The top administrator of the Tarrant Appraisal District resigned Friday amid mounting pressure for leadership changes following a series of missteps, scandals and eroding confidence in the agency.
The resignation of chief appraiser Jeff Law came three days after the Tarrant County commissioners took a vote of no confidence in Law. At least three mayors had also publicly called for Law’s ouster after recent stories in the Star-Telegram exposed comments made by an agency senior manager urging TAD to lie to the public.
Law’s last day will be Sept. 6.
“In recent months, I have been approached from both private and public sector organizations regarding different employment opportunities. While I appreciate the vote of confidence I received from the board at its last board meeting, I have decided to pursue one of those opportunities,” Law wrote.
In his letter, Law thanked TAD employees and added, “I am proud to say that TAD is operating at a high level.” The agency is responsible for appraising property values for tax purposes in Tarrant County.
The commissioner court’s vote Tuesday was a culmination of public calls for Law’s resignation, which intensified after the Star-Telegram obtained a recording of a meeting during which TAD’s head of information systems said he supported creating a “false narrative” to media about persistent problems with the agency’s website.
“I’m OK with creating a false narrative that distances the truth from the media,” Cal Wood told coworkers, speaking about a strategy for sharing news of TAD’s tech troubles. “That’s where I’m gonna have to really shut up today.”
Days after the Aug. 21 report, the mayors of Southlake, Keller and Colleyville issued a letter calling for Law’s firing. In their letter, the trio of mayors call the latest scandal “outrageous and a breach of the public’s trust.”
Wood was fired Aug. 25. In a brief statement, TAD said Wood’s comments didn’t reflect the agency’s values.
At the time of his termination, Wood was earning $163,529 annually.
‘It starts at the top’
Local political leaders who spearheaded votes of no confidence in Law are celebrating the news of his resignation.
Keller Mayor Armin Mizani led the City Council in recalling TAD board chair Kathryn Wilemon in February and pledged to take a vote of no confidence in Law after the Star-Telegram reported Woods’ comments. But, “it was never about one person,” he said Friday.
“When we started this process with the chairperson, it wasn’t about her. It wasn’t about the chief appraiser. It was about the culture at TAD. When you look at the scandal after scandal, at the end of the day, that stops at the top and it starts at the top,” Mizani said.
He’s hopeful that the change in leadership will spur a change in culture at the embattled agency.
Mizani also released a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Tarrant Appraisal District’s chief appraiser has resigned. Statement below ️ pic.twitter.com/79OHpS68LM
— Armin Mizani (@ArminMizaniTX) September 1, 2023
Tarrant County Commissioner Manny Ramirez wasn’t present for the court’s vote of no confidence in Law on Tuesday but weighed in Friday after his resignation was announced.
“Accountability has to start at the top,” Ramirez said. “I’m very confident that the board of directors will do their due diligence and make sure that they find new executive leadership that’s capable of ensuring that TAD gets back to its number once focus, which is providing efficient, transparent and accountable service to the taxpayer.”
Mansfield Mayor Michael Evans called the resignation “a wise move” that he hopes will help begin “the process of righting the ship.”
“Property owners need to have full confidence in the appraisal district,” Evans said.
In response to the resignation, TAD board member Rich DeOtte said it was understandable that Law found another opportunity following a series of controversies at the agency.
“I wish him well in the future,” he said. “The board’s job now is to find a replacement and make sure the staff at TAD knows they are doing a great job and made all of the difference during the controversies of executive leadership.”
Law’s tenure at TAD
Law was hired to be TAD’s chief appraiser in August 2008.
He came under fire in 2015 when the agency adopted new software that resulted in severely undervalued property.
The software glitch caused school districts to be shorted millions in property taxes revenue. Some had to eliminate positions and pause hiring despite growth.
Law was grilled about the issues by state lawmakers during a hearing in 2016. An audit — deemed “explosive” by then tax assessor-collector Ron Wright — found TAD didn’t clearly outline requirements for the new product and didn’t appropriately test it.
In 2017, thousands of tax bills weren’t sent out.
In 2019, many homeowners didn’t receive protest information.
During the 2019 appraisal season, TAD invited scrutiny for the rise in the number of protests filed in the county. It garnered the attention of former state Sen. Jane Nelson, whose district included much of Tarrant County.
In April 2020, she wrote to the board requesting an investigation into the rise in protests. In June 2020, the board narrowly voted to consider a review. But, no such audit came to fruition.
TAD made news again last summer when Randy Armstrong, director of commercial appraisal, invoked his position at TAD to file complaints against tax consultant Chandler Crouch with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Law failed to notify the board of the complaints for months.
Hundreds attended a June 2022 board meeting to show support for Crouch and were forced to wait for hours in triple-digit temperatures, because the room reserved could fit only 14 people.
Law and Armstrong were suspended for two weeks.
A few months later in February 2023, the Keller City Council recalled Wilemon, the TAD board chair. Wilemon’s subsequent resignation left the board questioning how to fill the seat.
Publicly, Law said neither process superseded the other. Privately, he wrote to taxing entities that the recall process was canceled by the vacancy.
In response, Tarrant County District Attorney Phil Sorrells wrote Law and threatened legal action if the board interfered with the recall process.
In April, the board issued Law a letter of repair, which outlined 11 items to be completed in 90 days, such as developing a plan to repair the agency’s reputation and ensuring that the agency’s computer systems and website comply with statutory requirements.
Despite assuring the board and the public that TAD’s website would be ready for the 2023 protest season, TAD.org was not fully operational when notices went out. Pages timed out and the automated market review tool used to protest values was not available. The tool’s availability is required by law.
After public outcry, Law extended the protest deadline from May 15 to May 30.
At the board’s Aug. 11 meeting, former TAD employee Patricia Nolan shared her concerns about the agency’s website issues in a closed session. Nolan also shared these concerns with the Star-Telegram.
Later in the meeting, the five board members voted 3-2 on a vote of confidence regarding Law’s leadership, as stipulated by the letter of repair.
At the time of his resignation, Law was earning $201,073 annually with a $13,800 car allowance.
The board will appoint an interim chief appraiser at its next meeting on Sept. 14.
“To me, the most important step right now is for the board of directors to take their time and appoint someone. Priority number one is to regain the public trust,” said Mizani.
All five board members are also up for election this fall.
In light of the fact that three board members — Tony Pompa, Jungus Jordan and J.R. Martinez — approved a vote of confidence in Law three weeks ago, Mizani is committed to rigorously evaluating board candidates as they seek votes.
“We’re going to look for board members that understand that they’re accountable to taxpayers,” he said.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.