In a 4-1 vote, the Tarrant Appraisal District Board of Directors voted Aug. 12 to suspend for two weeks without pay Chief Appraiser Jeff Law and one of his top lieutenants.
Following nearly three hours of closed session deliberations, the board decided to suspend Law, effective Aug. 15, for his handling of the grievances between tax consultant Chandler Crouch and Director of Residential Appraisal Randy Armstrong.
Jeff Craig, director of administration at the appraisal district, will step in as interim chief appraiser.
“This sends the message to (Law) that this was a serious mistake on his part not to deal with it much earlier and in a different way,” said Tony Pompa, the board member who motioned to suspend Law.
Rich DeOtte was the sole opposing vote. DeOtte previously motioned for the chief appraiser to be terminated but did not get any second to move forward with a vote.
He said termination was the appropriate action because of what he described as a series of incidents that led up to this moment.
“There have been times in the past when I felt like there was misdirection (on Law’s part),” DeOtte said. “To me, this wasn’t an isolated incident.”
Prior to his suspension, Law presented the findings of an internal investigation the appraisal district conducted into Armstrong. Armstrong filed complaints against Crouch with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation back in November 2021 without Law’s approval, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage.
Armstrong will also be suspended without pay. Officials did not give details about the length of the suspension, or when it would start.
During his presentation of the findings, Law said Armstrong’s 41-year tenure with the district and lack of complaints in his personnel file were considered during the investigation. The findings also state that the director made the reports in good faith.
“I don’t believe Mr. Armstrong’s actions rise to the level of termination so I made a decision earlier this week to suspend him without pay or termination,” Law said, noting that suspension is the second most severe disciplinary action.
Crouch said he disagrees with the appraisal district’s decision to only suspend Armstrong but respects the decision made about Law.
“I don’t have to agree with everybody. In fact, I’m OK not agreeing with everybody,” Crouch said. “I know that they have a lot more information than I have. And my stance all along is I want them to face it head on, pursue the truth and vote with their conscience, and I believe that happened.”
During the public comment period, many speakers voiced they lost public trust in Tarrant Appraisal District staff following the controversy surrounding Crouch. Many asked Law to “do the right thing.”
“There’s a reason there’s an overflow crowd,” resident Roy Light told board members. “For years Armstrong has not been treating Tarrant County residents fairly. Thank God it’s finally coming to light.”
On Aug. 11, just 24 hours before the scheduled board meeting, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation announced the conclusion of its investigation, which found no evidence of violations by Crouch.
The Tarrant Appraisal District Board of Directors met on June 30 to discuss the complaints but shut out members of the public from the building after hitting capacity just a few minutes after the meeting started at 9 a.m. Media attorneys noted this was a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Following the June meeting, the appraisal district hired Fort Worth-based public relations firm J.O. Agency to handle its communication efforts. The agency has previously worked on campaigns with Trinity Metro, the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors and the Tarrant Area Food Bank.
According to the appraisal district’s proposed 2023 budget, the district will spend $50,000 for outside communication consulting services.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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