Bud Kennedy

‘I feel like I’m being targeted’: School board president won’t quit despite law

White Settlement School board President Randy Armstrong isn’t quitting, no matter what the Texas Legislature says.

A new law meant to prevent conflicts of interest will force Armstrong out as board president in 2020 — unless he quits his real job.

That’s because he works at the Tarrant Appraisal District. That agency decides what your home is worth so the school district can collect taxes on it.

Yes, the Legislature untangled some awful problems with appraisal districts this year. In particular, Fort Worth-based TAD has been secretive, unaccountable and poorly run.

But along the way to reform, the Legislature also created new tangles for a few school districts, cities and local agencies that count on volunteers — including appraisal district employees like Armstrong — for thankless, unpaid service on councils and boards.

Armstrong, 62, of Fort Worth, isn’t above the law. But he said he might have found a way around it.

A columnist in The Dallas Morning News already celebrated that he is “out of a job.”

Armstrong claims that the way the law is written, if he gives up the president’s gavel, he can remain on the board. The law says an appraisal district may not employ “officers” of a local school board or taxing entity.

The News credited White Settlement resident Daniel “Joe” Bennett with getting the law changed to end Armstrong’s dual role as both chief residential appraiser and president of a school board that sets a tax rate.

White Settlement resident Daniel “Joe” Bennett was credited with knocking Armstrong out of his dual role. Facebook.com

Since 2017, the West Texas-funded activist group Empower Texans has lobbied for the law. ET focused on the conflict involving Denton chief appraiser Rudy Durham, also a 25-year Lewisville councilman and mayor.

In his 18 years on the board, Armstrong has seen the White Settlement school district grow from serving the working-class community around Lockheed Martin Aeronautics to a new Brewer High School and a sprawling open-enrollment district of 6,700 students, most living in west Fort Worth.

There are few people with deeper roots in White Settlement than Armstrong, a 1975 Brewer graduate.

“I’m an advocate for public schools and public school students,” he said.

Daniel “Joe” Bennett ran for the appraisal district board with a high-powered Ted Cruz campaigner’s support. YouTube.com

“I feel like I’m being targeted because of where I work.”

He’s right.

The News said the bill was filed in the house by state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) on behalf of Bennett, a frequent appraisal district critic unhappy with the response to a protest.

Bennett himself ran unsuccessfully for the appraisal board in 2017. For such an obscure office, he had high-powered Republican backing from Ken Brolin, a national organizer for the presidential campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I just feel like there was somebody out there with an ax to grind,” Armstrong said.

Randy Armstrong has represented the Tarrant Appraisal District at meetings like this past gathering of Hurst-Euless-Bedford retired school employees. Donna Whiteley

The bill stalled but passed later as part of the appraisal reform bill, Senate Bill 2.

Most of the law is a vast improvement that will make appraisal districts better and more responsive, Armstrong said.

“It’s just this one part — it affects employees who volunteer in the community,” he said.

“Basically, they’ve allowed these guys to come in and dictate who can run in local elections.”

It’s just like a tax appraisal.

He can protest.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.