Good luck finding any info about those county appraisal board elections

As you know, I’ve written a bunch about the HCAD Board elections, including doing interviews with four of the candidates, so that you my readers and anyone else who stumbles across this page can hopefully know a little something about who is running and what they’d do. In my recent post about the Tarrant County races, I noted that at least fifty Texas counties are having these elections in May, all for the first time ever. And that made me wonder, how much does anyone know about these elections and who is running in them?

The answer is, pretty damn little. Do what I did in writing this post, which is a Google news search for “[relevant] county appraisal district election”, and see what you get. (Go here and sort by population to find the relevant counties, which are the ones with at least 75K people.) You’ll probably find the original Trib story about these new elections, which is how I learned about them. For Houston-area counties, you may find the Houston Landing story from early April, which until yesterday was still the only real news story I’ve seen about the Harris County races. You’ll probably find some stories about primary races for Tax Assessor, which doesn’t count.

And beyond that, for most counties, nada. Nothing for Collin, or Denton, or Galveston, and up until this week nothing for Bexar and nothing else for Harris. For Harris County, we had that Houston Landing story and then finally, published on Tuesday night, this Chron story that resulted from a press conference held by the three labor-endorsed HCAD candidates; my post for that is here. It has a lot of ground to cover, from the reason for the election to who the candidates are. There was nothing for Bexar County until yesterday as well when the San Antonio Report did its own overview, and it’s a good one. And may I just say in reading that, where exactly was the Bexar County Democratic Party during the filing period? It sure looks like there are a lot of Republican candidates running for those offices in a very Democratic county. Someone was asleep at the switch there. Sure would be nice to see those questions pursued.

Anyway. For Dallas I got this WFAA story that was mostly about a Y’allitics podcast episode about the fact that there is an election and you should vote in it. I didn’t listen to the episode, so maybe it had more than that, but that story didn’t give me much. That Tarrant County story I blogged about on Tuesday was pretty good, as it had candidate names and partisan identifications. Tarrant County even had a candidate forum yesterday, which kind of blows my mind given everything we’re now talking about. For Montgomery and Fort Bend counties we got a couple of extremely bare-bones stories that at least listed the candidates’ names, though there was no further information about any of them. Note that one of the Montgomery candidates and two of the Fort Bend candidates are unopposed, which sure makes a mockery of the claim that this is somehow more democratic than an appointment process. (I will assume the Montgomery default winner is a Republican, I haven’t checked on that for the Fort Bend unopposed candidates.) But hey, it could have been worse.

Three candidates running for a seat on the El Paso Central Appraisal District Board of Directors were unopposed and have been officially elected without having to go through the May 4 election.

The three candidates – Alfred Phillip Gonzalez, a retiree; Melody Jimenez, a consultant; and Silvia Serna, a grant analyst – were certified as unopposed and therefore elected, according to the CAD election cancellation order approved by the current board on March 26.

The election would have cost the CAD about $600,000.

“We were lucky as there was only one candidate for each place (Place 1, Place 2, and Place 3) who will now take office on July 1st of this year. This allowed us to cancel (the election) and save that expense,” CAD Executive Director and Chief Appraiser Dinah Kilgore told El Paso Matters.

Whoopiee. Congrats to these candidates, again about whom we know nothing. Well, I assume they’re Democrats, or at least not Republicans, because if any of them were Republicans and they just got elected countywide in El Paso by default, I’d hope that would be considered newsworthy.

There is one place where there has been actual and useful coverage of these races and the candidates, and that’s Travis County. KXAN, the Austin Monitor, and the Austin Chronicle have all done a creditable job. The latter was quite interesting to me, so let me share a bit of it:

Pooja Sethi, the newly elected chair of Travis County’s Democratic Party, did not mince words about the stakes of the May election. “It could impact how our schools are funded, access to our parks and libraries, and the ability for our cities and counties to provide services and amenities residents depend on,” said Sethi, who also serves as chief of staff to state Rep. Vikki Goodwin.

Appraisal districts play a key role in determining what a property owner’s tax bill looks like every year and how much revenue local governments have to work with. City Council members, county commissioners, and school board trustees are responsible for setting tax rates, but those rates are applied to property values determined by the appraisal district.

Republican legislators opposed to higher taxes authored and passed Senate Bill 2 last year, which turned three of these previously appointed positions into elected ones, and the two Republican candidates who have filed in this race have lengthy public records opposing taxation and government spending (except on policing). Both declined interviews with the Chronicle. One of the liberal candidates, Daniel Wang, put Democrats’ concerns simply: “The GOP wants to defund local government. Screwing up the appraisal process is one way they could achieve that goal.”

Voters will now elect three officials on the board of directors for the Travis Central Appraisal District – the frequently criticized third-party organization that assesses the property values that local governments use to set tax rates. (These elections will only occur in counties with more than 75,000 people, as is laid out in SB 2.)

Historically, the appraisal district’s board has had two core responsibilities: hiring the chief appraiser who runs the district and approving the district’s budget. But now, they will also appoint members to the Appraisal Review Board – the group of volunteers who settle disputes between property owners and district appraisers over assessed property values.


Beyond fairness to taxpayers, [Democratic candidates] Wang, [Dick] Lavine, and [Jett] Hanna all warn that inaccurate appraisals can affect school funding. Regularly, the Texas comptroller conducts an audit known as the Property Value Study to assess the accuracy of a district’s appraisals. If “local values” in Travis County are more than 5% off from “state values,” the comptroller can make Austin ISD pay the state more money into the recapture system.

Another path to undermining the appraisal process lies through that volunteer Appraisal Review Board. SB 2 changed its selection process to require appointments receive a majority vote from the appraisal district board, including two of the elected members – giving the electeds an effective veto over the full board. (It means a hypothetical volunteer that received a 7-2 vote would fail, if the two nay votes were elected directors.)

“The veto power given to elected directors is a real Trojan horse,” Lavine said. “That’s where the mischief could really occur.”

Bettencourt has defended the new law as a way of holding districts accountable, but state Rep. Gina Hinojosa warned that it could be part of the Texas GOP’s broader attack on the state’s property tax system. “There’s no doubt in my mind that including these elections in the property tax bill was a calculated effort to bring in more conservative and Republican viewpoints into the taxation process,” Hinojosa told us. “In Travis County, we run the risk of the chaos agents who run things at the Legislature having a hand in how we make local decisions related to funding for public schools, parks, and libraries.”

Now that’s how you do it. I learned quite a bit from this article about the race in a different county. How nice it would be to learn something about the races in my own county that I didn’t have to write myself. How nice it would be for anyone in those other counties to be able to learn any damn thing at all about these elections and their candidates.

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3 Responses to Good luck finding any info about those county appraisal board elections

  1. Joel says:

    The Travis county version features a murderers’ row of the usual Republicans who can’t get elected around here except in “non-partisan” elections.

    Odds are one or more (out of 3 places) will sneak through.

  2. Pingback: Dispatches from Dallas, April 19 edition | Off the Kuff

  3. Brenda Bell says:

    My dear dude,

    The striking lack of info — especially on the Trojan horse referred to by Dick Lavine — is not a bug but a feature of this ill-begotten legislation. Authored by a lawmaker who makes his living protesting the hard and necessary work of Appraisal Review Boards.

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