We are concerned about the tenure of Jeff Law, chief appraiser of the Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD), and the harm he has done to the citizenry of the State of Texas with the support of powerful public officials like former Mayor Betsy Price, District Attorney Sharen Wilson, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, county administrator G.K. Maenius, Fort Worth school superintendent Kent Scribner, the Arlington school board, and TCC board member Kenneth Barr.
The recent decision by TAD’s board to place Law on leave without pay for two weeks for his mishandling of retaliatory attacks against Realtor Chandler Crouch amounts to a slap on the wrist. Tarrant County taxpayers should be made aware of Law’s long history of missteps and alleged misdealings since taking office in 2008.
In 2010, Mr. Law was successful in changing TAD policy, allowing himself and a first cousin to be co-workers.
He has made promises he cannot keep by saying he could manage the legacy system conversion to a new software-based appraisal system even though cautioned by Robert Mott, the attorney responsible for crafting the contract between the software supplier and TAD. Law shut down and dismantled the Legacy System without a proven working software system. Data was lost and corrupted when the new Aumentum software came online in fall 2014.
In 2015, the State Comptroller’s ratio study found that TAD’s estimates were inaccurate, thus depriving every Tarrant County school district’s state funding of tens of millions of dollars, but Law will crow and say, “No district did not get its funding.”
Law then gave false testimony before the Texas Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform on April 27, 2016. During the testimony, Law was grilled by the committee members about reported problems with Aumentum software and the handling of taxpayer complaints. Through his testimony before the committee, Law blamed delays in accessing sales data as an excuse for the software problems that deprived school districts of millions of dollars in property tax revenues.
The reality is that the Aumentum software was implemented without proper testing in October 2014. The software used to mass appraise properties and homes never functioned and continues to have performance issues. TAD made a final payment to the Aumentum vendor in 2021 due to the addition of a working special software feature called NCD (Need, Change, Delete) that allows TAD to send account information to the office of Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Wendy Burgess, meaning the software required eight years of upgrades to reach some semblance of functionality.
Law’s 2016 testimony to the committee was furthest from the truth. Without approval from TAD’s board of directors and input from former TAD board members, Law hired a private software contractor to supplement Aumentum software failures from 2015 to December 2021 at a cost in excess of $120,000 a year.
Law, based on one recent whistleblower account, did not inform the board that TAD’s system was allegedly hacked twice in three days in January of 2021, and he unilaterally approved a pay increase for an in-house attorney who earns $32,370 a month. Managers at TAD earn around 20% more than their state counterparts, based on TAD’s own in-house market salary study, while nonmanagers earn significantly less than their state counterparts. Through our own experiences, Law has never sought to improve pay parity for his staff. When TAD staff misleads the public, Law has a history of covering for those actions.
Law, along with then-board chair Mike O’Donnell (candidate for Arlington school board and the City of Arlington), allegedly tried to hide an April 2020 letter from State Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), who asked for an audit of the Aumentum software and raised valid concerns about the high number of property-owner protests that TAD was fielding at the time. When elected officials offered to volunteer their time to audit and remedy TAD’s software problems, Law rebuffed those efforts.
He also allegedly tried to hide a 26-page whistleblower letter (not the one tied to the 2021 TAD server hacking) from TAD’s board in 2018.
Law apparently has a disregard for active and retired members of our military, who are required under 41.66 j-2 of the property tax code to be scheduled first during protest hearings, and for the first 12 years of his tenure, Law made no effort to have TAD board meetings begin with the Pledge of Allegiance. This changed in 2020 with the election of Richard DeOtte and Gary Losada to the board.
When Law runs into legal trouble, he expects taxpayers to foot the bill for his defense. He has a history of not following Texas Public Information Act laws that mandate the prompt release of certain government documents and communications. Law also allegedly altered released information as demonstrated by a criminal complaint filed with the DA’s office by a TAD watchdog in reference to the 2015 TAD board election. This complaint revealed the existence of two similar documents with the same date but two completely different sets of figures, though the request for this same document occurred three months apart. One was in black and white and the other in color.
We further allege that Law allows TAD staffers to run side gigs as real estate agents. Double dipping is common at TAD, we believe, and those conflicts of interest give TAD employees an unfair advantage over non-TAD staffers, who do not have access to a government database and other insider information.
The Open Meetings Act is a moving target to Law. His disregard increased during the COVID emergency. For years, TAD’s board meetings were only accessible by attending in person or through poor audio recordings that were not always discernible. The latest example is the June 30 meeting on TAD’s website. Video and clear audio are nonexistent.
The latest June emergency board meeting tied to Realtor Chandler Crouch’s concerns that he was targeted by TAD leaders because he volunteered his time to help locals protest their property valuations was just the latest example of Law’s failure to follow the Open Meetings Act. No accommodations for the hundreds of taxpayers who came to show support for Crouch were made. Instead, those men and women were made to stand out in the heat for several hours.
No accommodations were made for disabled individuals, which constitutes violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. TAD staff refused to allow anyone to use the restroom.
Before that meeting, there was a standing offer to hold the board meeting at a much larger HEB school district facility. Law ignored the offer. Law easily could have requested a recess of that meeting to accommodate the public and move the recessed meeting to the HEB school district. DeOtte was the lone board member to make a motion to fire Law. That motion failed to garner a second motion, thus it failed. The TAD Board acted as a rubber stamp until DeOtte and Losada (who is no longer on the board) were elected to the board in 2020. Only by changing the election of TAD’s board can we expect change. Currently, the taxing entities and the directors whom they represent appear to want to let Jeff Law be King of TAD.
A group of concerned taxpayers
This letter reflects the opinions of the authors and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a letter, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit them for clarity and concision.