KILGORE — The latest motion, filed on behalf of residents who claim Kilgore ISD improperly collected tax revenues, seeks to bring all parties to the table to hash out the final dispensation of the case, including the appropriate distribution of tax refunds.
Plaintiffs Darlene Axberg, John Claude Axberg and Sheila Anderson sued the entire KISD school board, including past members, and Gregg County Tax Assessor-Collector Kirk Shields. The original lawsuit has been expanded to a class-action lawsuit, pending class certification, and includes plaintiffs Anderson, John Mills, Brenda Mills, James Nicks, Judy Nicks, Philip Eugene Patterson, Dale Hedrick, Laura Hedrick, Karen Wilson and Patrick R. Gatons.
The latest motion also takes issue with alleged “disrespectful” behavior by Kilgore ISD attorney and legal counsel Dennis Eichelbaum in his responses to the plaintiffs’ requests for information that could help settle the case.
“Plaintiffs desire to bring this years-long lawsuit to conclusion,” the motion reads. “They have asked Defendant Kilgore Independent School District ... to produce information that would assist in calculating the amount of tax refunds that are owed. KISD, however, refuses to provide such information. Instead, KISD’s counsel sends mean-spirited and harassing emails likening Plaintiffs’ counsel to dog abusers. This is consistent with his uncivil behavior throughout this litigation. Plaintiffs respectfully ask the court to compel KISD to produce the requested information so that we can move this lawsuit forward.”
The motion goes on to describe plaintiffs’ pursuit of a refund of taxes collected after Kilgore ISD repealed a local optional homestead tax exemption in 2015 when the Texas Legislature began working to make such exemptions mandatory. Kilgore ISD had voluntarily maintained the local tax exemption since the 1980s.
A 2016 lawsuit filed by local taxpayers sought to force the district to reinstate the local optional homestead tax exemption and refund taxes collected after its repeal. Kilgore ISD has been keeping these funds, totaling more than $4 million, in a separate, untouched account awaiting the final outcome of the case.
Kilgore ISD has appealed the case by stating its right to maintain and repeal its own tax exemptions at its own discretion and arguing it did not violate state law in the process of the repeal. The appeals have been rejected courts in Texarkana and Tyler, which agreed the school district improperly rescinded its local tax exemption and deemed the repeal legally null and void.
The latest motion to compel also claims the plaintiffs’ attorney tried to get the school district’s attorney to turn over certain documents to help them bring an end to the case in October and as recently as March 17 of this year.
The motion states KISD’s attorney replied to their requests by likening them to vicious pet owners who abuse their dogs, sending emails with bizarre, insulting song lyrics and claims courts “ignored the rules” in handing down their decision. The motion alleges this type of behavior has continued for years, up unto the present day.
“Just recently, on March 24, 2021, he (KISD’s legal counsel) threatened to turn Plaintiffs’ counsel into the State Bar simply because a request was made to sit down with KISD in an effort to resolve this litigation. He wrote, ‘You will not be sitting down with my clients. If you try to communicate directly with my client, we will move this matter to the State Bar,’ ” the motion states.
The motion, signed by attorney Daniel Smith of Austin, requests Gregg County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Vincent Dulweber to compel Kilgore ISD to produce information that would facilitate the end of the case and begin the process of issuing the tax refunds.
District Superintendent Andy Baker said he, along with the rest of the school board, want to reach an end to the case and are awaiting further direction from the involved courts for the next step forward.
“In reading through this latest motion to compel ... they look to be accusing Kilgore ISD of refusing to cooperate as we continue to try to find an end to this lawsuit. Please understand: This is absolutely the desire of the Kilgore ISD School Board of Trustees as well — for the ... attorneys to imply that Kilgore ISD wishes to prolong this lawsuit is absurd. Each one of our School Board Members is also a member of our Kilgore community. Both individually and collectively, they understand the challenges this years-long lawsuit has brought to our community, and, like our community, eagerly await some court direction and guidance to help begin these conversations.”
In his response, Baker also stated the information repeatedly requested by plaintiffs’ attorneys was already freely available to them.