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Rooting Out Corruption at the Tarrant Regional Water District

Two members of the Texas TEA Party Caucus, along with a Democratic colleague, demanded that the ethically-challenged Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) Board release public documents that a colleague has been after for a year. 

Rep. Jonathan Strickland (R-Bedford) and Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) are living up to their Tea Party roots, utilizing a provision under state law that requires public agencies to turn over documents when requested by state legislators. 

The move comes in support of reform-minded Board Member, Mary Kelleher, who believes the documents contain potentially incriminating information regarding the TRWD’s alleged misuse of public funds, cronyism, and numerous other activities surrounding what is known as the “Trinity River Vision Boondoggle.”

There is urgency for release of these documents. 

As reported by Breitbart News, the Tarrant Regional Water District Board has engaged in a long-running eminent domain scheme that has robbed citizens of their land, among numerous other activities that have citizens in an uproar.  The TRWD is not required to submit any matter whatsoever to the voters, no matter how broad or expensive they may be.

Kelleher has spent much of the past year being stonewalled by the TRWD, particularly by General Manager Jim Oliver, in her attempt to obtain records that belong to the public.  Breitbart News attempted numerous times to obtain records, as well.  The TRWD repeatedly attempted to forestall those efforts.  Requests were responded to at literally the last legal minute required; the TRWD sent virtually every request to the AG for a ruling to withhold the documents; when documents were offered they were offered on a cost-prohibitive basis; and when the AG required records to be released, those that were contained insubstantial material from which an AG ruling had no reason to be requested in the first place.

The public wants answers.  The TRWD is engaging in obfuscation.  What might it be hiding?

History of Abuse

The Board outside of Kelleher, consisting of Victor Henderson (pictured), Jim Lane, Jack Stevens, and Martha Leonard  has presided over the TRWD as virtual dictators.  With no oversight, no accountability, and a District Attorney allegedly in their pocket, the Board and General Manager Jim Oliver have complete control over any and all property throughout Texas – whether it exists within the water district or not.   

Meanwhile, Breitbart News has discovered public records indicating the four Board Members have numerous mineral rights and real estate holdings throughout Texas.

Henderson is connected to at least 13 properties with mineral interests, owns three pieces of real estate, and sits on the board of the Tax Increment Finance District (TIFD).  The TIFD manages tax assessments on developed property in Downtown Fort Worth, giving Henderson a say in how that money is raised and allocated.

Even more disturbing is Henderson’s role as Chairman of Pritchard & Abbott, a legacy real estate and mineral rights assessment firm that handles assessments for much of Texas.  It seems a conflict of interest, at a minimum, that Henderson should have possible premium access to property and mineral valuations, when he is also Chair of an agency that can seize any land it chooses via eminent domain.  The possibility for illicit personal gain seems ripe.

In addition, his relationship theoretically permits the TRWD to engage in land speculation.  Of particular concern is that TRWD could theoretically leverage its close association with Henderson’s firm to manipulate land and mineral values to leverage property owners into doing its bidding or face unfortunately low assessments. 

Public records show Leonard owns at least ten properties and multiple business entities.  Stevens owns a large home on lakefront property, which appears adjacent to a piece of land where the TRWD leased drilling rights to an oil concern.

Kelleher has leveled other allegations at the Board, including:

-That Lane made a sweetheart deal, bailing friend and associate Carl Bell out of bankruptcy, by arranging TRWD’s above-market-value purchase of land – some of which had a long history of chemical contamination. 

-That General Manager Jim Oliver verbally accosted Kelleher last summer, and he has refused to give her a key to the building in which she works.  

-That at least one member of TRWD Senior staff is allegedly using public funds to carry on an extramarital affair. 

-That the Board routinely engages in secret meetings, in violation of the Open Meetings Act.That nepotism is rife within the agency.

Tea Party To Lend A Hand?

The legislators responded to a request from Texans for Government Transparency, a grassroots entity devoted to transparency in government and exposing alleged corruption at TRWD, joining transparency-driven Board Member Mary Kelleher’s attempts to obtain public documents.  “Where are all the other State Representatives and State Senators on this matter?  Let’s hope they just haven’t had the chance to get up to speed on the matter yet.”

It seems likely the TRWD has plenty to hide and has no intention of permitting anyone to discover the details.   This is exactly what the Tea Party exists for, and it should take an aggressive hand in assisting Kelleher with her endeavor.

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