“You’re like a bad penny.”
The speaker is White Settlement school board President Randy Armstrong.
I’d been chasing him by phone for months, trying to learn his thoughts on a new state property tax law that affects him personally.
But he won’t talk to me, so I went to this week’s school board meeting — and waited. Upon adjournment, I approached him at the raised dais where he sat in the president’s seat.
That’s when he greeted me with the “bad penny” appellation. I’ve been called a lot of names, but never that. (Later, I had to look up its meaning: a person or thing that is unwelcome.)
The new law eliminates an obvious conflict of interest. Not only is Armstrong president of a tax rate-setting government body, he also works as the supervisor of residential properties for the Tarrant Appraisal District.
He supervises the appraisal process, then goes home to White Settlement where he has voted to collect school taxes based on appraisals his employees set at the appraisal district. On the school board he has voted every year since 2007 to approve the school tax rate.
Lewisville Mayor Rudy Durham, who doubles as Denton County’s chief appraiser, plans to go quietly. He says he’ll resign as mayor by the end of the year to comply — and keep the better-paying job as chief appraiser.
Not so with Randy Armstrong. Although he won’t let me interview him, he spoke to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Bud Kennedy. Armstrong told Bud that he found a loophole in the new law that allows him to stay on the school board and keep the high-paying appraisal district job, too.
How could that be?
My first question to Armstrong: Do you intend to defy the new law and keep both jobs?
He didn’t answer the question. Instead, he said, “I think you’ve been very unfair to me.”
“I have no intention of talking to you,” he continued. “You’re not a citizen out here. You’ve already got your narrative written. Go ahead and write it and publish it.”
I explained that I didn’t have my story written. That’s why I drove to White Settlement to again seek an interview. That’s why I sat through his school board meeting. The Watchdog wants to hear from him directly.
“You’ve already made us look like a bunch of hillbillies,” he said. “I hope you’re proud of that. ... To answer your question, no. I don’t have any comment.”
What caused the hillbilly comment? Most likely, in previous reporting, I showed how White Settlement ISD failed in the past two elections to follow state law.
If at least one race has two candidates, all other candidates — even if they’re unopposed — must be listed on a ballot.
Armstrong ran unopposed last year, but his name wasn’t on the ballot even though it should have been.
He was declared winner without a single vote.
Armstrong told Kennedy that the new law says “officers” of elected bodies cannot work for appraisal districts.
By Armstrong’s thinking, if he resigns as school board president, he is no longer an officer like vice president or secretary, so he can remain on the school board and keep his appraisal job.
State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, wrote the new law eliminating dual jobs, which he calls an obvious conflict of interest.
“There are plenty of qualified people out there who can be in these positions and make those decisions without being personally invested in it,” Krause says. “I think that would make the system a whole lot fairer.”
Asked this week how he feels about Armstrong’s defiance, Krause said legislative intent was clear. Whether a person is president of a board or not isn’t relevant, he said.
Armstrong’s dual jobs represent “the exact kind of situation we were intending to cure... It was definitely intended to fix this.”
This week’s meeting
The school board meeting this week was the one where trustees vote to approve a new annual budget and the school property tax rate.
Before the votes, members heard a financial report that included information about tax revenues based on appraisals set at Armstrong’s day job.
On the vote for a tax rate, Armstrong abstained. The motion passed 6-0.
After the meeting, I examined meeting minutes all the way back to 2007 when Armstrong joined the school board. Until this week, he never abstained in a vote to set the tax rate. He always voted aye.
I wondered why he changed and abstained for the first time in a dozen years. Is he acknowledging that his participation in setting and approving the tax rate is a true conflict of interest? He wouldn’t say.
The new law regarding dual jobs takes effect in early 2020. At that time, Armstrong will no longer be welcomed in one of his two jobs. He’ll be like a bad penny.
In a recent column on how to apply for the Equifax data breach settlement, I explained that personal documentation showing a financial loss was needed to receive a cash settlement. I’ve since learned that to get cash, no documentation is needed. But don’t expect the cash amount to be very much since so many have already applied.