Some Denton government officials are considering fresh nominations for the Denton Central Appraisal District board as appraisal districts undergo statewide reforms and Denton’s agency faces scrutiny of its own.
The Denton City Council and Denton ISD both had nominations on the agenda this week, a perfunctory task every other year. But Denton city leaders were ready with two new names for the board Tuesday afternoon. A former Flower Mound Town Council member has volunteered to serve. The Denton school district decided to delay nominations until at least the Sept. 24 meeting, even though the clock is ticking and school board Vice President Charles Stafford has served as chairman of the appraisal board on the school district’s behalf for many years.
The Texas Legislature considered bills this year that would have put more distance between the appraisal districts and the government entities they serve. A new law forbids district appraisers from holding elected office, forcing Rudy Durham to step down as the mayor of Lewisville by year’s end. If he doesn’t, he loses his job as the Denton Central Appraisal District’s chief appraiser.
Another bill would have forbidden dual service by elected officials on the district board, the kind of dual service held by Stafford and fellow district board member Dave Terre, who is also a member of The Colony City Council. The bill didn’t become law, but the potential for conflict in that dual service remains a concern among some government officials.
Despite the controversy, Stafford said plenty of regulations currently exist to keep appraisal board members at “an arm’s length” from interfering in actual appraisals.
“We oversee the budget, we set policy ... but the main thing we do is we hire one person, we hire the chief appraiser and we also hire the auditors,” he said.
Beyond that, he described the role as essentially letting the chief appraiser do his job.
Both Stafford and Terre submitted nomination applications to renew their terms on the board, as did fellow board members George Pryor and Dave Atwood.
According to a memo Durham sent to all Denton County school districts, towns and cities, each has the right to nominate five people to the board. The nominations must be submitted by a formal, written resolution to the appraisal district by Oct. 15.
Cities, towns and school districts are the only taxing entities with jurisdiction over the appraisal district. Special taxing districts, such as hospital, community college, emergency services and utility districts, do not have jurisdiction.
Once the appraisal district has all nominations, it creates a ballot with the list of names to the taxing jurisdictions. Between the end of October and the Dec. 15 deadline, the taxing jurisdictions cast their votes in the form of another written resolution.
Here’s the kicker: the election is apportioned. In other words, the more property value a government raises from the tax rolls, the more votes it has to apportion to nominees. Tiny towns like Dish, Draper and Hackberry get only one vote. Big school districts can apportion thousands of votes — even more than Denton County itself. Lewisville ISD gets 1,328 votes, Denton ISD gets 671 votes and Denton County gets 548 votes.
The top five vote-getters begin two-year terms on Jan. 1, 2020. Oftentimes, the favored nominees of the school districts are elected because of the vote apportionment. The city of Denton has the most votes to apportion of any Denton County city in the upcoming election: 174.
Out of the five current appraisal board members, at least three carry a direct or indirect connection to another governmental board in the county. Alongside Stafford and Terre, Hassett is married to a member of the Lewisville school board.
Despite knowing that Stafford is already their man on deck, the school district briefly discussed how to proceed efficiently through the elections. Board member Jim Alexander leaned over to talk strategy moving forward.
“We will probably not totally control a seat, but we’ll be very close,” Stafford said in response. “I think you wait and see who’s up, and you judiciously use what you’ve got. I mean, you can just sledgehammer it, but there’s no need to put all the votes in one place.”
Typically, he said, the school district can pool enough support behind their candidate in order to spread the remainder of their votes to whomever else might be a good pick for Denton ISD.
This week, Denton City Council member John Ryan, who has advocated for reforms, did not renominate Pryor, the city’s former nominee to the board. Instead, he nominated Rick Woolfolk, a financial adviser with a long record of local public service. Fellow council member Deb Armintor nominated John Baines, a Denton CPA with another long record of local public service.
Bryan Webb, former Flower Mound Town Council member, volunteered for the job, too. He appeared before both the Denton school board and the Denton City Council on Tuesday night asking to be nominated to serve on the appraisal district board.
The council is expected to consider a formal resolution for its nominations in time for the Oct. 15 deadline, the staff said.
Whether Denton’s move triggers leadership changes at the appraisal district remains to be seen.
The appraisal district recently sued the Texas Attorney General’s Office to block the release of documents related to an investigation into its management practices. The lawsuit was triggered by what otherwise appeared to be a routine open-records request.
As justification for shielding the documents, the district’s lawsuit cited, in part, a U.S. Department of Justice interest in the matter. The federal law enforcement agency has not indicated whether its interest in the district’s management practices is civil or criminal.
The lawsuit was filed June 5, and there have been no new actions recorded in the case since a Travis County district judge signed a motion at the end of July sealing documents in the case.