To smack down Tax Man

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Six Shooter Junction – Some of the people who collect taxes in McLennan County, Texas, let the tax appraisers know they think they’re crooked.

The city dads at Robinson and the board members at McLennan County Community College don’t aim to pay as big a share as the Appraisal District has them down for in the coming fiscal year – up by 29.77%  in the college district’s case.

Robert E. Cervenka, city manager at Robinson called for Chief Appraiser Andrew J. Hahn, Jr., to step down “to allow for new direction within the organization.”

Aside from a 5% across the board salary increase for staff members in a county that hasn’t seen even cost of living increases for public servants in several years, there’s the issue of the nearly breathtaking judgment of nearly a half-million dollars the appraisal district sustained in a dispute with former landlord Hoppenstein Properties of Amarillo over breaking a lease at its former downtown headquarters across the street from the courthouse.

Hahn advised his board that, in the words of the appeals court at Amarillo, “a new building be purchased, and advised it that the District had the discretion to end the contract by simply omitting from future budgets money earmarked for lease payments.”

The courts disagreed. In fact, one of the judges said it’s beyond chutzpah to kill your father, then plead for clemency and mercy because you’re the only support your mother has.

Hence the laconic recommendation of MCC’s Randy Cox, chair of the Board of trustees. “There is a major increase in the contingency fund to offset the potential cost of the judgment against the district, and we are uncertain what measures MCAD has taken to reduce other costs to absorb legal expenses rather than automatically passing them along to the entities.”

He added, “…Our overall concerns are reflected in our desire for MCAD to identify means to absorb costs rather than to pass them automatically along to us.”

It would help if there were term limits, and the folks at Robinson and at the community college said in their letters that they are opposed to city councilmen and other elected officials sitting on the MCAD board.

A background rumble that may be heard from the Courthouse to the home offices of every taxpayer in this sprawling megalopolis on America’s Main Street, I-35, of a quarter million deep in the heart of Texas is the fact that a builder named Marvin Steakley serves on that board.

Steakley sued Chief Deputy Matt Cawthon for libel and a breach of contract during the fervency of the Republican primary election of 2012, when he and former Deputy U.S. Marshal in Charge – now Sheriff Parnell McNamara – were on the campaign trail. There was the matter of what Steakley saw as a $70,000 failure to come up with his end of the bargain, something Cawthon and his wife Shelly proved through a meticulous survey of their financial records they had paid directly to the subcontractors who were hanging out there for their dough.

Says Cawthon today when he thinks back on that time. “I couldn’t stand it if I was in HEB or somewhere and had to stand there looking the other direction when I see one of those old boys.”

During a 5-day trial, an 11-woman, one-man jury listened with rapt attention while the Cawthons’ attorney elicited testimony that proved the constant delays, miscommunications and inattention to detail that led to massive cost overruns.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came early on, when State District Judge Gary Coley handed down a restraining order enjoining Steakley and his son Andrew from handing over any more of the Cawthons’ financial records to incumbent Sheriff Larry Lynch or the opposition candidate, then Chief Deputy Randy Plemons. Though they denied it, there was ample proof that the law men had copies of the Cawthons’ cancelled checks, mortgage applications, tax returns, credit card receipts, and other financial correspondence named in the discovery order of the lawsuit.

“It didn’t have anything to do with the election of Parnell McNamara,” the retired Texas Ranger recalls. “It was just all about how I was associated with him in his bid for election as Sheriff.”

His opinion?

“These people say they don’t raise taxes, but they do when they appraise your property at a much higher value than it was the previous year.”

The episode ended badly for Steakley in a take nothing judgment.

The jurors decided that Mrs. Cawthon’s statement in an e-mail to her banker that Steakley is a thief and a liar, and that she aimed to run him plumb out of town was substantially true. Truth is the one assured and affirmative defense against the charge of libel or slander.

So it goes, and rest ye assured, the floggings will continue until morale improves.

– The Legendary

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