Congrats, Hood County, on your new chief appraiser, former Tarrant Appraisal District chief appraiser Jeff Law, who recently escaped TAD — er, “resigned from TAD” — because Hood County, which should be called “White Hood” County because it’s named after some Confederate scumbag, is just so awesome. Best of luck to you, because you’re gonna need it. In his resignation letter, Law makes no mention of the past two years of scandals that followed him and that we followed in print. To hear Law tell it, he was a model employee.
“I have been approached from both private and public sector organizations regarding different employment opportunities,” he brags. “I have decided to pursue one of those opportunities.”
Typically when a high-level director condones alleged sexual harassment, doesn’t care if staff allegedly hire friends and family, botches software rollouts, and basically lets his employees run around his office like cave people, that person is blacklisted. But there goes Law, off to Granbury with a song in his heart and his pockets full of gold.
Chief appraiser since 2008, Jeff Law leaves behind an epic PR disaster that has been building since January 2021, when a bizarre TAD board meeting first caught our attention (“ Keeping Tabs on TAD,” Jan. 2021). On the agenda that day was a proposal to hire an outside company to find “erroneously granted” homestead exemptions. Although TAD agreed that Plano-based Tyler Technologies was the most cost-effective and qualified for the job, Tarrant County’s tax assessor-collector Wendy Burgess attempted to steer the contract toward Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, the law firm with its fingers (and more) in tons of local elections.
Linebarger also happens to be the law firm that donated $17,000 to Burgess’ campaign.
TAD board member Gary Losada shut that shit down.
Over the following months, TAD insiders corroborated details of one whistleblower letter that had yet to reach the public (“ Shining a Light on TAD,” June 2021). Exorbitant contractor salaries were a large part of it. Just one example is TAD attorney Catherine Alder, who has earned nearly $400,000 a year even as her position and budget have never been approved by TAD’s board. By comparison, Fort Worth’s city attorney brings home around $270,000 per year and presumably has a much busier day-to-day job. Even with a full-time attorney making beaucoup bucks, Law employed an outside law firm to sue the state attorney general’s office in 2018. Why? To prevent the release of the whistleblower letter in which a toxic work environment at TAD was also described in painful detail.
“Employees are terrified of Jeff Law,” the whistleblower says. “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.”
Ours was the first publication to inform the public that Law’s own hiring violated TAD’s nepotism guidelines because Jeff’s first cousin, David Law, was head of commercial appraisals when Jeff was hired. Relatives of any TAD employee, the 1987 policy reads, shall not be hired. In 2010, Jeff had the policy amended to allow for nepotism.
Determinations of familial favoritism, the current policy reads, is within the “sole discretion of the chief appraiser.” Our research found that around 15% of TAD employees have spouses, siblings, parents/children, or first cousins also working at the appraisal district (“ Betting on the Good Ol’ Boys,” Dec. 2022). Nearly a dozen Weekly articles and more than a year later, other news outlets slowly began reporting on the government entity that had largely avoided wider public scrutiny.
The chief appraiser’s political fortunes drastically turned when the public learned about retaliatory complaints filed by one of his top lieutenants, Randy Armstrong, against Realtor Chandler Crouch. Armstrong, as head of residential appraisal, was likely miffed that Crouch, who volunteers to help locals challenge property valuations, created extra work for TAD staff. In his bogus complaints to a state regulatory agency, Armstrong alleged Crouch misrepresented facts to members of the Tarrant Review Board, which reviews property value protests. Crouch notified Law of the baseless complaints in late 2021, but the chief appraiser took no steps to rein in Armstrong or notify the board. In mid-2022, several dozen property owners braved the summer heat to voice disgust at Law’s handling of the retaliatory filings. Soon after, TAD’s five-member board suspended the chief appraiser for two weeks without pay (“ Pushing Back,” July 2022).
Law had long been politically protected by TAD’s inner circle, including Armstrong and board chair Kathryn Wilemon. As citizens, politicians, and public officials called for an overhaul in leadership at TAD, Armstrong and Wilemon were the first to resign or retire earlier this year. Wilemon faced a recall when she voluntarily stepped down while Armstrong’s “retirement” should be seen for what it is — a graceful exit for a disgraced director of residential appraisal. Left exposed, Law had no choice but to move on. His departure was no surprise to anyone closely following TAD. Based on private conversions with appraisal district insiders, toppling the chief appraiser has been the singular focus of a small but dedicated group of government watchdogs and elected officials for the past few years.
Law’s split marks a new beginning and the possibility of rebuilding public trust in the governmental group whose property valuations affect nearly all Tarrant County residents. The next chief appraiser would do well to learn from and — most importantly — avoid the mistakes that tarnished TAD’s reputation and general faith in local government.
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. He will gently edit it for clarity and concision.