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Crossing the Linebarger: Burgess’ Dirty Dealings?

Burgess
Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Wendy Burgess | Image by Wendy Burgess

A recently obtained long-form version of exclusive audio published by The Dallas Express last week, in which Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Wendy Burgess slurred her speech during an official meeting, has raised more questions about the incumbent official’s conduct.

During the December 2020 Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD) board meeting, Burgess can be heard pushing to award a contract to a particular vendor.

“The board was not presented with information about the second vendor by either the staff or Ms. Burgess,” TAD board member Rich DeOtte told The Dallas Express. “For her to move to assign the contract to that second vendor [Linebarger] sight unseen was highly unusual.”

The relevant portion of the audio file can be heard below:

This excerpt takes place during a roll call vote to authorize TAD staff to negotiate a contract to review homestead exemption services. During this exchange, Burgess brings a motion “to approve Linebarger.”

Burgess claims there were problems with Tyler Technologies, the contractor that TAD staff recommended and that had been used by the county previously.

The tax assessor-collector’s objections were purportedly based on conversations she claimed to have had with constituents who confessed to moving into homes formerly owned by deceased elderly residents whose homesteads were granted certain exemptions against tax hikes. She claimed these residents did not notify Tyler Technologies because they feared their exemptions would be removed.

DeOtte responded that he had heard similar stories from constituents, while Chief Appraiser Jeff Law further confirmed these issues.

However, DeOtte did not join Burgess’ motion to assign the contract to Linebarger.

“Wendy, would you consider a friendly amendment to refer this back to staff to reconsider some of the things you’ve mentioned and come back next month?” DeOtte asked.

Burgess refused DeOtte’s proposed amendments, re-emphasized her objections to Tyler Technologies, and pushed again for the contract to be assigned to Linebarger.

TAD chairwoman Kathryn Wilemon balked at Burgess’ insistence, noting that Linebarger had not given an estimate of the cost to provide their services.

Burgess’ motion was joined by board member J.R. Martinez. The board meeting later concluded without action on the contract. The matter was not brought up again, and the contract was not assigned to Linebarger.

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP is a collections service best known for contracting with public sector entities. Often, they execute collections for delinquent accounts.

Linebarger had previously been a major donor to Burgess. During certain fundraising cycles in 2019, Linebarger contributed as much as 89% of Burgess’s campaign coffer.

“To find out later that the second vendor was a substantial donor to her campaign, I believe, made this a flagrant attempt at cronyism, which I consider to be corrupt,” DeOtte told The Dallas Express. “Thankfully, most of the board did not support her motion that day.”

Burgess is being challenged for her seat in the Republican Primary by Rick Barnes, the former chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party. He vacated his seat to challenge Burgess.

Barnes previously told DX he was running because “Tarrant Appraisal District has had one scandal after another with Wendy Burgess on the TAD board.”

“I’ll clean it up and return transparency, fiscal responsibility, and trust to that agency,” he said. “She couldn’t [do that] in 5 years.”

Early voting for the Republican primary is ongoing until March 1. Election Day is March 5.

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