They know it’s not a popular job.
It’s a fact that property owners are not happy about paying big tax bills each year. And their dissatisfaction tends to spill over to the person whose name they write, next to Tax Assessor Collector, on their checks.
“I am the man everybody loves to hate,” outgoing Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright often says.
Even so, four Republicans are vying to become Tarrant County’s next top tax official, making this one of the hottest local races on the March 6 primary ballot.
“Obviously collecting taxes is not a popular thing and it doesn’t make you popular to do so. But it’s very important to do,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “It’s a position ... that serves a key role.”
Republicans in this race are former KXAS/Ch. 5 anchorman Mike Snyder, former Keller councilman Rick Barnes, former Mansfield councilwoman Wendy Burgess and Trasa Robertson Cobern, a Hurst councilwoman and the daughter of “Uncle Si” Robertson on the popular reality show “Duck Dynasty.”
The winner of the Republican primary, or the May 22 runoff, if needed, will face Democrat Ollie Anderson in November.
At stake: An unexpired two year term that runs through 2020 and pays $172,481 plus a $7,884 car allowance.
This job opened up late last year when Wright, a Republican, resigned to run for the 6th Congressional District. He hopes to be chosen from a crowded field to replace U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, who announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election after coming under fire for a nude photo and private messages with sexual overtones with a female constituent.
Early voting runs from Feb. 20- March 2.
Top tax official
Republicans in the race admit that many people don’t know exactly what the Tax Assessor Collector does.
They all say they’d like to set the record straight and make sure voters know that the Tarrant Appraisal District sets the values of homes and businesses. And that officials in dozens of cites and school boards countywide set the tax rates.
It is the Tarrant County Tax Assessor’s office that calculates taxes due, sends out the bills, collects the money and sends revenue collected to the taxing entities.
“There is a lot of misunderstandings on what office does what,” Burgess said. “This is a common misconception that the public has regarding the duties of each office. They simply don’t understand.”
She and others say they’d like to do more public outreach to make sure residents know what each agency does.
“People call and come to the office and they are really mad at the tax assessor ... when it’s not his fault,” Cobern said she learned after talking to Wright. “You have to educate the public on who to talk to when they get their property tax bill and it’s so high.”
They agree that the tax assessor collector, who serves on the Tarrant Appraisal District board as a non-voting member, should become a voting member.
The ‘Gladney baby’
Barnes, a 54-year-old insurance agent, proudly tells people that he was born in Fort Worth as a “Gladney baby” and was soon adopted by parents who lived in West Texas. He also touts his 30-year marriage, which, he said, shows that he knows how to maintain a commitment.
A former mayor pro tem and council member in Keller, Barnes said he has worked for more than a dozen non-profit groups. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Keller last year.
He had planned to run this year for the post of Tarrant County Republican Party Chair, but a flurry of last minute phone calls on the last day of filing convinced him to change course and throw his hat into the ring for this post.
“I am running for office, not because I need a job, but because of the overall desire to serve the people of Tarrant County,” he said. “I will bring strong conservative values, my experience as a civic and business leader, and my talent as a successful entrepreneur.”
If elected, Barnes said he’d like to meet with the auditor right away, review efficiencies in the department and get up to speed as quickly as possible about the ongoings of the office. “I want to become a part of what’s going on in the department,” he said, adding that people shouldn’t be surprised if they see him, if elected, at a customer service window helping out with taxpayers.
“There are only three of us in this race who have a voting record and I would be willing to put (mine) against any others when it comes to fiscally responsible and conservative tax values,” he said. “I believe elected officials must always work tirelessly to lower taxes where and when possible. Money in the pockets of citizens is always better than money in government.”
The last campaign finance report shows he has no money on hand. But he does have $15,000 in outstanding loans from himself.
His campaign bankroll includes $500 from Mac Churchill and $250 from Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes, according to campaign finance records filed Jan. 15 that reflect donations through the end of 2017.
Burgess, 47, is married to Tarrant County Constable Clint Burgess and is the managing director and owner of IT Services company.
“I am running to be the next Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector to serve the people by finding new and innovative ways to enhance the experience when dealing with the office,” the former two-term Mansfield City Council woman said. “I know this office is owned by the people of Tarrant County and I believe they deserve expeditious answers to their questions, increased speed when conducting their business and consummate professionals handling the intricate behind the scenes work necessary to run a productive and efficient Tax Office.”
She said she’s the best candidate because she has extensive business experience managing both small and large businesses.
“I am the only candidate that has experience directing and managing hundreds of employees which is integral to ensuring a smooth transition and continued focus on customer service to the people,” she said.
If elected, Burgess said she would study up on the needs of the department ahead of time so she could “hit the ground running.”
“The biggest challenge is to continue to provide quality customer service for a county growing as fast as Tarrant County is today,” she said. “We are adding 1,000 people per month and most will first experience the Tax Assessor-Collector office through the motor vehicles division with registration of vehicles. We can shine in their eyes during the first visit by providing cheerful quality service to welcome these individuals to our community.”
The last campaign finance report shows she has more than $113,000 on hand and $104,000 in outstanding loans from herself.
Her campaign coffer includes $10,000 from Perspective Matters LLC consulting and $2,000 from former state Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington.
Cobern, a 42-year-old teacher and Hurst City Council woman from a famous family, said she’s the right person for this job.
“High property taxes are currently one of the top issues for all Texans,” she said. “I believe the Tax Assessor should absolutely be the people’s advocate as their representative through the tax process.”
She said she’s ethical, trustworthy a team builder and self-motivated. And she knows how to run a tight budget at home and on the city council.
“While my father and cousins are now famous on Duck Dynasty, that’s not my life,” she said. “When I grew up, my father was a career non-commissioned officer, and my mom was a secretary. So, I know the value of a dollar and hard work.”
In fact, when she was 12, her parents told her that if she wanted to go to college, she would have to get good grades and land a scholarship.
“That’s exactly what I did,” she said. “The years of hard work paid off in earning a president’s endowed scholarship to Texas A&M University. I share that story because voters need to know that I truly understand tough financial times; but more importantly, people need to know that I was raised with a solid foundation, that I’m a hard worker, and that I appreciate the services and sacrifices of others.”
If elected, Cobern said she’d like to see how she can trim the budget, boost efficiency in the office, work to recover money local taxpayers shell out to subsidize state’s motor vehicle registrations and use every chance she gets “to be a responsible and conservative voice for property tax reform and reduction.”
The last campaign finance report shows she has more than $103,000 on hand and $100,000 in outstanding loans from her father, “Uncle Si” Robertson from “Duck Dynasty.”
Her campaign bankroll includes several in-kind donations from family members, including $7,000 from Si Roberston for a hunting trip for two with him and two $1,000 entertainment appearances for golf tournaments with Jep Robertson and Al Robertson.
Snyder, a 64-year-old former TV newsman making his first bid for public office, has long been involved in philanthropy efforts.
“I am the taxpayer’s friend,” he said. “I have studied and reported on issues important to residents of Tarrant County for 37 years. I am an investigative reporter by craft and I know how to dig deep into organizations and issues and develop the facts and trends that have a direct effect on our citizens.”
If elected, Snyder has said he has many priorities, including creating a pilot project to let taxpayers use kiosks at county buildings to renew vehicle registrations, reforming the process for taxpayers to challenge property tax appraisals and launching information programs to explain how taxes are calculated.
He also wants to empower “employees to identify waste, duplication and inefficiencies while improving processes and customer service” and more.
Snyder said he wants to continue “positive management” in this office that was seen by Wright and his predecessor, now Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.
Snyder has been up front about owing the Internal Revenue Service for early withdrawals from his retirement accounts years ago to pay more than $1.5 million in medical and rehabilitation costs after his wife, Lyn, had a major heart attack in 2008.
“I had a decision to make: Whether to not pay the rest of the doctors and the people who were doing the rehab long term for my wife [or] taking the money I had amassed in my retirement funds, cashing that in and then using that to pay doctor’s bills,” he said. “I did take early withdrawal from my retirement funds to pay those medical bills.”
He said he knew he would face penalties for withdrawing money early from his account. And while he said he has paid the taxes due on the withdrawal, he still owes for the penalty for the early withdrawal.
The latest campaign finance report shows he has $8,500 in cash on hand and $1,350 in outstanding loans to himself.
Donations to his campaign include $5,000 from Tony Pack, CEO of Sam Pack 5 Star Dealers, and $1,000 from Joe Johnson, a partner at Patterson KIA.
Tarrant County Tax Assessor Collector
Four Republicans — Rick Barnes, Wendy Burgess, Trasa Robertson Cobern and Mike Snyder — are facing off to determine who will face Democrat Ollie Anderson in the November general election. There is no incumbent in this race, since current Tax Assessor Collector Ron Wright, a Republican, resigned to run for the 6th Congressional District.
The best way to contact the candidates:
Barnes — Cell phone 817-709-1906; email Campaign@RickBarnes.Republican
Cobern — Email Trasa@TrasaRobertsonCobern.com; website trasarobertsoncobern.com; phone (817) 230-4414.