Local NewsTarrant County Water District Board Election Draws Challengers, Panther Island at Center of Debate

On May 1, Tarrant County residents will be asked to vote for three members of the Tarrant Regional Water District Board. Several candidates spoke to The Texan about why they wish to serve.
April 19, 2021
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While many municipal and school board elections are taking place this spring, there are also other local boards and entities holding elections.

The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), which oversees the water supply and also flood protection for many Tarrant County residents, is governed by a five-member board of directors and three of those are up for election on May 1. Early voting began on April 19. 

The TRWD election boundaries can be found here

The candidates in the election are incumbents Jack Stevens, Leah King, and James Hill and challengers Mary Kelleher, Jeremy Raines, C.B. Team, and Glenda Murray Thompson. The seats are at-large seats, meaning voters can cast votes for any three candidates on the ballot.

One of the more controversial responsibilities of TRWD is to oversee the Trinity River Vision Project, which includes the Central City Flood Control project and the more widely known  Panther Island, which is the mixed-use development portion of the project. 

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Panther Island has come under scrutiny for increased costs, lack of transparency, and management issues after an independent review. The project has had to be kept financially afloat at times by TRWD due to a lack of federal funding. Recently the White Settlement Bridge, one of the three bridges being built over dry land that is eventually meant to become a drainage channel, opened. 

Another issue in the race is the replacement of retiring TRWD general manager Jim Oliver, who has served in the position for 35 years, including the 15 years that Panther Island has been in the works. Lehman Associates has been hired by TRWD to conduct the search for a new general manager. 

Jack Stevens serves as board president and is running for re-election. He was first elected to the board in 2004. Stevens lives in Azle, Texas, and is a retired engineer. Stevens reportedly told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that he intends to hire a new general manager before board members are sworn in after the May 1 election. Stevens could not be reached for comment.

Leah King, who serves as the board secretary, is also seeking re-election after first beginning her tenure on the board in 2017. King is president and chief executive officer for the United Way of Tarrant County. According to the TRWD website, King serves on several boards and committees throughout Fort Worth and Tarrant County. She could not be reached for comment.

Also up for re-election is James Hill, who has served on the TRWD board since 2017. Hill serves as a bank executive in Fort Worth and has an MBA from Texas Christian University. Hill believes he has a responsibility to serve the community and told The Texan that his “professional experience and financial background allows me to address challenges facing the District from that same business-focused perspective.” In contrast to Stevens, Hill believes the general manager search should not be rushed. 

Hill believes he has contributed to the TRWD board by bringing independence and accountability.  “I am proud to remain steadfast in my objectivity and independence on this Board. My commitment to demand accountability and improve transparency on behalf of the taxpayers will not waiver.”

Regarding the future of Panther Island, Hill again emphasized that TRWD must be transparent and accountable for decisions about the project. “Consideration of alternative options, including private-public partnerships, must be part of the conversations between community stakeholders going forward.”

Mary Kelleher has served previously on the board, and she hopes to do so again. When she served from 2013 to 2017, Kelleher told The Texan that she “asked uncomfortable questions that needed to be asked” and made “public issues relative to nepotism and conflicts of interest at TRWD and [brought] about some much-needed positive change.”

Kelleher and her husband own a farm along the Trinity River, which has been suffering increased flooding in recent years. She says that TRWD decides to release water based on property owners along the lakes but without regard for property owners downstream.

“I have never believed [Trinity River Vision] was a flood control project,” Kelleher said in reference to the project commonly known as Panther Island. She is critical of the project’s management, including the involvement of Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX-12) and her son, J.D. Granger. 

Kelleher would recommend a feasibility study of Panther Island be completed, but she doesn’t believe the project will pass. “I don’t believe citizens should have to pay for the project, we have already paid enough. A private-public partnership would probably be necessary.”

When asked by The Texan why he has chosen to run for the TRWD board, Jeremy Raines said, 

 “I believe that the mission of providing a safe, clean, reliable water source, along with protecting our community from flooding are crucial to the wellbeing and growth of Fort Worth and surrounding areas.” 

Raines believes it is important to see the flood control and development portions of Panther Island come to completion. “It is absolutely the job of the district to fight to get the Central City Project on track, because part of their mission is to provide vital flood protection to the community. It is my belief that all of us should take a larger role in lobbying the federal government to allocate the funds to the US [Army Corps of Engineers] so that they can do the work our city needs done to protect us from a major flood event.”

He also stated that Panther Island should continue to be developed according to the Fort Worth Comprehensive Plan.

Raines is the president of the RMP Industrial Supply and also serves on several volunteer boards and committees in Fort Worth.

C.B. Team is running to serve on the TRWD Board. Team ran in 2019 also and told The Texan that he believes he can bring the perspective of business owner, real estate broker, property owner, and long-time Fort Worth resident to the table. “For more than 5 years, I have attended board meetings to better understand the Tarrant Regional Water District’s responsibilities, successes, and shortfalls.”

Team sees the issues with Panther Island, but believes “the time to have those discussions has come and gone. By the end of this year, we will have 3 bridges over nothing but dry dirt, acres of land sitting dormant on a government entities balance sheet (off the tax rolls, I might add) and several miles of riverfront which the private sector has not been willing to develop because of unknowns in timing and regulation.”

Glenda Murray Thompson, who has worked with TRWD as a consultant in the past, is running for the board because, as she told The Texan, she has “a genuine interest in environmental and water sustainability and would like to be a part of a whole to ensure that water is available for all of their service area for now and for the future.”

While Thompson believes that the Panther Island planning became too dependent on federal funding, she believes the project should be completed possibly with public-private partnerships. Pointing to the growth of Fort Worth and the greater Tarrant County area, Thompson said, “Not only will that increased population have water needs but they will require housing so what a great opportunity to address the problem with residential and commercial development to accommodate an exploding population.”

Thompson is a public relations consultant and counts Visit Fort Worth and the Tarrant County Stock Show and Rodeo among her clients.

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Kim Roberts

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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