District 25's Rudy Giuliani

Sudan campaigns for Congress amid connubial carnage

Until he decides to divorce you, that is.

H-Cads

The Sudan family: Not quite Father Knows Best material.
The Sudan family: Not quite Father Knows Best material.

At a time when home evaluations by the Harris County Appraisal District are skyrocketing in most areas, taxpayers might be interested in knowing how the HCAD board uses the public dollars the agency is so efficient in collecting.

When then-HCAD board chairman George Wyche took off on an eight-day trip to Detroit at taxpayer expense last August, he knew he would be resigning shortly as the city's rep on the taxing board.

He was attending the National Association of Real Estate Brokers annual convention, an event more attuned to his private role as head of G.N. Wyche Realty than his chairmanship of a tax appraisal board.

But no one questioned that public outlay of more than $2,200 Wyche spent on airfare and expenses. HCAD board members simply billed the agency for such expenses, without needing anyone's approval, even those on their own board.

The tax trustees are fond of their annual treks to the convention of the International Association of Assessing Officers [IAAO]. That organization has picked glam sites like the Disney World complex in Orlando and Las Vegas for its last two conventions, and it is aiming at Edmonton, Canada for the next confab. HCAD is one of the few appraisal districts in the country that regularly sends its board members on out-of-state trips at taxpayer expense.

Last week, the HCAD board finally voted to add a level of accountability to the directors' travel and expenses. It will now require members to submit proposed expenditures before rather than after the trips for approval by the board.

That they acted at all is partly the result of goading from Dan Hart. The appraisal district reform activist runs the non-profit Taxpayers for Equal Appraisal and maintains a Web page ( www.hcadtea.org). Hart and his wife Betty even paid their own way to the Las Vegas IAAO convention last year to keep tabs on the directors. He regularly peppers HCAD with open records requests that have made him about as popular with agency officials as a cloud of salt marsh mosquitoes at a picnic.

Asked why taxpayers need to foot the chairman's bill for a real estate convention in Detroit, HCAD chief appraiser Jim Robinson initially passed the buck.

"I think you'd need to ask Mr. Wyche," Robinson said. "He had indicated he felt he benefited from attending this, and he was a good board chairman. Very knowledgeable fellow."

Wyche did not return an Insider call for comment.

Current HCAD chair Charles Garrison, a retired Deer Park educator, says Wyche explained that the trip was a recruitment jaunt to find appraisers for HCAD, a rationale that Robinson later echoed. Neither cited anyone recruited from the jaunt.

"I really don't know the full details of what he did or why he did," says Garrison. "Not in a position to make a judgment on that."

Nevertheless, Garrison did sponsor the new restrictions that went into effect last week to bar members from out-of-state travel without approval of the full board. "This is a good change that we're making," he says.

No argument there.

E-mail Tim Fleck at tim.fleck@houstonpress.com.

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