Travis County

Pictures appear to show tax officials asleep during protest hearings

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The chair of the board that settles disputes over property tax appraisals has agreed to reschedule hearings after getting pictures that purportedly show review board members sleeping during protest hearings. 

KXAN obtained the photos that were included in a complaint letter from Pro Tax, a Texas firm that represents taxpayers challenging the Travis Central Appraisal District. 

Pro Tax says its agents took pictures of Appraisal Review Board members sleeping during two separate hearings in November. 

"One of them had to be awakened when the motion (to vote) was made by another member of the panel," said Bill Aleshire, an attorney representing Pro Tax and another firm in an unrelated lawsuit against the Travis Central Appraisal District and the Appraisal Review Board. 

ARB chair Betty Thompson declined to be interviewed for this story, but provided a copy of her letter responding to the Pro Tax complaint. 

"I agree sleeping during a hearing is not acceptable behavior," Thompson wrote. 

She also said the pictures "do not clearly depict whether a hearing is in progress or whether the panel is on a break." 

Nonetheless, Thompson has agreed to reschedule the hearings from the day the pictures were said to have been taken. 

The revelation of the pictures comes after Pro Tax filed another complaint saying its agents were forced to stand at a podium during recent hearings while representatives for the Central Appraisal District were given desks. 

Aleshire says TCAD and ARB are retaliating against Pro Tax agents for their employer's lawsuit. 

In October, Pro Tax and another firm sued TCAD and ARB, alleging the two bodies are illegally working together. The Texas Tax Code requires appraisal districts, which set property values used to determine tax bills, be separate from the review boards that settle disputes between taxpayers and the CAD. The lawsuit claims TCAD is illegally controlling the schedule for protest hearings and deliberately over-scheduling Pro Tax agents. The lawsuit claims one agent was scheduled for more than 80 hearings in one day, and the board dismissed protests when the agent couldn't make it. 

The lawsuit names Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler.  She declined to comment after the lawsuit was filed in October and did not return calls after the most recent complaints were filed.  

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