The days of humdrum board meetings may be over for the Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD). Setting aside the fact that the skyrocketing property valuations set by TAD are making Fort Worth increasingly unaffordable for even middle-class individuals and families, Tarrant County residents are learning that TAD dealings are too frequently done in secret and in the interest of protecting the vested powers at the appraisal district.
The vast majority of accusations and documented instances of malfeasance are tied directly to TAD chief appraiser Jeff Law.
Friday’s board meeting, which was livestreamed by local rabblerouser Manuel Mata, captured the latest scandal into which Law has dragged TAD leadership.
Early into the meeting, Realtor Chandler Crouch got up to address the five-member board. Everyone knew why he was there, including the board, though its members feigned ignorance. Crouch was there to talk about a letter. Sent in May by Frank Hill, Crouch’s lawyer, it said that Crouch would not tolerate any more attacks by Randy Armstrong, TAD’s director of residential appraisal. It seems that Armstrong and, by extension, TAD aren’t big fans of Crouch. And for good reason. The Realtor spends most of his free time volunteering to help locals protest their sky-high property valuations.
Attorney Hill, who has built a career successfully suing government groups for large sums of money (most recently, Tarrant County College), warned TAD that his firm would defend Realtor Crouch’s First Amendment rights by any means necessary.
“I saw that there is an item on the agenda addressing the letter that my attorney sent to the board,” Crouch said during the meeting. “Up to this point, there hasn’t been a lot of details about what is going on. In October 2021, somebody started several complaints against my license as a property tax consultant. To make it clear, what is in the complaint is baseless. When I first got the complaint, I thought it was bogus. The reason this matters to you is because of who filed the complaint and how much Jeff Law supports this complaint.”
Crouch added that an investigator with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) allegedly stated that the complaints were filed by TAD, not an individual who happens to work for the appraisal district. Armstrong’s use of TAD letterhead and the intimate knowledge disclosed in his complaints suggests that he is using TAD resources for his alleged attacks.
Although the matter was only discussed and not voted on, the board members agreed that Law should look into it even though he has known about the complaints since at least November and has taken no action to stop the acts of alleged misconduct by Armstrong. Law, who frequently handles personnel matters, supported the idea of handling the investigation.
Former TAD board member Gary Losada told us in a phone interview that Law should not be trusted to investigate his own actions.
“That is a conflict of interest,” Losada said.
Law seems to have a history of hiding embarrassing information from the board, Losada alleges, an allegation that we’ve fielded before in the form of a whistleblower complaint. One year ago, we published details from a series of anonymous letters that appeared to have been drafted by one or more TAD employees (“Shining a Light on TAD,” June 2021).
“Employees are terrified of Jeff Law,” the whistleblower alleges in one 13-page complaint we reviewed that was also sent to TDLR. “The culture at TAD is to not say anything bad, even if it is the truth. TAD has NO third-party reporting system for ethics complaints, employee suggestions, or safety concerns. TAD is the posterchild for how not to run an appraisal district.”
The whistleblower took direct aim at Law, alleging that the chief appraiser used his position to hide defects in the appraisal district’s software that led to inaccurate property tax estimates over the past several years.
Losada shared copies of handwritten notes he took on June 4, 2020, six months after assuming office. Losada said he was on a conference call with Law and former TAD board member Michael O’Donnell when Law and O’Donnell, assuming Losada had left the call, began discussing a letter sent to TAD’s board by Texas Sen. Jane Nelson.
In her letter, Nelson described her concern over the high number of protests filed by Tarrant County property owners. Between 2015 and 2019, the number of formal protests in Tarrant County rose by 170%, according to TAD data, and local protest rates were far higher in Tarrant County than in other large Texas counties. Even though the letter was addressed to TAD’s board members, Losada alleges that Law told O’Donnell that the letter should not be shared. If board members do find out, Law allegedly said, either he or O’Donnell could say they didn’t know that Nelson intended the letter to be shared with board members.
Losada said his conversation with one of Nelson’s staffers around that time made it clear that Law knew that the senator intended copies of the letter to be sent to all five board members. Losada didn’t mention the hot mic incident during a subsequent board meeting, but he did insist that board members be made aware of the senator’s letter.
“Jeff Law knew these letters were out there and never sent it to the board or mentioned it to the board,” Losada told us recently. “They were trying to figure out how to spin it when it came to light. They were hoping to keep it from the board.”
TAD’s board has repeatedly refused to hold Law accountable for failing to handle serious allegations like the one presented by Crouch. Law’s approach to investigating internal matters, based on our past reporting, involves hiding the problem while covering for personal friends. By allowing Law to investigate his own possible involvement in complaints against one of his employees, TAD’s leadership could be setting the appraisal district on a path that may finally force the board of directors to decide if keeping Law as chief appraiser is worth the financial liability
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality, clarity, and concision.
This article was updated to correct a name spelling.