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Lawsuit: Lockhart ISD withheld tax notices to influence bond election

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TWC News: Lawsuit: Lockhart ISD withheld tax notices to influence bond election
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A former Caldwell County tax appraisal (CCAD) worker is suing her former employer for sexual harassment.

She also claims her former employers did nothing to stop the harassment. The appraisal district is run by the Lockhart Independent School District.

"The appraisal board employees are employees of the school district. And we're one of the very few school districts and appraisal boards that still function this way," said Fermin Islas of the CCAD Board of Directors.

Islas and other board members answer to the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees.

Meanwhile, the CCAD provides property appraisals for eight different taxing entities, including the school district.

The lawsuit alleges the former superintendent, Tony Jones, instructed former chief appraiser Russell Sanders to withhold tax notices last year just before a bond election.

The school bond election was on Saturday and the notices were mailed the following Monday, according to Frank Hinds of Caldwell County Citizens for Reform (CCCFR). The bond passed in May 2003.

"Is that something that happened? I cannot comment on that, it's part of the lawsuit, and it's something that has to do more with the school board than the appraisal district," Islas said.

Now the appraisal district and the school district are splitting. Islas said the lawsuit isn't the reason for the split; it's been discussed for years.

"For us to be independent, to be unbiased, the best thing to do is to be independent from all the taxing entities," Islas said.

As vice president of CCCFR, Hinds agrees. Others say whether anyone did wrong, the relationship just looks bad.

"There's a perceived notion that there's a lack of independence between the appraisal office and the school board of trustees and perhaps the superintendent of schools," Lockhart resident William Cline said.

The CCAD and the Lockhart ISD have a contract to separate by the end of the year.

Hinds said if the tax notices were held back, the taxpayers paid the price.

"Do you think that would have made a difference in the bond elections? It definitely would," he said.

For the record, Jones retired earlier this year, and after almost 18 years, the school district did not renew Russell Sanders' contract this year. It isn't saying why.

Lockhart ISD Superintendent John Hall said the district has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

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