As the campaign for the future of Fort Worth continues, an investigation into the financial ties of local politics involving Panther Island reveals two emerging sides vying for power over the real estate redevelopment project that’s dragged on for years—while draining citizens’ wallets.
After Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price abruptly announced she wouldn’t be seeking a sixth term, speculation began as to who would replace her.
In January, Congresswoman Kay Granger (R–TX) endorsed Councilman Brian Byrd as the next mayor of Fort Worth.
Because of Granger’s ties to Panther Island—the more than a decade-long, unfinished $1.2 billion taxpayer-funded real estate redevelopment project on the Trinity River—her endorsement of Byrd elevated it as one of the key issues in the mayoral race.
Granger’s son, J.D. Granger, has run the project alongside Jim Oliver, general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District, the local government that oversees Panther Island.
The City of Fort Worth is one of the project’s stakeholders.
In 2018, after the Trump administration pulled federal funding, Price called for an “independent review” of the project. A programmatic review was published in 2019, finding that after more than a decade and $383 million of taxpayer money spent, no aspect of construction was finished, and J.D. Granger and Oliver kept others in the dark over management of the project.
Records also show Granger’s son lacked the qualifications to run the project. Despite a reshuffling that occurred in 2019, Oliver said J.D. Granger would keep his job.
The Byrd campaign did not respond to an earlier inquiry from Texas Scorecard regarding their plans for Panther Island.
An investigation into the money flowing in Fort Worth politics, and another mayoral candidate, suggests former Granger allies have become her rivals for control of Panther Island.
Dee Kelly Jr.
Dee Kelly Jr., of the law firm Kelly Hart & Hallman, was largely expected to run to replace Price. He shocked Fort Worth politics by deciding not to run, throwing the race wide open; there are now 10 candidates running.
Kelly’s father was considered a “gatekeeper” of local politics and served as an attorney for the powerful Bass brothers. A 1995 D Magazine article explained how deeply the brothers have been intertwined in the operations of the city and where Kelly fit in.
Records show the Basses helped bankroll campaigns for board members of the TRWD.
Ed and Sid Bass are among the larger donors of the Texas Progress Fund. From 2015 to 2017, TPF contributed $190,000 to the Our Water Our Future PAC, which in 2015 supported incumbent board members of the TRWD. At the time, these incumbents were fighting off electoral challenges from citizen candidates campaigning on more transparency.
TPF’s treasurer is Dee Kelly Jr., and his law firm submitted OWOF’s first campaign filing of this year.
Ed and Sid also have donated to the Good Government Fund and the PSEL PAC (sources say “PSEL” is an acronym for Bass brothers Sid, Ed, and Lee, and their father, Perry). Both GGF and PSEL have previously donated to OWOF, Councilman Byrd, Councilwoman Ann Zadeh (who is also running for mayor), and every other sitting council member including Price.
Dee Kelly Jr. is listed as treasurer for both PACs, as well.
Kelly Jr.’s law firm has also made money from local taxpayers. An open records request to Fort Worth resulted in two separate spreadsheets showing city taxpayers paid more than $4 million since 2011.
Sid and Lee Bass, Dee Kelly Jr., Mayor Betsy Price, and other local power players have endorsed Mattie Parker for mayor.
Sources allege Parker’s list of endorsements was originally Kelly Jr.’s for when he was supposed to run.
TRWD board member Leah King is listed as Parker’s campaign treasurer.
Texas Scorecard asked the Parker campaign what conversations have occurred with King regarding Panther Island, and if elected, would Parker continue the city’s relationship with Kelly’s law firm.
“Mattie has no comment at this time but looks forward to other opportunities in the future,” the campaign replied.
King did not respond to the inquiry before publication.
“Panther Island has been the topic of too many elections for far too long in Fort Worth,” said activist Layla Caraway, who has long dealt with Panther Island. “The taxpayers need a mayor that will protect them from the establishment, not continue to sell them to it.”
Citizens wishing to discover all of the campaign contributions involving Kelly and the Bass brothers may conduct a search using the Texas Ethics Commission website.
Election Day is May 1, and a full list of the candidates may be found here.