More than a quarter of a million in taxpayer funds was doled out last year to the unqualified son of a congresswoman to oversee a controversial public works project. The Panther Island redevelopment scheme remains stuck in its design phase after 13 years and $383 million spent.
Public records obtained by Texas Scorecard show that J.D. Granger, son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger (R–Fort Worth), was paid more than $250,000 in salary and benefits between November 2018 and November 2019 as executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority.
Despite being the TRVA’s top executive, no employment contract exists between Granger and the agency. In fact, it was revealed that Granger is not employed by the TRVA, but instead by the Tarrant Regional Water District, one of the many local governments partnering on the Panther Island redevelopment.
Since the TRVA is out of cash, TRWD is keeping the agency afloat with commercial paper, a type of bond.
TRWD is run by General Manager Jim Oliver, who supported hiring Granger. Oliver has insisted that Granger remain employed, despite their mutual mismanagement of the project, and even after Mark Mazzanti was hired this past December as a “project coordinator” at an annual salary of $300,000.
Oliver’s nephew, Matt Oliver, is employed as the TRVA’s communications director, a job he landed immediately after graduating from Texas Tech in 2008.
Panther Island is a massive taxpayer-funded government project to reroute the Trinity River via a 1.5-mile bypass channel—and redevelop prime Fort Worth real estate north of downtown—all under the guise of “flood control.” The project was officially launched in 2006, with Granger atop the agency since its inception.
Under Granger and Oliver’s watch, costs have exploded from $435 million in 2006 to $1.2 billion in 2018. After 13 years and $383 million of federal, state, and local taxpayer funds spent, Panther Island is still nowhere near completion.
At TRVA officials’ most recent board meeting, they stated that it is unclear just how much of its design phase remains incomplete, although it could be less than 60 percent.
In December, Sandy Newby, TRWD’s chief financial officer, told the TRVA that Panther Island was running out of money. The project is now being kept afloat by Oliver’s TRWD saddling new debt on the backs of local taxpayers, while local officials wait to see if the Trump administration will restore any federal funding that they cut off in 2018.
Despite the project’s gross mismanagement and lack of transparency, Granger has retained his executive director position, even though some local news reports wrongly claimed he was removed.
With Mazzanti as “program coordinator,” critics have wondered why Granger—a former district attorney with no public works experience or education—remains employed, aside from his mother being in Congress. Both Granger and Oliver gave conflicting answers to media outlets, but both told Texas Scorecard that nothing is changing and that they will still be running Panther Island.
In an email to Texas Scorecard in October 2019, Oliver said, “J.D. Granger is still going to run the project. The TRVA, as it exists today, will be absorbed into TRWD. J.D. will remain as executive director or its equivalent and will have virtually the same responsibilities as he has today.”
“Right now, I’ve been under both Jim [Oliver] and TRVA,” Granger said in October. “I’m still going to be under Jim, no matter what.”
Taxpayers deserve a financial or forensic audit—which hasn’t been done yet—to disclose where hundreds of millions of their money has gone.
Concerned taxpayers may contact the Fort Worth City Council and the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, both of which have contributed taxpayer funds to the project. Congresswoman Granger, who has used her influence as the Chair of House Appropriations to secure federal tax dollars, faces a challenge in the March Republican primary from former Colleyville City Councilman Chris Putnam.