Deputy chief appraiser abruptly resigns

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Photo of Marya Crigler

Hendry quits job just as The Austin Bulldog’s investigation was nearing conclusion

Photo of Lonnie Wayne Hendry Jr.
Lonnie Wayne Hendry Jr.

Marya Crigler (seen in the lead photo, above) runs the Travis Central Appraisal District and she just lost her right-hand man with the sudden departure of Deputy Chief Appraiser Lonnie Wayne Hendry Jr.

A copy of his resignation letter, obtained through a public information request, is dated June 24, 2019, effective July 5, 2019.

The appraisal district’ response to the same public information request included a form that states Hendry’s separation was effective July 5, 2019 but the “notification date” was July 9, 2019, which suggests his resignation letter may have been backdated.

A request for clarification has not been answered. Hendry has not responded to a number of questions delivered to him this afternoon via text message.

According to a copy of Hendry’s personnel file obtained through a public information request, TCAD hired Hendry as a commercial appraiser effective February 23, 2015; promoted him to commercial appraisal director December 22, 2017; and promoted him to deputy chief appraiser February 9, 2018. He received a merit pay increase December 21, 2018, bringing his annual pay to almost $175,000.

Whether Hendry resigned under pressure is unknown, as Crigler has not responded to a phone message and emailed request for comment, and Hendry has not responded to phone and text messages.

Hendry’s departure comes just as The Austin Bulldog’s investigation of his actions was nearing conclusion and in the midst of an unusually heavy load of formal protests of property valuations being heard by the Travis Appraisal Review Board. Hendry had deep experience in overseeing the protest hearings as he managed that process in another Texas appraisal district.

Rick Fine

“It is awfully curious that the deputy chief appraiser would resign at the height of the appraisal district’s busiest season in history,” said attorney Rick Fine, who 40 years ago was involved in passing legislation that established appraisal districts. “This would be the worst time of the year to lose any employee, much less the deputy chief appraiser—especially when the appraisal district is running so desperately behind.”

The Bulldog’s investigation explores Hendry’s apparent conflict of interest created by having two of his subordinates in the district’s commercial appraisal division working as sales agents in the real estate brokerage he owns, Team Hendry Realty LLC.

Did TCAD okay outside employment?

Travis Central Appraisal District’s Personnel Policy Manual states in Section 2.7, “TCAD employees are free to pursue outside interests and activities but must be careful not to present the appearance of conflict of interest. For full-time employees, TCAD considers the employee’s first obligation to be with TCAD.”

But TCAD’s personnel manual does not require a TCAD employee to ask for permission to accept secondary employment.

Such requests were explicitly required by the Fort Worth-based Tarrant Appraisal District, where Hendry was employed as Manager of Appraisal Review Board Operations immediately before being hired by TCAD in February 2015.

A copy of Hendry’s Tarrant Appraisal District personnel file, obtained through a public information request, contains a Secondary Employment Request Form that Hendry submitted in December 2011 for permission to work as a Texas real estate broker. Two Tarrant Appraisal District executives recommended approval and the chief appraiser authorized it that same month.

TCAD apparently does not require this formality, as there is no such record in Hendry’s TCAD personnel file or in the personnel files of the two TCAD subordinates who are his company’s sales agents.

Because neither Crigler nor Hendry has responded to a request for comment, it is not clear whether TCAD’s chief appraiser was aware of Hendry’s outside business activity, had informally authorized it, or was aware that two other TCAD employees were working for his brokerage.

Used TCAD employees as his sales agents

Texas Real Estate Commission records for Round Rock-based Team Hendry Realty LLC indicate the brokerage sponsors a total of eight sales agents.

Matthew Ryan Markert, whose TCAD personnel file indicates he is assistant director for Commercial Appraisal, joined Team Hendry February 26, 2018.

Jared Matthew Bates, a commercial property appraiser for the appraisal district, joined Team Hendry September 4, 2018.

Both Bates and Markert received merit pay increases at TCAD in December 2018, according to their personnel files. Markert’s pay increased by nearly $3,800 a year to slightly more than $97,000. Bates’ pay increased by $1,100 to reach almost $56,000.

This raises the question of whether Hendry can be objective about granting or denying TCAD employees pay raises who also work for him in his private business.

To explore that possibility, The Austin Bulldog obtained records of TCAD pay raises for the people who report to Hendry through a public information request. Those records indicate that in the 18 months from January 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, nine other employees Hendry supervised also received merit increases, seven got raises not labeled as merit increases, while a dozen others did not get a pay raise.

Were rules broken?

Hendry’s dual relationship with Bates and Markert appear to violate Travis Central Appraisal District’s Code of Ethics, adopted by the board of directors May 6, 2015.

Section 2F of the code states: “No employee shall accept or solicit other employment to be performed or compensation to be received while still an employee, if the employment or compensation could reasonably be expected to impair his/her independence in judgment or performance of his/her duties.”

The relationship among these three men also appears to violate administrative rules of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation for Property Tax Professionals, which state in Section 94.72(e): “A registrant must not engage in any activity or employment outside of the appraisal office or tax office if such engagement adversely affects his impartiality in the execution of his official duties or adversely affects the performance of his official duties.”

The Code of Ethics set forth in the same administrative rules in Section 94.100(5) state: Registrants must “not conduct their professional duties in a manner that could reasonably be expected to create the appearance of impropriety.”

Section 3.2 of TCAD’s Personnel Policy Manual states: “Appraisers are prohibited from appraising property, brokering real estate, or referring real estate sales to other agents or brokers inside Travis County.”

In an April 30, 2019, sworn deposition given in a lawsuit, Texas Disposal Systems Landfill Inc. vs. Travis Central Appraisal District (Cause No. D-1-GN-09-003040) Hendry stated he does not do business in Travis County because that would present a “perception of conflict with my responsibilities at the appraisal district.”

Lorri Michel

When attorney Lorri Michel, representing Texas Disposal Systems Landfill, asked in that deposition if it were possible that a client of Team Hendry might own property in Travis County and whether he was able to verify that they did not own such property, attorney Karen Evertson, representing TCAD, instructed Hendry not to answer the question.

Michel told The Austin Bulldog in an email today, “If he has a process in place, I doubt his lawyer would have instructed him not to answer. Any person in that position (as deputy chief appraiser) who is going to walk so close to the ethical line should have belt and suspenders in place to make sure there is no conflict of interest.”

There is also the question of whether Hendry can be impartial in his supervision of TCAD employees without showing favoritism for those who work for his real estate brokerage.

Section 4.4 of TCAD’s Personnel Policy Manual contains a “no fraternization” prohibition against dating between subordinates and superiors. “Romantic relationships between individuals with the power to affect the other’s status or position with TCAD in any way shall be avoided.”

But the manual does not address the situation in which two of Hendry’s TCAD subordinates work as sales agents for his real estate brokerage.

Financial disclosures inconsistent

TCAD requires every employee to file a sworn Financial Disclosure Statement each January covering the previous calendar year. Financial disclosures are public information but they must be obtained by filing a public information request, which is how The Austin Bulldog got them.

Both Bates and Markert disclosed their employment with Team Hendry in their financial disclosures for 2018 filed with the appraisal district in January 2019.

Hendry disclosed his outside work in real estate in his 2017 Financial Disclosure filed in January 2018 and named Team Hendry Realty LLC as the company he owned.

However, Hendry’s 2018 Financial Disclosure filed in January 2019 indicates he is a self-employed Realtor, but nowhere in the disclosure does he state the name of his brokerage.

If someone were to review the 2018 financial disclosures of these three men they would not be able to be able to conclude that Bates and Markert were working for Hendry.

Bill Aleshire
Bill Aleshire

Attorney Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County tax assessor-collector and former Travis County judge, locked horns with TCAD last year in a lawsuit to get protest hearings for his clients. Commenting on Hendry’s departure, Aleshire said, “The taxpayers of Travis County are just a little safer today than they were before Hendry’s resignation.”

Links:

Lonnie Wayne Hendry Jr.’s resignation letter, June 24, 2019

Lonnie Wayne Hendry Jr.’s personnel file, Tarrant Appraisal District

Lonnie Wayne Hendry Jr.’s personnel file, Travis Central Appraisal District

Jared Matthew Bates personnel file, Travis Central Appraisal District

Matthew Ryan Markert personnel file, Travis Central Appraisal District

TCAD Network User Notification, July 9, 2019

Team Hendry Realty LLC records of Texas Real Estate Commission

Travis Central Appraisal District Code of Ethics, May 6, 2015

Travis Central Appraisal District Personnel Policy Manual, effective January 2017

Related Bulldog coverage:

Appraisal Review Board heads off lawsuit, June 12, 2019

New procedures undermine appraisal process, June 6, 2019

Lawsuit Seeks Property Tax Hearings, December 17, 2018

Homestead Exemptions a Tax Loophole,” February 26, 2014

Homestead Exemptions Rife With Abuse, December 20, 2013

Chris Riley Nailed for Back Taxes, August 20, 2014

Appraisal District to End Records Suppression, November 22, 2011

Appraisal Records Hidden from Public View, November 18, 2011

Are Austin’s Property Taxes Fair and Equitable? July 30, 2010

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.

Email [email protected].

Who funds this work? This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help support this independent coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.

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