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Tarrant Regional Water District adopts new rules on nepotism and board management

·2 min read

The Tarrant Regional Water District adopted rules Tuesday to strengthen its policies on nepotism and board management.

The changes come in the wake of a dispute with former general manager Jim Oliver, who had threatened legal action after the board revoked a $300,000 payment unilaterally awarded to Oliver by former board president Jack Stevens.

The board settled those claims on Oct. 8, however, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharon Wilson informed the board she was investigating its terms after receiving complaints about how the board handled the settlement.

The biggest difference are changes to the board’s policy on nepotism. Previously, the board’s policies defaulted to the state minimum, which prevented water district staff from hiring anyone they were related to by blood up to three degrees of separation.

The new rule adds language expanding that definition to include three degrees of separation from a domestic partnership or dating relationship. This would have prohibited Oliver from hiring his girlfriend in 2019.

Board member Mary Kelleher praised the changes, but expressed reservations about the section on public comment.

The newly approved policy will keep the old structure in place in which residents are allowed to speak for three minutes at the beginning of the meeting, but aren’t allowed to comment on individual agenda items.

Katie Long, an attorney advising the board on the policy changes, said this is consistent with Texas’ public meetings law and a 2020 opinion from State Attorney General Ken Paxton.

However, activists countered the board is adopting the most conservative interpretation of the statute and want the board to adopt a structure similar to the Fort Worth City Council, which allows residents to comment for three minutes on individual agenda items.

Kelleher suggested the board could address those concerns at a future board meeting.

The water district supplies water to 2.3 million people in 11 North Texas counties and manages a 27-mile federal floodway. It is also the sponsor for Panther Island, a $1.17 billion project to cut a bypass channel in the river north of downtown that requires federal funding.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16.

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