Tarrant Appraisal District employees will be required to obtain approval from the chief appraiser before submitting complaints to regulatory agencies, according to a new policy the board of directors approved at its Dec. 9 meeting.
The policy is intended to add more oversight to complaints filed by appraisal district employees to agencies like the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the Texas Real Estate Commission and other regulatory agencies.
The policy passed 4-0, with board member Rich DeOtte abstaining.
“We don’t like surprises. I don’t think any board does. So I think the policy will ensure that if that ever comes up again, that the chief appraiser is aware of it, the board’s aware of it, and that there is a process to do it,” board member Tony Pompa said. “We don’t want to keep somebody from making a complaint if they feel like wanting to be made legally can be made, but we need to know about it.”
Discussion regarding this policy started in June after Director of Residential Appraisal Randy Armstrong filed four complaints in his official capacity against Realtor Chandler Crouch to the Department of Licensing and Regulation. These complaints were filed without Chief Appraiser Jeff Law’s approval.
This incident prompted the district to open an internal investigation into the matter, and Armstrong was suspended for a week, on Aug.12. That same day, the board of directors also voted to suspend Law for two weeks without pay for his handling of the situation.
Law was up for evaluation at the Dec. 9 meeting but the task was tabled because of his illness-related absence at the board meeting that day. The chief appraiser’s evaluation’s timing aligns with recent calls to release the full internal report produced after the incident.
The summary of the full report, produced by Walsh Gallegos, was made public during that Aug. 12 meeting.
Board member DeOtte requested the full evaluation of Jeff Law to be released to the public on Nov. 11. In an interview with the Fort Worth Report in the following days, DeOtte brought up concerns of official oppression, which under the Texas Penal Code describes public officials taking advantage of their official capacity.
“I don’t see any reason that we should not release this report,” he told the Report on Nov. 15. “I don’t know that any law has been broken. But I think we should have looked at if that’s what we have to do. Because I feel like the more this goes on, the more I see… Again, I’m trying not to divulge anything in the report. I just think we need to release it. Have the (District Attorney) look at it, give us an answer to that question.”
DeOtte was the sole vote opposing the suspension at the time, preferring for Law to be terminated from his position as head of the appraisal district because “this wasn’t an isolated incident.”
Since that November meeting, the district has received multiple requests for the full report, including a request from the Fort Worth Report. The district sent the requests to the Texas Attorney General’s office for an opinion. The appraisal district is arguing client-attorney privilege to withhold the 15-page document. Several board members have echoed similar concerns that releasing this private document would set a precedent.
Board member Pompa said releasing the full report would affect the way the board communicates with their attorney moving forward.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @ssadek19. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.