WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE AGENCY SO MANY RELY ON IN HARRIS COUNTY?
A former Harris County Appraisal District employee recently resigned from the agency. He wrote this letter to his bosses and wanted to share it here on the Insite. These allegations have not been verified and the Insite will attempt to get a response from the agency:
To the Human Resources Division of The Harris County Appraisal District,
It is with grave sadness that I announce my resignation from the Harris County Appraisal District. If allowed, my final day will be Monday April 19, 2010. This will allow me enough time to finish out my pending assignments and possibly assist in any areas my departure may leave a void. Ironically I completed my third year at HCAD earlier this month on the seventh, and upon my departure I have some strong feelings I wish to share to whomever might be concerned. My journey with the Personal Property division has been a memorable one. Although there were a few bumps in the road, overall I learned a great deal and appreciated the opportunity to work with such a diverse group. If there were any situations I have not been totally at peace with however, it would be the mentality of the management, specifically in the BIPD section. Sadly this mentality seemed to worsen year to year and at some point last year appeared almost spiteful. It may be related or coincidental, but things appeared to happen in line with Robert Brown’s sudden removal as floor manager. Regardless of the origination of this mentality, generally people grow tired of fear tactics and weary of the institutionalized environment this department seems to live by. I understand bureaucracy and its root, but I also believe that civil liberties are a God given right. Thus, I believe that you can enslave people within a free society. I have expressed my concerns on behalf of the mentality of the average worker in an effort to create an understanding between management and staff on a few occasions. The feedback from management always seems to be an if you don’t like it you can leave mentality; as a solutions oriented individual I have always felt this mentality bad for moral and counter productive. I am one individual however, and can only influence so much alone. The fear seems to be the message that a majority of the employees grasp as in private the mood is miserable, and conversations central theme is a disregard and general hate for management. Another common theme is the thought that employees have to take these assaults on character for their families, due to the economy, or because they are just afraid to speak up to avoid embarrassment. These three reasons that keep the majority from rebelling against an oppressive mentality are the key reasons I feel my time has come to a close. I personally feel I dishonor my family by seeing wrong and turning my head and do nothing. I would rather die homeless and broke than live without integrity and never standing for basic civil liberty. I am more embarrassed sitting in silence while people are being treated unfairly as if it is okay. I saw a future with HCAD when I began, prompting me to learn quickly and become a very efficient appraiser willing to go way above and beyond my duties as an Appraiser 1. I often volunteered to train and bring other appraisers up to a level that makes them better as well. I spent extra time with senior appraisers learning from them in exchange for helping them become acclimated to the fast rising technology. In return I have to sit through emails (to all BIPD no doubt) with underline threats of termination based on parking passes, and unexcused absences because they weren’t planned a week out…as if life doesn’t throw last minute emergencies at you. I have to have sicknesses questioned and spend money on a doctor as a technicality, when sometimes you just need to rest a day or two. I have to find a baby sitter on Saturdays during the summer when I have my daughter because daycare isn’t available on weekends. If I can’t secure a baby sitter I have to take the risk of leaving my 9 year old at home alone because of threatening emails saying failure to attend mandatory overtime is subject to termination. To make matters worse, on at least two occasions I felt threatened and unsure enough to leave my daughter alone while praying nothing goes wrong and calling her every twenty minutes to check on her. To be put in this uncompromising position in itself is unjust and no employee should have to feel this type of pressure to obtain employment.
Tyrant-Absolute power, especially when exercised unjustly or cruelly.
The thought of tyranny in as small a context as one floor in a building of 600 plus employees appears melodramatic and otherwise ludicrous. Traditionally oppression is only acknowledged when discussing mass oppression such as the Hebrews in biblical times, or the Jewish during holocaust, and most notably; the African Slaves of the 1700’s and 1800’s right here in our very own country. Of course, to compare something as small as bullying tactics from a few individuals of management to any of those events is blasphemous. However, in the words of the great Dr King “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Much of the treatment that occurs in the Personal Property division, although mental, is injustice indeed. To make matters worse, there is a floor wide understanding that the very structure in place to protect our very human rights to work in a reasonable environment (human resources) shows an inability to explore any issues of the people. Too often confidential information is leaked. Too often a complaint turns into direct harassment from those you are complaining about, creating fear of speaking out at all. Suddenly the group mentality becomes, if you feel abused you have to internalize it, toughen up because you just have to hold on to your job unless God sends you a miracle. Sadly, the thought crosses my mind that maybe we are a smaller version of a bigger issue. Just maybe the staff of human resources is afraid because they too face certain pressures and intimidations making them afraid to go against the grain of the system. Truthfully, that is mere speculation from my part because I just don’t know. I do know from conversations with employees who have moved on who have had issues as well as many who remain yet silently suppress their issues, that human resources know about the aura of the fourth floor. The understanding is that they continually turn their head and ignore rather than get involved in efforts for a positive solution. Unfortunately I was involved in a regrettable altercation in December where I lashed out at another employee (Mary Jo Kieshnick) that has brought more attention to the vulgar comment I made in self-defense mode than the issue of neglect and safety issues that caused the altercation in the first place. This hurts me and tells me my time is up at this institution because I pride myself on chivalry and humanity, not conflict. I am a man of God, henceforth, I am a man of character, so regardless of my opinion that she doesn’t carry herself as a lady…she is a lady and doesn’t deserve to be treated otherwise under any circumstance, despite its severity. To Mary Jo, I apologize for the rude comment itself. However, I stand by my convictions causing the argument and am still insulted by the twisting of facts by management and human resources. I am insulted by the insinuation that somehow the problem was unhappiness with the weather, or some unwillingness to work the pipe yard project, which I have worked for three seasons now without hesitation or complaint. The fact is no one can control weather, but we can control the decisions made regarding people’s safety and proper working conditions. On several occasions I tried to alert management of a personality conflict as well as certain neglectful procedures that I knew they weren’t aware of during the project in which the altercation happened. Sadly, I saw the possibility of a conflict and still was caught in an uncompromising position; all because of this horrible mentality of do what we say or else. All because of this classist mentality of having a lower title makes you inferior and somehow inept at thinking. Now I will be remembered more for a senseless argument that got out of control, than an appraiser who worked as a team player willing to take responsibilities and duties generally held by analyst or appraiser 2’s and 3’s for the good of the team and the bigger goal. A good friend once told me that the worse thing a person can do is allow a single action make a genuine smile go in vain. As a man of conviction, I now ponder that statement as it pertains to my time here.
I will conclude my resignation by expressing that my time at HCAD has not been negative in the bigger picture. In fact, several elements of the job have been enjoyable including the customer service aspect as a liaison between HCAD and the public. The ability to learn property tax law and how it is applicable in society has been a pleasure to learn from those who have dedicated their lives to it. I have certainly enjoyed working with and getting to know a number of employees I have seen on a daily basis. I also appreciate those members of management and staff who took out time to teach me how to be a better appraiser. I appreciate people like Debra Montgomery who saw great potential in me from my first day on the job. I appreciate the professionalism and mentoring from men in strong positions like Harry Higgins and Robert Brown who are not afraid to tell me when I am wrong and will quickly and bluntly let me know yet applaud the good things I have done right, as well as attempt to paint the bigger picture of the job from an experienced perspective. I appreciate mentors like Juan Silva who seem to get criticized for being a mentor…as if it is a bad thing. Mr. Silva pushes just as hard as any supervisor on the floor while encouraging you to take more leadership roles. He pushes for quality production and lets you know he demands the best out of you while ironically appears to get chastised for not writing employees up on a more frequent basis to send a message of superiority. If more attitudes reflected some of these people and the professionalism they display and less of a prison institutional attitude the moral of its workers would improve. Instead the integrity of working level professionals, many of whom are college educated, is managed under the umbrella of fear, and this is accepted as status quo. If anyone is offended by this addition to my resignation I apologize. It is in no way meant to burn bridges. In fact, under different management mentality I would enjoy working in this environment and choose a future in its possibilities. However, for fear of health complications, as well as the risk of taking things too personal that are obviously business as usual, I have chosen to part ways with the district. If you are reading this, it means either you are somewhat affiliated with the division or are in some sort of role in the building I feel is respected, and should be informed from an outside point of view of the mind state of the employees. And hopefully the staff that you manage doesn’t feel the same oppression and/or fear that I have seen in a 3-year period, particularly the last couple of years. Regardless, of your status or relationship to the situation, it is important to be informed from those affected under the HCAD umbrella. You may choose to ignore it, or you may desire to look closer and understand the plight of not only myself, but a mass majority of employees afraid to speak out for fear of losing their livelihood. Either way I maintain a great respect for my peers who are able to take this bullying and somehow manage to wake up everyday and give some semblance of effort. I encourage you to stand strong and earn a living as best you can while also warning you that a person who lives in fear without integrity is a person who isn’t fit to live. We are able to work in a society and have the liberties we have today because someone decided to revolt against tyranny. At points in history groups of people banded together and put aside their fear for simple humanity. The very foundation of the country we live in is democracy, therefore built on the demand for justice and equality regardless of how big or small the situation may seem.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Business and Industrial Property Division