The McLennan County Appraisal District made its changing of the guard official Thursday when it approved a severance package with 11-year Chief Appraiser Andrew Hahn and appointed his assistant to take his place in the interim.
Board members have said they would not renew or extend Hahn's contract beyond its Dec. 31 expiration. The board appointed Assistant Chief Appraiser Joe Don Bobbitt as Hahn's interim successor while MCAD undergoes what Board Chairman John Kinnaird calls an "organizational evaluation" for the next several months.
"The board wishes to express its appreciation for the service Mr. Hahn has given the district during his 11 years as chief appraiser," Kinnaird said. "During his tenure, he reorganized the staff, he oversaw the relocation of these offices and he has incorporated new technology into appraisal procedures that allowed the district to appraise an increasing number of properties with a minimal number of increases in both our staff and our budget."
Hahn, 62, did not attend Thursday's board meeting and declined a request for comment in a message left for him at MCAD.
Bobbitt, 37, has worked at MCAD since June 2011 after a five-year stint in the Army. He was an artillery captain and served two tours of duty in Iraq. He has an agricultural science degree from Texas A&M University, where he was a member of the Corps of Cadets.
Bobbitt said he is excited about the new opportunity and hopes the board will name him chief appraiser on a permanent basis.
"That is my plan, but as we move forward in the next three months, it may be more clear what the board's position is going to be," Bobbitt said.
While Hahn will be paid until the end of the year, he is not expected to be at work on a daily basis. He will be available should questions or other matters arise, said Kinnaird, a Waco City Council member.
Increased property appraisals and growing numbers of property value protests and lawsuits have cast MCAD more into the public arena in recent years. But Kinnaird said that is not why Hahn's contract was not renewed.
"As a community, we are growing and changing, and honestly, sometimes it is just time for a change," Kinnaird said. "For this organization to grow and meet the needs of our growing and prosperous community, I think this change was necessary."
The appraisal board, appointed by local governments, chooses a chief appraiser and approves an annual budget, which is $4.3 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.
MCAD officials understand residents' concerns about rising appraisals and property taxes, but Kinnaird said MCAD staffers merely are doing their jobs.
"I think we are in the next several months going to go through an organizational evaluation," he said. "We have taken in concerns from the community about responsiveness from a customer-service standpoint. Again, staff does a great job making sure those values are fair market as defined by the (state) comptroller.
"The prescribed process for adjudication of those differences of opinion, I think, could use some more creative and innovative thinking, and kind of forward-facing parts for our citizens to make that process easier is probably going to require some additional resources to do so. I want someone with a willingness to think creatively and to be a bit more engaging communitywide and to understand the process the Legislature has established for all of this is byzantine, is difficult to navigate and is frustrating. I think we can help make that less so, and looking for ways to do that is on top of my list to accomplish through this transition period," Kinnaird 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.
In a July 12 message to the MCAD board obtained by the Tribune-Herald, Hahn asked to be allowed to stay on as assistant chief appraiser and for Bobbitt to take over.
"Since I was not able to address you during the board meeting I would like to let you know what I am asking for. I have spent twelve years of my life guiding this district through some very perilous times. The district is doing well now and on solid ground," Hahn wrote. "I am only asking to be allowed to slide into the assistant chief position to get to the point where I can get on medicare and begin social security payments. I will be 63 at the end of this year. I will be very helpful to and supportive of Joe if that is the way that you chose to go. I think that he would be the very best choice to lead the district."