FORT BEND (FOX 26) - It's been a week of damage control for the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District because of a list of blacklisted arbitrators that became public last week. The list revealed apparent bias in Fort Bend's property value arbitration system, and damaged professional reputations.
"I was shocked. I was appalled," said Linda Blackmon, a Katy Real Estate agent, of her reaction.
Blackmon tells Fox26 she became a certified arbitrator to benefit her clients, and expand her income. But she and 41 others were named on a the Fort Bend CAD's not qualified list, obtained through a private citizen's public information request.
"My first reaction was, well, that explains why, after doing this for several years, I have not had any hearings for this year," she said Tuesday.
Fort Bend CAD used the list to strike arbitrators suggested by homeowners. While there are legitimate reasons to strike someone, apparently all some did to get on the list, was rule against the CAD in arbitration.
Blackmon says she spoke by phone to the Fort Bend CAD'S Chief Appraiser, Glen Whitehead, Tuesday morning. She says he apologized, but couldn't explain her presence on the list.
"He said to me that he did not know who submitted my name for this list," Blackmon said. "He said he didn't know why it was submitted for this list."
"You can't arbitrarily say someone's unqualified when they've been qualified by agencies that license people," says Real Estate Appraiser John Osenbaugh, who is also on the list.
Osenbaugh says as a third generation real estate professional in Houston, he is exploring a libel suit against the CAD, and Chief Appraiser Whitehead. He also feels there's a potential for a criminal case as well.
"I believe this might have legs in a criminal court," Osenbaugh tells Fox26. "It could very easily be considered official oppression, both of the rights of a property owner seeking arbitration, as well as the arbitrators on the list who have all been slandered."
For years, Fort Bend residents have complained of high appraisals causing their tax bills to go up. Then they began feeling options to bring the appraisals down seemed rigged in the CAD's favor. And now they see, if the CAD can refuse an arbitrator that's ever ruled against them before, property owners don't have much of a chance.
"They've really just taken this whole binding arbitration program and they've trashed it," says Steve Spears. Spears is the one who filed the public information request obtaining the "Arbitrator - Not Qualified" list. He still feels the FBCAD is hiding the truth.
When the Fort Bend CAD's attorney, Joe Longoria, claimed in a statement to Fox26 last week that the list had essentially been eliminated shortly after the state senate hearing in May, Spears says he has proof that's not true.
He shows Fox26 an email from a FBCAD employee saying there was still a list in the beginning of July 1st.
"She says, 'Furthermore,'" Spears says, reading from the email dated July 1st, from Rose Spencer, "'Mr. Whitehead has removed all previous unqualified arbitrators from the not qualified list except for one."
Fox26 sent questions to Mr. Whitehead about the status of the list, and what actions would be done to repair trust in the system again. So far, neither he, nor the FBCAD have responded.