The McLennan County Appraisal District board has told longtime Chief Appraiser Andrew Hahn it will not renew his contract and is expected to take further action at its Sept. 12 meeting.
“The board has elected to not renew or extend his contract past Dec. 31,” said board Chairman John Kinnaird, a Waco city councilman, on Thursday. “Currently, he’s still under contract and is still the chief appraiser.”
Hahn, who has headed the district for 11 years, was not at work Thursday by his own volition, Kinnaird said. He did not respond to efforts to contact him for comment Thursday.
Kinnaird said it is unlikely Hahn would stay for the remainder of his contracted time, but no official agreement will be approved before the meeting. The board meets at 9 a.m. next Thursday at the appraisal district headquarters, 315 S. 26th St.
Kinnaird did not cite specific reasons for the decision.
“Sometimes it just seems like change is for the best,” Kinnaird said. “The board feels that with where we’re moving as a community, that a change in chief appraisers has been warranted.”
Kinnaird said the chief appraiser’s contract renewal is usually approved each spring for the following year, and the board last renewed Hahn’s contract in spring 2018.
Though many taxpayers have voiced discontent with the appraisal district in recent years for rapidly growing property values, Kinnaird said that was not a factor in the board’s decision. The appraisal board, appointed by local governments, has the task of choosing a chief appraiser and approving an annual budget, which is $4.34 million this year. But it does not oversee the decisions by the district’s professional appraisers or get involved in the protest process, which is handled by an independent appraisal review board.
The Texas Comptroller does a “ratio study” of each appraisal district’s values each year, comparing them to actual sale prices, and state officials found the McLennan County Appraisal District’s compliance rate to be 99% for 2018.
Kinnaird said he does not fault the staff for sharp increases in valuations, or for legal expenses the district has incurred in defending its values in court.
County Tax Assessor-Collector Randy Riggs, a nonvoting member of the board, was appraisal board chairman when Hahn was hired.
“Drew is a very competent chief appraiser and we appreciate the contributions he has made to the district,” Riggs said.
Hahn has been chief appraiser in McLennan County since Jan. 1, 2008, and since then he has seen his salary increase from $90,000 to $129,225. He also receives a $2,575 car allowance and $576 in longevity pay, as well as benefits.
He previously was chief appraiser for 13 years in Calhoun County between Galveston and Corpus Christi.
At the time he took the McLennan County job, the district office was in turmoil, with personal squabbles and disagreements about where the district should locate its headquarters. Former Chief Appraiser Robert Waldrop had left the previous summer, leaving as interim chief Tax Assessor-Collector A.F. “Buddy” Skeen, who repeatedly clashed with the board. Skeen later pleaded guilty to five felony counts of misuse of county property and vehicles.
A year after Hahn took office, the appraisal district decided to break its lease on its downtown headquarters at 600 Columbus Avenue and buy the former Brazos Higher Education Service Corp. building on South 26th Street for $1.3 million.
The owner of the downtown building sued for breach of contract and won a $467,000 court judgment that was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court.
A local businessman with a track record of proposals that have failed to come to fruition has launched a multimedia advertising campaign for a planned 17-story, 326-unit hotel on Lake Brazos called the Grant Hotel, in honor of Baylor University’s winningest football coach, Grant Teaff.
“I retired in 2013 with the purpose of doing this,” said L.M. Dyson, former professor of real estate at Baylor, speaking by phone from out-of-state, where he and his wife are undergoing medical treatment.
“And we are going to get it done,” added Dyson, who said Base4, an international architectural firm specializing in modular construction, has spearheaded design of the complex Dyson proposes placing at Marlin Highway and South Loop Drive, near La Salle Avenue, on land once occupied by Young Brothers Contractors and later Knife River Construction.
He said Alabama-based Z Modular will oversee construction, in consultation with a general contractor yet to be named. The Arlington office of Tera Engineering also is involved in the Grant Hotel, Dyson said.
Asked if the local lodging market needs another 300 rooms, considering more than 600 currently are under construction and hundreds more announced, Dyson said, “It doesn’t matter what I think. I’ve had it studied and restudied by a lot of people a lot smarter than me. There will be demand.”
He said his respect and admiration for Teaff prompted him to champion the project. He said Teaff has no financial stake in the venture.
Turning to financial backing, Dyson said he could not discuss specifics.
“What it might cost to build, we’re finalizing as we speak. I’ve had several conference calls, as you might imagine,” Dyson said. “Yes, we have lined up financing, but I can’t comment on that. We’re at a point, legally, where I’ve got to be careful about what I say and what I don’t say.”
Teaff has aligned himself with the project, appearing in spots showed on the large message board in McLane Stadium during last Saturday’s game against Stephen F. Austin State University. Teaff and his wife, Donell, also appear on a website for the hotel plans that is linked to an ad on the Baylor athletics website, baylorbears.com.
The hotel and adjacent attractions, including a 100-foot-long boat for dinner cruises and Brazos River tours called the Lady Donell, would occupy acreage specifically at 1923 Marlin Highway and South Loop Drive.
Baylor officials, meanwhile, said the university has no affiliation with the project other than selling advertising space and rights to the title of “Official Hotel of Baylor Athletics.”
A blog post by Base4 Architects and Engineers, which is designing the modular hotel for Dyson, states Grant Hotel would become part of a larger development called Chisholm Landing, “which will feature the world’s largest climbing tower, a riverboat modular hotel, ropes course, and indoor climbing facility.” The post also states the hotel’s second floor would be made available to students pursuing careers in culinary and hospitality fields.
“We are so excited that Base4 Architects are a part of our team,” Dyson is quoted as saying in the blog post, which identifies him as president of the Grant Hotel Hospitality Institute. “They have created a design for a world-class full-service hotel, but have also paid attention to the academic component of our mission.”
Records at the Texas Secretary of State’s Office show the Grant Hotel Hospitality Institute was formed July 7, 2017, as a nonprofit corporation. Dyson is one of three directors, the others being Waco businessman Stanton Brown and Parker Park-Sing Eng, from Plano, according to Secretary of State’s Office records. Neither Stanton nor Eng could be reached Thursday.
Dyson said the nonprofit status is specifically tied to the hospitality institute the hotel will house. Asked how that status might impact construction costs, Dyson said nonprofit foundations pay no sales tax on materials.
“No honor for Coach Teaff is complete without including his wife, Donell, who attended almost every practice, tirelessly cut newspaper photos, and sent them along with personal notes of encouragement to the players,” the hotel website states. “As a capstone for Coach Teaff’s vision to put student athletes’ education first, the Grant Hotel and the Lady Donell will also serve as a working laboratory on culinary, hospitality and tourism … for students from various colleges and universities, thus honoring his legacy for many years to come.”
Teaff said though Dyson has been fighting health issues, “He’s getting pretty far along on this. He’s rocking and rolling. It is my understanding he would like to see construction winding down in about a year.”
“I’d like to see it start tomorrow,” Dyson said in his interview.
Clint Peters, the city of Waco’s planning director, said Dyson received the Planned Unit Development designation he needs to proceed. Peters said Grant Hotel appears related to the Chisholm Landing venture that first came before the city in 2016, then again in 2018, proposed by Bear Pump Riverfront Properties LLC, and also with Dyson playing a lead role. The group proposed apartments, a hotel, a restaurant, shops and a hike-and-bike trail.
Bobby Horner, who oversees the city of Waco’s inspection services department, said he communicates with Dyson by phone and email.
“It is my understanding civil plans are being wrapped up,” Horner said. “A lot of site work would need to take place on something like that, obviously, and I’ve not seen anything official.
“He told me in a recent conversation he was going to show a video at the game, one featuring Grant Teaff talking about the Grant Hotel. It looks like this is coming to fruition at some point. It’s going to be impressive, and I would like to see it come to pass.”
In an email response to questions, Baylor University spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said the Dyson-led group bought a sponsorship package through Baylor Bear Sports Properties, which manages multimedia rights for Baylor Athletics.
“As part of the package, they secured a marketing designation as the ‘Official Hotel of Baylor Athletics,’” Fogleman wrote.
“The project does not have any further involvement of Baylor University or the Athletics Department,” she wrote. “Dr. Dyson retired from Baylor University in 2013 and currently does not have a faculty appointment.”
Dyson has proposed other large projects, including a Woodway golf course in the 1990s. His introduction to the public included a visit by former PGA star Gary Player, who would design the course that did not materialize.
In 2010, his company broke ground on a 444-unit apartment complex near Baylor called Legacy Lofts, but the project was abandoned because of financial problems.
Two people, both identifying themselves as Baylor graduates, sent email messages to the Tribune-Herald regarding the abundance of Grant Hotel-related messages circulating around McLane Stadium last Saturday.
Steve Swingler said those sitting near him were puzzled by references to Grant Hotel until the coach himself appeared on a video “describing the facility, its riverfront location” and the boat named in honor of Donell Teaff.
“I really hope it gets built and is a success,” said Swingler, who said he would reserve comment on its feasibility until knowing more about financing.
“This is about Grant and Donell Teaff. It’s not about me,” Dyson said.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday issued eight executive orders in response to last month’s mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa.
“Texas must achieve several objectives to better protect our communities and our residents from mass shootings,” Abbott said in a statement. “I will continue to work expeditiously with the legislature on laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, while safeguarding the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans.”
The orders focus largely on strengthening law enforcement’s ability to respond and prevent future shootings, largely through improving reporting channels and closing “information gaps” when members of the public or law enforcement agencies worry that a person might be a threat to commit violence. But, Abbott’s office added in a news release, “legislative solutions are still needed.”
The governor also plans to release a report of recommendations next week from meetings of the Texas Safety Commission, which Abbott formed after the El Paso shooting.
The actions by Abbott come as state lawmakers grapple with how to respond to last month’s tragedies in El Paso, Odessa and Midland. At the beginning of August, a gunman targeting Hispanics in an El Paso Walmart fatally shot 22 people and left more than two dozen injured. Then, over Labor Day weekend, a gunman killed seven people and injured 22 others during a shooting spree in Odessa and Midland.
In the wake of the mass shootings, GOP leaders have assembled task forces and formed select legislative committees to discuss next steps for preventing future massacres. Democrats, meanwhile, have urged Abbott to call a special legislative session to address gun violence.
One of Abbott’s executive orders directs the Texas Department of Public Safety to “develop clear guidance, based on the appropriate legal standard, for when and how Texas law-enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious Activity Reports.” Another order directs the department to work with “local law enforcement, mental-health professionals, school districts, and others to crate multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions.”
In both mass shootings, law enforcement had been aware the gunmen prior to their rampages. Weeks before the El Paso shooter opened fire, his mom had called police to express concerns about her son owning a gun, according to news reports. And in West Texas, the shooter there had reportedly called both police and the FBI before the shooting.
Abbott’s eight executive orders:
Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, all future grant awards from the Office of the Governor to counties shall require a commitment that the county will report at least 90 percent of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety. By Jan. 1, 2021, such reporting must take place within five business days.