Tarrant County’s Top Property Tax Assessor Suspended

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Fort Worth Realtor Chandler Crouch speaks at the Tarrant Appraisal District Board of Directors meeting on Friday.

The Tarrant Appraisal District Board of Directors voted to suspend Chief Appraiser Jeff Law after he failed to inform the board that one of his employees had filed a complaint against Chandler Crouch, a Tarrant County real estate agent helping people protest their property tax assessors.

The motion passed by four votes to one. Self-proclaimed “reformist” board member Rich DeOtte voted against the motion; he supported Law’s withdrawal.

It was the second straight meeting where Tarrant County taxpayers unhappy with TAD and its treatment of Crouch filled the agency’s office demanding transparency.

Will Law’s suspension trigger the culture change the public is asking for?

“That concerns me,” said DeOtte, who has struggled to get the board to think in the past. “I can not tell.”

How did we come here?

It’s likely that more people showed up to support Chandler Crouch on June 30 than any previous speaker at TAD’s board meetings since its inception, DeOtte said.

Because the meeting took place in a room of 14 people, hundreds of people braved triple-digit heat to register their complaints with TAD after news broke that a TAD employee – in his official capacity – filed a complaint against Crouch to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. .

In his complaint, Director of Residential Assessments Randy Armstrong argued that Crouch “fils thousands of protests each year that he cannot responsibly and appropriately represent.”

Crouch was made aware of the complaints in November, when he contacted Law. The issue wasn’t discussed publicly until months later, after Crouch’s attorney, Frank Hill, sent several letters to Tarrant’s appraisal district board, asking the agency to part ways. Complaints.

Throughout the process, Crouch maintained that he wanted to avoid making the case public.

After nearly four hours of impassioned public comment at its June 30 meeting, the board agreed to investigate the matter and send a letter to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation stating that TAD had not sanctioned Armstrong’s complaint. That’s the request Hill made in a letter dated May 12.

The complaints were dropped on August 11 for lack of evidence.

Behind the curtain at TAD

Crouch’s supporters weren’t just focused on the agency’s treatment of him. Instead, many residents detailed the perilous increase in property tax bills and were bullied by Armstrong and the Assessment Review Board.

They also discussed other issues that have plagued the agency in recent years, including a $12 million software glitch that led to an “explosive” audit, confusion over protest deadlines, reporting errors. taxes and failure to send notices of protest.

Then there is the rising protests against the property tax.

Between 2015 and 2019, the number of annual events at TAD more than tripled.

During his first two-year term, board member DeOtte began pushing for an audit of TAD to determine the cause of the increased protests. The explosion of protests was an outlier among large metropolitan Texas assessment districts, DeOtte noted.

He even caught the eye of State Senator Jane Nelson, whose district included much of Tarrant County. In April 2020, she wrote to the board asking for an investigation into the rising protests.

Although DeOtte’s push was not well received by all members, in June 2020 the board narrowly voted to consider a review. But when it came to launching the review, the board voted against it.

Friday’s meeting

Friday’s board meeting reflected some lessons learned. First, the encounter took place in a hall of 50 people with an overflow area for additional spectators.

Most of the speakers during the hour and a half of public comment either expressed support for Crouch as a customer or criticized TAD’s lack of transparency.

“I never used anyone to fight my taxes. I’m here because of what I read in the paper,” said Keller homeowner Guy Patrick. “I’m concerned about the leadership here. I think it starts at the top.

However, at that meeting, a second contingent of commentators accused Crouch of falsifying tax documents and claiming people who did not work with him as clients.

James O’Day, of O’Day Harrison Grant Property Tax Consulting Services, said he had attended several hearings before the Assessment Review Board for clients who had previously paid him only to find that other tax advisers (like Crouch) were on the client’s agent list.

“I was personally affected by that,” O’Day said.

Asked about these claims, Crouch said it looked like a coordinated effort to deflect ongoing issues.

“I do for free what they do for a fee,” he said, adding he has worked with O’Day in the past and has even referred clients to him.

The Board elected to defer discussion of the matter to a future meeting.

After about an hour and a half of public comments, chairwoman Kathryn Wilemon assured the audience that the council was working, but took a defensive tone.

“I really resent the attack on our integrity,” she said, calling the comments and emails to the board “abusive.”

To take part

After three hours of deliberation in closed executive session, the TAD board emerged to discuss Law’s professional fate.

Mitigating factors, as board member Tony Pompa noted, include Law’s past performance. For example, Law always submitted necessary information to Wendy Burgess, the tax collector, on time.

Randy Armstrong was also suspended without pay, and the board voted to release the results of its internal investigation. Jeff Craig will serve as acting chief evaluator during Law’s two-week suspension.

“I don’t agree that two weeks is enough, but that’s the decision,” DeOtte said.

With increased public scrutiny of the board and agency, he pledged to move forward with measures that will increase transparency, such as ensuring all board members are released virtually to the public.

After the meeting, Crouch said he respects the board’s decision, but that it may not be enough to resolve the issues Tarrant County ratepayers are having with TAD.

“I think there’s a culture change that needs to happen,” he said.

This story was originally published August 12, 2022 3:53 p.m.

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Jess Hardin covers growth and development. After graduating from Georgetown University, she earned a Fulbright scholarship to Georgia (the country) and served a brief stint in federal service in whistleblower protection. Jess arrives in Fort Worth after helping launch digital news startup Mahoning Matters following the closure of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio. Send tips to [email protected] or via Twitter to @jesslhardin.

Penny D. Jackson