A member of the Fort Worth faction affiliated with U.S. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) is pushing to install a new general manager of the local government overseeing her taxpayer-funded boondoggle before the new citizen-elected board is sworn in. On the other side, Fort Worth mayoral candidate Mattie Parker has said the new board should be allowed to meet with candidates for the position before a decision is made.

Jack Stevens, the longtime board president of the Tarrant Regional Water District backed by Granger, was defeated in the May 1 election, with citizens instead opting to hire former board member Mary Kelleher. During her time on the board, Kelleher fought to bring more transparency to the local government.

Since April, Stevens has been pushing to hire a new general manager for TRWD before the swearing-in of new board members. On May 9, it was reported that on the board’s May 11 agenda was to talk about proceeding with Stevens’ plan before Kelleher arrives.

“The people elected Mary Kelleher to speak for them. The board and the ousted president would do well to remember that,” Kelleher campaign manager Layla Caraway told Texas Scorecard.

Texas Scorecard asked Fort Worth mayoral candidate Mattie Parker where she stood on Stevens’ move to hire a new general manager before the new board is sworn in.

“I cannot speak to what is occurring other than what is currently posted. Right now, it’s my understanding that there will be a discussion of ‘matters relating to personnel’ at tomorrow’s board meeting, but that any hiring decision would be posted on a future agenda,” she replied. “All that being said, I believe that the new board for TRWD … should be afforded the ability to meet with any recommended candidate to lead the TRWD as a new general manager prior to any final hiring decision.”

The grand prize of this fight is control of Panther Island, the $1.2 billion real estate redevelopment boondoggle disguised as flood control near the Trinity River.

The project has dragged on for a decade with J.D. Granger—Kay Granger’s son—and TRWD General Manager Jim Oliver in charge. Granger had no prior experience running a project with the size and scope of Panther Island, and a programmatic review in 2019 found the two men kept others in the dark about the project.

Oliver announced his retirement this year.

Panther Island formed the backdrop for this year’s battle between two factions of the Fort Worth establishment: Congresswoman Kay Granger’s and attorney Dee Kelly Jr.’s.

Kelly’s camp comprises the powerful Bass brothers, who have previously been reported to be at the top of the city’s pyramid of power. In the mid-1990s, when Granger served as mayor of Fort Worth, she was reported to be part of the tier two levels beneath.

The two sides clashed in this year’s Fort Worth mayoral race, with Kelly’s faction backing Mattie Parker and Granger backing now-former Councilmember Brian Byrd. When it came to Panther Island, Parker proposed local government allying with local business to finish the project, whereas Byrd advocated lobbying for more federal tax dollars.

The two factions were also vying in the TRWD board race, with Granger backing Stevens (who has been in office since 2004) and Kelly Jr.’s faction backing incumbents Leah King (Parker’s campaign treasurer) and James Hill, as well as candidate Charles “C.B.” Team.

Kelleher defeated Stevens and Team with only $1,560 in donations. Meanwhile, with 30 percent of the vote in the mayoral election, citizens chose Parker to go to the mayoral runoff against Democrat Deborah Peoples. Byrd received 14 percent of the vote.

For Caraway, this fight is yet another battle to bring sunlight to a government body that’s long avoided it. “The people are watching and paying close attention to this board. Gone are the days of less than 9,000 voting in this election and the old ways of winning this race,” she said. “We will enthusiastically continue the mission to bring transparency and accountability to the TRWD.”

The TRWD board meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on May 11. Concerned citizens may watch live on the TRWD website.

Robert Montoya

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