Some Tarrant Appraisal District drama

Of interest.

A candidate for the Tarrant Appraisal District board alleges County Judge Tim O’Hare tried to pressure him into dropping out of the race.

Colleyville City Council member Chuck Kelley, who is running for Place 3, said O’Hare first counseled him to not run against Callie Rigney, another Colleyville council member running for Place 2. O’Hare, who has since endorsed Rigney, did not respond to questions about Kelley’s allegations but offered a statement about his involvement in the race generally.

Kelley said O’Hare told him having two Colleyville residents running might draw too much attention to the race and result in more candidate filings.

“That seems counterintuitive to the idea of free and fair elections,” Kelley said.

Ultimately, Kelley opted to run in Place 3. After filing with O’Hare’s office, he said he received two phone calls from the county judge — one immediately after filing, and another several days later. Phone records reviewed by the Fort Worth Report show two calls from O’Hare’s cell phone, on Feb. 1 and Feb. 5, to Kelley’s phone.

Kelley alleged O’Hare suggested he run for another place or drop out and that, if he didn’t, it could get ugly.

“I went home and I thought about it some more and said, ‘You know what? I don’t like it when people put their thumb on the scale,’” Kelley said.

Thanks to legislation passed during the 2023 session, this is the first time in state history that voters can elect people to the appraisal board. Traditionally, board members have been elected by the taxing entities such as Tarrant County or Fort Worth ISD.

Reforming the Tarrant Appraisal District following a series of scandals, including a ransomware attack and inflammatory comments from the district’s IT executive, has become a rallying cry for Republican elected officials and candidates alike.

Though the appraisal board positions are nonpartisan, seven of the eight candidates who have filed to run identify as Republicans. The legislation enabling the elections specified county judges such as O’Hare, who run on political platforms, are responsible for receiving and filing candidate applications.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, said placing that responsibility in the hands of a county judge is an unusual structure, and there’s nothing similar in Texas government. City election filings are generally accepted by city secretaries or clerks, while county election filings are generally accepted by the county election administration.

“It has the potential to return to the old party boss system in the counties, where every county had the political, important player that was the person who ran the county,” Rottinghaus said. “So that bossism is a throwback to Texas politics of old, and this role potentially has a conflict here.”

Kelley is the only candidate who said he has been contacted directly by O’Hare and asked to bow out. But several others interviewed by the Fort Worth Report took issue with the county judge’s decision to endorse in the appraisal district races. O’Hare endorsed Eric Morris for Place 1, Rigney for Place 2, and Matt Bryant for Place 3.

Eric Crile, who is running for Place 2, said he was disappointed that O’Hare endorsed his opponent without speaking to him to learn about his ideas for the position.

“I honestly don’t understand the politics that are coming in from that level of the county,” Crile said. “For what essentially is a position to appoint appraisal review board members, set a budget, and make sure that the district is operating according to the laws prescribed by the legislature and the Texas comptroller.”


Rottinghaus said given the political responsibilities of county judges, there is a clear incentive for them to try and control appraisal boards as much as possible. Whether the legislature intended this when they authorized the positions, he said, is unclear.

“But given that they imbued so much power in the county judge in this process, it’s unavoidable,” Rottinghaus said.

Emphasis mine; I’ll get to that in a minute. I have a few points to make here, which I shall do in the traditional bullet-point style.

– While I’ve focused on the HCAD races, this is a reminder that these brand new elections are happening all over the state. By my count, at least fifty counties will be elected members to their respective appraisal districts for the first time ever, with others to join that list in the coming years. For such a remarkable change in governance, this has gotten a remarkably tiny amount of media coverage, at least from what has been visible to me.

– Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare absolutely has the right to endorse and support candidates in these races. I’d be perfectly fine with Judge Hidalgo doing the same thing here – indeed, I hope she and others will take sides, if not now then for the likely runoffs, because who we elect always matters. That doesn’t mean he went about it in a great way – threatening candidates and expressing distaste for “draw[ing] too much attention” to these races strikes me as awfully icky – but expressing an opinion is in itself not a problem. The fact that O’Hare is an asshole is the problem, but it’s beyond the scope of this post to address that in any detail.

– Back when I was trying to track down candidates for the HCAD races I thought it was weird that they were directed to the County Judge’s office for their filings. I see that I had good reason to find that strange. There’s a lot we don’t know about the motivation for this change, but as we do know that it came from the fetid mind of Sen. Paul Bettencourt, we can safely assume that there’s something unsavory afoot.

– The appointed positions on these county appraisal boards are officially nonpartisan, and as these May elections are special elections, there are no party labels that will appear on the ballots for them. It is my assumption that going forward, when these races will be held in November beginning in 2026, that the candidates will compete in the primaries first. However, I don’t know this for a fact. It’s another completely undisclosed and undiscussed aspect of this legislation.

– The Tarrant Appraisal District has indeed had some challenges lately, from ransomware to rancid behavior. I don’t know whether the former is within the scope of the board and its authority, but the latter seems to be. Both definitely seem to me to be within the scope of Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court, over which O’Hare presides.

As I said, these elections matter and we cannot afford to be asleep at the switch. I’ve tried to call attention to the HCAD races, and I urge you to listen to the three candidate interviews I’ve done so far, with a fourth to come tomorrow. I don’t know anything about these races in the other counties, so you’re on your own there. Please get to know these candidates and get out to vote for the good ones. If you’re free this morning at 10, you can hear from three of them directly. From the inbox:

On April 16, 2024, at 10 am, Kathy Blueford-Daniels, Melissa Noriega, and Pelumi Adeleke, the labor-endorsed nominees for three newly-created elected Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) trustee positions, will hold a joint news conference to urge Houstonians to learn about the little-known election and vote on Saturday, May 4th.

Last year, a new state law created three new elected positions on HCAD, the local board that oversees and appoints the chief appraiser, who is responsible for determining property valuations for local taxing districts, such as the City of Houston and Houston ISD.

All three candidates vying for office have expressed a strong commitment to homeowners in Harris County. Their shared mission includes a commitment to a property appraisal system that puts the needs of our kids and community first, with transparency in the appraisal and appeals system and fair commercial property valuation.

As noted that will be at 10 AM at the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, 2506 Sutherland, Houston TX 77023. Maybe this will get some Chronicle coverage.

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