Saturday, March 2, 2024

County commissioners nominate Rod Litke to HCAD Board of Directors

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The Hood County Commissioners Court voted to appoint Rod Litke to the Hood County Appraisal District Board of Directors during its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Dec. 12.

In accordance with chapter six of the property tax code, each taxing unit is eligible to cast votes for the board of directors of the appraisal district in proportion to its tax levy. It takes 834 votes to be cast for an individual to be elected to the board of directors.

The Hood County Commissioners Court is allocated 1,187 votes, the city of Granbury is allocated 319 votes, and the Granbury ISD Board of Trustees is allocated 3,177 votes.

In a previous meeting of the Hood County Commissioners Court, two residents were nominated to the HCAD Board of Directors: Greg Harrell and Rod Litke.

However, Hood County Judge Ron Massingill revealed during the Dec. 12 meeting that Greg Harrell had “graciously withdrew his application.”

Ron Sutton, who was previously on the HCAD Board of Directors, spoke on behalf of Litke during the public comments section of the meeting.

“I want to thank you all for supporting me two years ago to sit on the board as a director for the Hood County Central Appraisal District,” Sutton said. “It's because of that service that I have a hands-on perspective of what would make a great board member, and that's why I'm here to speak on behalf of Mr. Rod Litke.”

Sutton explained that Litke has been a rancher and farmer in Hood County for the past 30 years. He claimed Litke “knows rural Hood County property values,” as he also owns residential property in Granbury.

“He's the former president of the Texas Farm Bureau for Hood and Somervell Counties, where he oversaw various ag projects and addressed issues specific to Hood County,” Sutton said. “He was owner/operator of Jericho Energy and has been since 2014, and he is registered with the state as a P-5 producer based in Hood County.”

Sutton said one of Litke’s greatest assets for serving on the HCAD Board of Directors is his strong financial background.

"In any office of public service, a strong financial background is a true asset,” he said. “He retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers as a partner. He was a managing partner for the central part of the United States over utilities. He has been involved in all aspects of business, finance, information technology, mergers, acquisitions and strategic projects. Here's another unique thing about Rod. He is CEO of Customer Service Week and has done that since 2012. He served on the board for 28 years.”

Sutton said Litke’s brother asked Litke why he wanted to serve on the HCAD Board of Directors and Litke responded “because I want to give back to the community that has been so good to me and my family.” 

“When you read through Rod's resume, the thing that jumps out that he has in common with each of you is a heart for service,” Sutton said, as he addressed the Hood County Commissioners Court. “I appreciate your support of Rod Litke to sit on the Board of Directors of the Central Appraisal District.” 

Following Sutton’s comments, Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle stated he wanted to give a summary recap of how the Granbury ISD Board of Directors and the Granbury City Council cast their votes for the HCAD Board. 

The Granbury ISD Board of Trustees cast its votes during a regularly scheduled school board meeting on Nov. 13 where the board voted to put 834 votes to Scott Bradley, 834 to Rick Frye, 834 votes to Mark McDonald and 675 votes to Eddie Rodriguez.

During the Granbury City Council meeting on Nov. 21, the city also cast 319 votes in favor of Rodriguez for the HCAD Board of Directors.

“The city council, last week, voted,” Eagle said. “They had 319 votes to add so they cast all their votes for Mr. Rodriguez. We had two candidates, Mr. Greg Harrell, and we had Mr. Rod Litke, who I finally had the pleasure of meeting and visiting last week and was very impressed with Mr. Litke. I went to city council when they put this up for a vote and I stood up for Mr. Litke at that point in time, urging them to vote for Mr. Litke ‘cause those 319 votes for Mr. Litke would have given us a chance to put two people on the HCAD, Mr. Litke, and Mr. Harrell — that was my goal. And I was trained to be an advocate for my client in law school, and my client, in my opinion, is the taxpayer. So I went to city council, not to tell them what to do, but to urge them to vote for somebody that's not affiliated with the school district, because they already have three people on there."

The HCN previously reported on the Granbury City Council meeting where Eagle had spoken during the public comments.

“My understanding is that Ron Sutton has sent you all an email talking about Rod Litke, proposing that he be considered to be put on this board. I urge you to consider Mr. Litke. With no aspersion to Mr. Rodriguez, I urge you not to put your votes on Mr. Rodriguez, and it’s nothing personal or anything else against Eddie,” Eagle said, during the Granbury City Council meeting on Nov. 21. “In law school they told us if it doesn’t look right, you might not do it even if it’s legal. The optics are bad, and I think that there is a potential conflict of interest by having a board member being a council member on the board. Also, there’s familial affiliation with GISD with Mr. Rodriguez and to me that doesn’t look right either. I urge you to save Mr. Rodriguez from himself and put somebody else on there and relieve him of being put on there.”

Following Eagle’s comments, city councilman Steven Vale asked City Attorney Jeremy SoRelle if there is any legal conflict for Rodriguez serving both on city council and HCAD and SoRelle responded there is no conflict, and it is legal.

“The appraisal district represents all of Hood County. I don’t think there should be any question in any of the citizens’ minds that there’s a conflict there,” Mayor Jim Jarratt said during the city council meeting. “Why create that type of controversy? Mr. Rodriguez is a very respectable man but at the same time we have five other candidates.”

Councilmember Trish Burwell then entered a motion to nominate Rodriguez with the city’s full 319 votes. Following that motion Mayor Jarratt nominated Litke with 319 votes.

The council voted with four votes for Rodriguez by councilman Greg Corrigan, Rodriguez, Vale and Burwell and one vote for Litke by Mayor Jarratt.

“I would feel confident that the county has all the votes they need to put Mr. Litke on that board with the number of votes that they possess,” City Manager Chris Coffman said during the city council meeting. “Personally, I feel like as a citizen of Granbury, it’s inappropriate for a governing body from another jurisdiction to walk in here and dictate to you who you should vote for. I’m offended by that. On the record I’m offended by that.”

During the Dec. 12 meeting of Hood County Commissioners Court, Eagle responded that he thinks he made “somebody mad over there” by speaking during the public comments. 

“I didn't talk down anybody or anything,” Eagle said. “I advocated for Mr. Litke and I'm in full agreement with Mr. Ron Sutton on Mr. Litke, and Mr. Harrell was gracious enough to withdraw his candidacy for this position, which means we've only got one person to vote for.” 

Eagle then pointed out the county has had some “serious issues with the HCAD board over the last few months.”  

“We need people to represent these taxing entities on that board besides the school district,” he said. “The school district has their majority, and they're going to get what they want, and my goal was to get a couple of people on there that will stand watch for us, the county, and the other taxing entities. Didn't work out that way. Mr. Rodriguez, in my opinion is of apparent conflict of interest for him to be on there, but it's not illegal. So of course, they told me in law school if it doesn't look good, you might not ought to do it, even if it is technically legal. But I am very happy that Mr. Harrell withdrew because he's filed to run for the county chair for the Republican Party, so I appreciate that.” 

Precinct 2 Commissioner Nannette Samuelson also spoke regarding the “school district’s and city council’s obvious conflict of interest," by allocating votes toward the “sitting city council member, especially when there are well-qualified individuals that are willing to serve that present no conflict.”

"Shame on us, the taxing entities, if we didn't learn anything from what played out in the spring and summer with the HCAD budget and the funds that were being held against the Texas tax code,” Samuelson said. “We had a sitting city council member acting as an HCAD board member stand right here at our podium and argue that it was perfectly OK to keep these funds in a fund balance. However, that is against the tax code. I have the tax code here. It's tax code 6.06J. Then a few days later, as a city council member, voted to reject the HCAD budget that he had presided over as president of HCAD. If that doesn't scream conflict, I don't know what does. Let me remind you that this dual role city council member had been on the HCAD board for 18 months at that time.”

Samuelson also brought up another conflict that involved a “member that was president of the school district” who had presided over the formation of a Texas nonprofit corporation to “facilitate a real estate deal for the new appraisal building.”

"As we learned, that land was owned by the school district,” Samuelson said. “He also made the motion in 2021 to retain funds from the 2020 fiscal year excess budget of $605,000 to put it into a land and building fund. This account was not in the 2021 budget. And as you know, retaining excess funds is against tax code.

“There's quite a bit more to this, but I'll just make it short and say that I bring this all up to demonstrate the conflict that this creates when someone that's sitting on a taxing entity is also elected to serve on the board of the appraisal district. We have well-qualified candidates and people that are willing to serve that present no conflict. Why continue to take this conflict forward? Again, I call on the city council member to remove himself from consideration or step down. In closing, I dutifully support Mr. Litke.”

Massingill then spoke during the meeting and argued that he doesn’t think it’s the duty of the commissioners court to “tell another elected body here in Hood County how they should vote.”

"It's not our business to go up there and tell them, just like I don't want the city coming down here and telling the county officials how we should vote on county issues,” Massingill said. “So, I disagree with Commissioner Eagle and with Commissioner Samuelson about that. I'm going to vote like I always do for the best interest of Hood County since I represent all of Hood county, not just people in one precinct. I want to do the best I can to get the best candidate always.

“Having said that, I do know Rod Litke goes to the same church that I do. I appreciate Ron Sutton, who was a great member on the appraisal board for his service for two years. It was a very interesting and significant two years. You did an outstanding job. And when he saw the resume of Rod Litke with his service, especially being able to appraise rural property, oil and gas and then to be on the department at Pricewaterhouse, that's really significant.”

Samuelson then made the motion to allocate all 1,187 votes to Rod Litke for the board of directors of the Hood County Appraisal District for a two-year term to begin Jan. 1, 2024. 

Before the vote, Eagle made one more comment.

“It is OK for us to disagree up here,” Eagle said. “It's really OK. The judge can disagree with me, that's fine, but I'll stand with what I did.”

The Hood County Commissioners Court then took the motion to vote and the motion passed unanimously.