Over the last decade, the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) has attracted a barrage of scrutiny from open government advocates, including its newest trustee, Mary Kelleher.
After refusing to fully respond to inquiries, the board is now pushing to silence their outspoken colleague, who’s been working to obtain public documents.
We’ve previously highlighted several reasons for taxpayers to be alarmed. In 2005, Charlie Geren (R-River Oaks) quietly carried a bill to expand the TRWD’s authority to include “economic development”, pouring hundreds of millions of tax dollars into the Trinity River Vision. It’s a master plan of projects that’s been stuck in planning stages for over a decade….at the taxpayer’s expense.
The district has been sued over alleged TOMA violations, and for extending the terms of current board members by refusing to hold an election, in direct conflict with term length restrictions in the Texas Constitution.
With public scrutiny growing, the board is hell-bent on snuffing out any dissent or accountability.
Kelleher’s landslide victory in 2013 generated record turnout; she garnered the most votes out of six candidates. Since then, she’s followed through on aggressive campaign pledges centered on reform and transparency, submitting numerous requests for a variety of public documents.
On April 17th, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Forney) filed an Open Records Request that paralleled Kelleher’s inquiry, which included correspondence and expense reports of staff and board members, including general manager Jim Oliver, as well as communication with TRWD’s lobbyists.
“As an elected Texas State Representative, these special requests, coupled with your refusal to permit access to TRWD books and records requested in writing by a member of your own Board of Directors, create concern that the TRWD is not being operated in compliance with the laws of the State of Texas”, wrote Gooden.
As with Kelleher, the board has refused to provide the requested documents, and instead, is going on the offensive. Today, the board passed a resolution 3-0 to censure Kelleher in an effort to discredit her viability as a trustee. The allegations claim she violated standards of conduct in her official capacity, in part, by obstructing the ability for the board to “conduct its business of providing raw water and flood mitigation”.
Kelleher says the reprimand strengthens her resolve to obtain the requested documents, and in light of such opposition, considers it a “badge of honor she wears proudly”.
There were over fifty citizens protesting the push for censure, along with three state legislators, Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R-Hurst), Stefani Carter (R-Dallas) and Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), who expressed bi-partisan concern over the district’s refusal to satisfy Kelleher’s inquiry. Both Reps. Carter and Burnam delivered letters to the board.
Burnam demanded action, writing, “…It is completely unacceptable for the TRWD to withhold documents that state law requires it to produce. Accordingly, I am formally requesting copies of any documents you provide…Upon receipt, I intend to release any documents not otherwise deemed confidential under state law to the [public], because government-in-secret has no place in Texas.”
After the meeting, Stickland was quoted as saying, “I have a duty to protect the rights of all residents of this state and to ensure that the laws governing our constitution are followed. This organization appears to have ignored lawful requests by both public officials and citizens…and I want to get to the bottom of it”.
Although the district has denied Tarrant County voters an election in May, it is imperative they continue to pressure their local officials, not only at the TRWD, but all of those who represent them.
We’re all-too-familiar with politicians who promise principled leadership, the rule of law and open government.
It’s time for those who represent us to stop talking, and start fighting.
But we can’t expect them to act without our support, or in the absence of our pressure!
After all, aren’t we in charge?