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Candidate for Erath County tax assessor says opponent should bow out of race because of family ties.

The Erath County Courthouse


A candidate running for Erath County tax assessor/collector is questioning why one of her competitors – Valerie Stephen – is running for office when her brother Jonathon Pringle is the county’s chief appraiser.


Tina Holzschuh claims that nepotism will prevent Stephen from being able to conduct her duties as tax assessor if she is elected.

Stephen, Holzschuh, Niki Cogburn and Mike Jones are all running in the Republican Primary.


The issue has been simmering for weeks and surfaced Tuesday on social media.


Beneath the Surface News has spoken with several elected officials about the matter and no one seems to have a clear answer.


Erath County’s longtime tax assessor Jennifer Carey represents the county on the tax appraisal district’s board of directors, which consists of five voting members that also represent the city of Stephenville, Stephenville ISD, Dublin and outlying school districts.


“The board checked with our attorney prior to (Valerie Stephen filing) and was told there is no issue,” Carey said.


Carey says commissioners appoint individuals to serve on the board, and if Stephen wins the election, the potential for nepotism could be avoided by simply appointing someone other than Stephen to represent the county or requiring her to recuse herself from voting on all matters related to her brother.


But Holzschuh says it’s not that simple.


She says the tax assessor is required to represent the county on the appraisal board and that any “appointments” by commissioners are strictly “procedural.”


She said board members oversee the office of the chief appraiser and monitor their performance.


“Serving on the board of the appraisal district is part of the job. If Valerie Stephen wins the election and has to recuse herself on matters related to the chief appraiser, she can’t do her job, and that’s a fact,” Holzschuh said.


On Jan. 31, Erath County Attorney Lisa Pence sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking clarification.


A portion of the letter states: “If the candidate who is the sister of our Chief Appraiser wins the election for Tax Assessor/Collector, will the Chief Appraiser be eligible to stay in his role? If so, would the Tax Assessor-Collector’s role on the Board of Directors of the Appraisal District (pursuant to Tax Code section 6.03(a)) be impacted if both siblings remained in those positions?”


(Keep scrolling to read the letter in its entirety.

Paxton has 180 days to issue his ruling, which means there may be no clear answer until well after the March 5 primary.


“The reason Lisa Pence has sent an inquiry to the AG’s office is because this is an issue and the public needs to understand what’s happening,” Holzschuh said.


“Regardless of whether or not you like what the code says, at the end of the day, they are brother and sister and that cannot be undone.


“I’m not running for office at all costs; I’m running because transparency matters.”


Stephen declined to comment for the story.

This is the letter from Erath County Attorney Lisa Pence to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.






















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