terre is a city councilman in The Colony.
In a statement provided to the Texas Scorecard, State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R—Houston) said a county’s chief appraiser should not simultaneously serve as an elected official of a local taxing entity.
“[This] is a major conflict of interest and should not occur. The appraisal district should be firewalled off from the activities of the taxing entities; there is no doubt. It’s not even a question.”
Bettencourt also said he would support making such a “dual-role” arrangement unlawful under state statute, and would include the prohibition in future efforts to reform the property tax system.
“Our office could not find any statute forbidding a local official from also serving as chief appraiser. [I will] include [a provision addressing this conflict of interest] as part of an omnibus bill in the future.”
Surprisingly, one of DCAD’s own board members, residential realtor Connie Smith, disagreed with Bettencourt’s assertion that Durham’s appointment as appraiser poses a conflict of interest. Smith told the Texas Scorecard that she is “not concerned” over the board’s decision. She also disputed the fact that Durham, as mayor, has control over the city’s property tax rates. She said he’s “only one vote.”
Smith initially suggested that she and other board members were not “responsible” for Durham’s appointment, claiming the board was only responsible for general “oversight, accounting,” and other duties. When pressed, she eventually agreed the board appoints the chief appraiser and conducts periodic performance reviews.
In addition to mayoral duties, which include work sessions and public council meetings, Durham also serves on the Regional Transportation Council, which meets regularly in Arlington, Texas. When asked how much time Durham spends executing mayoral duties – while paid a full-time salary courtesy of taxpayers – Smith said she was “unsure.”
Asked if Durham, as a licensed real estate broker, also runs a private real estate business or engages in real-estate transactions inside Denton County, Smith stated she “did not know.” Smith was clearly disinterested in the question. She added, dismissively, “We are not there to micromanage him.”
Regarding Durham’s clear conflict of interest, the Texas Scorecard also reached out to State Sen. Jane Nelson’s (R—Flower Mound) office, which informed us the senator is traveling and declined to comment.