Nelda Wells Spears, Travis County’s former tax assessor-collector for 20 years and the first African-American in the state to hold that post, died Tuesday morning after a brief illness, according to her successor. She was 71.
Spears was the county’s tax assessor-collector until she retired in 2011. She was also known for mentoring black youth, particularly women, to help them pursue career paths in public service.
“She believed everyone should have a voice in their government and was committed to making sure eligible voters were registered,” said Bruce Elfant, who succeeded Spears as Travis County’s tax assessor‐collector. “Travis County, the tax office and our customers were richly rewarded by Nelda’s service. Her passing is a great loss to our community and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to Nelda’s family and friends.”
The tax assessor’s office collects property taxes for 107 jurisdictions, including the city of Austin, the Austin school district, Austin Community College, Travis County and Central Health, the county’s health care district. The office also registers and collects fees for 836,000 vehicles.
Before she was tax assessor-collector, Spears — who was born in East Austin and graduated from Anderson High School — was a human resources director in several state offices, including the General Land Office and the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. She also served as the director of personnel and training for former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.
She was appointed tax assessor‐collector on Aug. 1, 1991, and Travis County voters continued to re-elect her after her appointment.
After she announced her retirement, Spears told the American-Statesman that she would like people to remember that her office made a commitment “to services to the citizens of Travis County from the beginning.”
“We tried to keep our word about that and always be polite to customers and go the extra mile to help people,” she said.
Spears was also involved in community service, previously holding leadership roles with the Austin Women’s Center, the NAACP and the Texas County and District Retirement System. She was a lifelong member of Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church and was a founding member of Executive Women in Texas Government.
“Nelda was a woman of strong faith who worked tirelessly for everyone in the county, but also was a leader in the African‐American community, including the black women’s movement, and dedicated to furthering the careers of all women and building strong families,” said Stan Wilson, director of the office’s motor vehicle division.
Funeral arrangements for Spears are pending.