The complete internal report on Tarrant County Chief Appraiser Jeff Law and former director Randy Armstrong’s handling of the months-long dispute with a local tax consultant will not be released to the public, according to a ruling from the state’s attorney general.
The Texas Attorney General’s office ruled Feb. 16 that the full report, produced by Walsh Gallegos for the appraisal district, can be withheld under client-attorney privilege. Several individuals and news organizations, including the Fort Worth Report, requested the full report, and the district then sought an opinion from the Attorney General.
Tarrant Appraisal District hired Walsh Gallegos to produce this report after Armstrong filed a personal complaint against Chandler Crouch, a local tax consultant, using his official capacity as a district employee, as first reported by the Report.
A brief summary of the full report was provided to the public during the hours-long Aug. 12 meeting where both Armstrong and Law were suspended for two weeks without pay.
In the aftermath of the report, the appraisal district has been mired in controversies, including the recall and subsequent resignation of the board of directors’ chairwoman Kathryn Wilemon as well as the threat of litigation from Keller and the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney. Most recently, a high-ranking state representative filed a bill to abolish the Tarrant Appraisal District.
Using client-attorney privilege to withhold government documents is common, said Joe Larsen, a media attorney and a Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas board member, and often badly abused by government bodies statewide.
“If they wanted you to have this report, they can give this report to you. It’s not confidential by law,” Larsen said. “So the implications, we live with them every day. This is not an isolated incident. It’s by far the more common approach.”
In a statement to the Report, TAD thanked the attorney general’s office for reviewing the documents.
Transparency should be fundamental to the American form of government, Larsen said.
“A crisis like this doesn’t ever get resolved unless the public knows what’s going on. Otherwise, there will always be suspicion. There will always be a sense of a cover-up,” he said.
The Tarrant Appraisal District scheduled a special meeting March 17 to discuss the ongoing vacancy on the board of directors and the future of chief appraiser Jeff Law’s employment.
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 on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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