Tarrant County’s top appraiser is out. How will the Appraisal District move forward?

When the Tarrant Appraisal District board of directors met on Aug. 11, the board didn’t plan to gather again until mid-November.

But within three weeks, the board was faced with a lengthy to-do list, ensuring members will see a lot more of each other than expected before the end of the year.

Here’s what happened:

The Star-Telegram exposed comments made by Cal Wood, who at the time was TAD’s head of information systems, suggesting TAD lie to the media about ongoing tech issues. The board attorney Matthew Tepper conducted an investigation into the comments. Wood was terminated. Aug. 25.

However, taxing entities frustrated with TAD’s lack of transparency wanted to see leadership changes at the top. Three days after the Tarrant County commissioners took a vote of no confidence in Chief Appraiser Jeff Law, he resigned.

The board met Monday to chart a path forward, including choosing an interim leader while a permanent replacement is selected.

IT issues

After a two-and-a-half-hour closed session, the board voted to bring in a third party to determine whether the agency’s computer system was hacked.

The agency’s website went down last fall. Law said it was related to planned security updates.

But the planned updates weren’t communicated to the board beforehand. Less than a month later, on Nov. 8, 2022, the Dallas Central Appraisal District website was hacked.

Former TAD employee Patricia Nolan told the Star-Telegram that TAD was hacked, and the hack was essentially an open secret among employees.

In prior board meetings, Wood and Law were directly asked if TAD’s computers were hacked. Both said no. Moreover, the Star-Telegram asked Law multiple times if TAD was hacked. He repeatedly denied it.

Asked why the board decided to investigate a potential hack, board Chair Tony Pompa pointed to Tepper’s investigation into the recording of Wood. Tepper was appointed to conduct the investigation outside of a board meeting, potentially a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“At this point we have reason to believe that maybe there was,” he said.

So, did top TAD officials lie to the board?

“It doesn’t seem like he was entirely truthful,” board member Vince Puente said about Wood’s testimony to the board. “Again, whether that’s a lie or not, I don’t know.”

The board on the record

At its Aug. 11 meeting, the board took a vote of confidence in Law. Three board members approved the vote: Pompa, Jungus Jordan and JR Martinez.

Law resigned before the board met to respond to calls for his termination.

Board newcomer Puente made a motion to take a belated vote of confidence in Law to make clear where the board stands on what happened in the intervening three weeks.

“In Jeff Law’s resignation letter, he references his vote of confidence and thanks the board,” said Puente. “That’s what he’s going out to the public with.”

Board member Rich DeOtte agreed and joined Puente in voting no confidence in Law.

“This board needs to take an action that is serious about what has just happened to us,” DeOtte said.

The remainder of the board had a different message: what’s already happened is in the past.

The three board members who approved a vote of confidence in Law abstained from Monday’s vote. Both Martinez and Pompa said they didn’t want to engage in “Monday morning quarterbacking.”

“The resignation was warranted and justified,” said Jordan. “For the betterment of this organization going forward, it is essential that we begin the process to restore the faith.”

New hires

The board voted to appoint William Durham as interim chief appraiser.

Durham was previously the director of commercial appraisals.

Durham thanked the board for its confidence in him. He also said: “We may not be perfect here at all times. But there should never be a moment where you question that you are treated respectfully.”

In the meantime, the board is making moves to find a permanent replacement for Law. It identified four firms and aims to sign a contract with one to select a new chief appraiser by mid-October.

A new chief appraiser might not be the only new face coming to TAD this fall. Each member of the agency’s five-person board is up for election this year.

Appraisal district board members are chosen by taxing entities, like cities, the county and school districts. Each is given votes based on a calculation that uses the amount of property taxes the entity imposes.

Taxing entities must nominate candidates by Oct. 15 and submit their votes before Dec. 15.