Local NewsTarrant County Grand Jury Investigates Water District Settlement with Former General Manager

The settlement between former general manager Jim Oliver and the Tarrant Regional Water District for over $250,000 is being investigated by a grand jury.
October 14, 2021
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Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson sent a letter to the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) board members on October 5 alerting them to an investigation being conducted by a Tarrant County grand jury into the settlement with former general manager Jim Oliver, according to an article by Fort Worth Report.

TRWD reached a settlement agreement with Oliver for a total of $257,321.48.

The agreement provides the equivalent of six months salary ($161,647.20), payment for accrued leave time of 580.99 hours ($95,674.28), and a 401(k) payout of $5,371.

Wilson’s letter informs the TRWD board that the investigation was initiated after Wilson received a complaint related to the approval of Oliver’s settlement on September 29. 

She also admonishes them not to violate the Texas Penal Code by tampering with any evidence or “altering, destroying, or concealing records that constitute evidence of a crime.” Finally, the letter invites members of the board and their attorney to meet with the district attorney’s office.

The Texan Tumbler

Oliver, who announced his intended retirement in February, had been the general manager at TRWD for over 30 years. In March, former board president Jack Stevens unilaterally granted Oliver 2,080 hours of unpaid leave totaling $323.294.40. 

In June, the TRWD board, including newly elected board members, voted to rescind the payment to Oliver whereupon he threatened a lawsuit against the district.

At its September 29 specially-called meeting, the board voted to enter a legal settlement agreement with Oliver, the terms of which could not be made public until after the seven-day rescission period ended last week. Mary Kelleher was the only board member to vote against the settlement agreement.

Board President Leah King stated that the board was not reconsidering its June 29 rescission of the payment of more than $300,000 in unearned leave to Oliver.

However, according to the settlement, the “Parties…wish to avoid the uncertainty, expense, and hardship of protracted litigation and appeals and desire to reach finality as to the employment relationship between Oliver and the District.”

Former state representative Lon Burnam, a member of the Water District Accountability Project (WDAP), believes the payment to Oliver is illegal. He said that WDAP is meeting with attorneys this week to determine what legal recourse they may be able to pursue, depending on whether the payments have already been made to Oliver.

“It is transparent that they are not being transparent. It is kind of like a shell game,” Burnam told The Texan when referring to the claim by King that the board was standing by its decision to rescind the $300,000 payment in June and then agreeing to give him a similar amount in the settlement. 

Another member of WDAP, Thomas Torlincasi, has filed a federal lawsuit against board president King, general manager Dan Buhman, and communications director Chad Lorance, alleging First and Fourth Amendment violations. He is representing himself.

He has asserted that the way the TRWD board is conducting its meetings violates the Texas Open Meetings Act and doesn’t allow him to redress his grievances with a governmental body. Instead of having a public hearing after each agenda item, the board has one public comment period at the beginning of a meeting at which all those who have previously signed up may speak.

Both meeting minutes and meeting videos clearly show that is how the meetings are conducted.

TRWD filed a motion to dismiss Torlincasi’s case because they say that he didn’t properly serve them according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Further, it argues that he didn’t state a claim under the First or Fourth Amendments because he was allowed to speak at the meetings.

The magistrate who reviewed Torlincasi’s complaint found that he had not sufficiently established the necessary elements for the court to issue a temporary restraining order. Torlincasi has filed a reply attempting to remedy the shortcomings in his original pleading.

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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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