An apology request concerning tax appraiser vehicle use turned into a 51-minute discourse on the finer points of bathroom and lunch breaks during the board of tax assessors’ meeting this week.
Chief appraiser James Flynt sought a statement from board member Larry Stewart for what Flynt considered “maligning” the appraiser staff in a letter to the editor in The Madison County Journal, but Stewart rebuffed any apology request.
The board, Flynt and the appraisers then proceeded to spend nearly an hour bickering over what out-of-county trips were justified, the intent of Stewart’s letter and even who Flynt essentially works for.
The meeting drew nine people, including two reporters.
The discord between the board and Flynt stems from whether appraisers should be allowed to relieve themselves or eat lunch across county lines.
The assessors board had instructed appraisers to keep county vehicles inside county lines, saying they were simply upholding county policy.
However, appraisers, whose jobs often call for them to drive to the far corners of the county, say it’s closer in some instances to find a toilet across the border and take lunch breaks than it would be to do so in Madison County.
Flynt sought clarification of the county vehicle policy last week from the county board of commissioners and it voted 4-1 to allow the appraiser staff to use discretion when crossing the border in search of toilets or food.
Stewart then responded last week by writing a letter regarding the decision, entitled “Commissioners approve lunch on taxpayers’ dime,” which peeved Flynt. Stewart defended the letter at Monday’s meeting, saying he alluded to past county vehicle abuse and not anyone on the current appraiser staff.
While out-of-county vehicle use was the topic at hand, the meeting had its contentious moments outside of where appraisers are driving.
Board member Jim Escoe, who’s running for the District 5 Commission seat, said Flynt “was trying to make something out of something that wasn’t there.” Escoe said he’d apologize to the appraisers if Flynt would “apologize to the taxpayers that you wronged on last year’s assessments. How about that?”
Board member Bob Fowler said Flynt owed chairperson Samantha Garland an apology for not consulting her first about his comments to the board. He then offered an ominous warning to the chief appraiser.
“You serve at this board’s pleasure,” Fowler said. “If you don’t believe it, I’ll show you.”
Several of the appraiser staff attended the meeting, defending those occasions when they cross into bordering counties. One staff member noted it’s a four-mile trip to the nearest Madison County bathroom compared to a 0.6 mile trip to Royston when they’re working the extreme northern part of the county.
Garland said the board of commissioners and tax assessors would be sympathetic to those dire circumstances when appraisers “could not hold it” and were forced to relieve themselves across the border.
She even offered the scenario of a bladder emergency on the northern end of the county on Wildcat Bridge Road.
“You’ve got to go and you could not hold it any further — and you went over into the Royston community and into another county — I think this board would be understanding and the board of commissioners would be understanding,” Garland said.
But Garland said that having lunch would be a different issue.
Fowler did offer that he’d like to see a variance for appraisers’ vehicle use “because they have a unique responsibility.” The staff must visit every property in the county every three to four years.
Flynt eventually sought to end the discussion, but not before offering a parting shot at Fowler.
“I have a contract with the board of commissioners and that’s who I work for,” Flynt said, referring to Fowler’s early comment. “Let’s be real clear on that.”
After discussion reached the 45-minute mark, one exasperated audience member apparently had heard enough and spoke out.
“Why on earth are we spending two-and-a-half hours — all this anger, all these hard feelings — over who’s going to go to the dadgum bathroom?” asked Danny Andrews.