Layla Caraway is not your average citizen activist. With a happy but fiery smile, and fire in her soul, she has been fighting against a Fort Worth congresswoman’s real estate redevelopment boondoggle in Fort Worth.

Calling herself an “accidental activist,” Layla said the Fort Worth floods of 2007 prompted her to fight.

“I am involved because the floods directly impacted my home and my family, in addition to killing a little girl in our community,” she told Texas Scorecard. “There’s no money for flood control on the tributaries of the river that has been flooding people for decades, but our congresswoman can take a billion dollars of our money and give it to her son to reroute our river and build a city in the middle of it. “

Layla is referring to Panther Island, the decade-long, still incomplete billion-dollar project disguised as flood control near Fort Worth’s Trinity River. Congresswoman Kay Granger (R–TX) and her son J.D. Granger have been at the epicenter of the colossal waste of taxpayer money. J.D. is still managing the project despite having no prior qualifications and a terrible record.

The local government running Panther Island is the Tarrant Regional Water District, with Fort Worth, Tarrant County, the Texas Dept. of Transportation, and federal authorities among its “stakeholders.”

“The more I learned, the madder I got,” Layla said. “Once I met those who lost their businesses to eminent domain for this project and continued to learn how the Tarrant Regional Water District was ran, and by who, I knew I had to do something.”

In her activism, Layla has recruited candidates for the TRWD board and other local elections; volunteered on boards and commissions in her city; served as the chair on different organizations across Tarrant County, including the Northeast Chamber of Commerce and Christmas Providers; and even made “Up A Creek,” an award winning 2011 documentary about her activism journey and Panther Island.

“I also assist our local high school with fundraising, city candidate forums with the student council, and other projects as needed,” she added.

Layla was inspired to fight by others who had also spoken out against the boondoggle, such as Don Woodard Sr., former Fort Worth City Councilmember Clyde Picht, Steve Hollern, Bob Lukeman, and many others. “They saw this scam coming from a mile away.”

Through her involvement, Layla’s desire has been to improve her community, make a difference, and shine a light on TRWD and their actions.

“With the help of many people in the county, and their efforts for many years, now everyone is watching,” she said.

Layla’s years of effort are bearing fruit. Panther Island has become the epicenter of a political war between two factions of the Fort Worth establishment in this year’s mayoral and TRWD board elections. The anti-Granger faction, led by attorney Dee Kelly Jr., won. One thing Kelly Jr. likely wasn’t expecting was citizens sending pro-transparency candidate Mary Kelleher back to the TRWD board this year, after losing re-election in 2017. Layla was Kelleher’s campaign manager.

Now, Kelly Jr. is targeting upcoming elections in another of the project’s stakeholders: Tarrant County.

For those wanting to get involved, Layla has words of wisdom.

“Do so locally!” she said. “Everyone complains about those in Washington. How do you think they got there? We sent them there!”

“Find out who represents you and work with them, or work to change them to better your community first,” Layla said. “Figure out what you’re interested in (or irritated with), and attend those meetings. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to a meeting—go observe. You will learn something each time. Ask questions when you don’t understand. If it’s not a forum to ask questions, or you’re not comfortable asking in the meetings, [then] email the organizers or post online, [or] phone a friend. Someone knows the answer you’re looking for or can direct you where to find it.”

She has more advice for voters.

“I have figured out there seems to be one of two main reasons people get involved: to right a wrong, or to get a title to go with their name,” Caraway said. “I suggest taking that into consideration each time you cast a vote.”

Caraway was born in Fort Worth, and she currently lives in Haltom City. She’s married and works as an office and project manager for a local business. When not being active in local politics, which takes up much of her time, Caraway enjoys being with family and friends, going to concerts, riding motorcycles, and boating.

“Everyone can make a difference in their community; you just have to be willing to show up and put in the effort.”

This article has been updated since publication.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.