Local NewsPanther Island Board Faces Potential Lawsuit Over General Manager Severance

The Tarrant Regional Water District may be facing litigation over a revoked payment of $300,000 to the retired general manager for unpaid leave.
July 30, 2021
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The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), which oversees the water supply and flood control projects in the Fort Worth area, received its first legal briefing about anticipated litigation regarding the recent retirement of General Manager Jim Oliver during the executive session portion of the board meeting this week.

Oliver, who retired at the end of May, was the TRWD general manager for 35 years. An extra $300,000 was authorized to be paid to Oliver as compensation for unpaid leave by former board president Jack Stevens.

Leah King, the newly elected TRWD board president, emphasized that the board’s unanimous decision to revoke that payment on June 29 was not being revisited during this week’s legal briefing. The Texas Open Meetings Act allows for closed executive sessions by board for consultations with attorneys.

She also emphasized that any future action taken on issues surrounding Oliver’s retirement would only occur at a public meeting in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. She expects more legal briefings in the weeks to come.

“The compensation decision for Jim Oliver may be unlawful, the process may have been improper, and certainly, in my opinion, the decision was ill-advised and not reflective of the good and transparent government you should expect from this board,” King said in a statement in June.

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Oliver was paid $323,294 annually in his final year, according to information received in response to an open records request by The Texan. His salary was increased by 6 percent in October 2020. 

Emails by Oliver to the TRWD board at the end of May, and recently obtained by Fort Worth Report, contained criticism about the handling of the Central City Flood Control Project, also known as Panther Island. 

In the emails, he blamed former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price for creating doubt about the management of the project by demanding an audit, which was “used as justification by the OMB (Office of Budget and Management) to kill USACE (Army Corps of Engineers) recommended funding for the project for the next few years.”

The review completed by third-party consultant Riveron found problems with the project’s financial management, governance, and transparency and recommended significant changes. It also determined that the project is now likely to cost over $1 billion.

Federal funding has yet to materialize to complete the project, even as the Texas Department of Transportation completes three bridges that currently cross dry land.

At a recent ribbon cutting celebrating the opening of the North Main Street bridge on July 17, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX-12) announced that she expects funding in Fiscal Year 2022 to begin digging the channel beneath the bridges. 

“It comes in different buckets, so there may be some in this one and then some in the next one,” Granger said. “I think it will be funded for everything they can spend in the next cycle.”

The White Settlement Road bridge, which opened in April, has been the subject of some discussion, as newly elected Mayor Mattie Parker expressed support for changing its name. 

“The possibility of renaming it to something more significant to our community is a conversation that I am very open to,” Parker said this week in a statement to the Fort Worth Report. “Initiating a community-driven process is something I fully support and will discuss at the upcoming Aug. 3 City Council meeting.”

Also at this week’s meeting, the TRWD board voted to approve the purchase of a parcel of land for the Central City project for $985,000.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.

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