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New Board Member Questions Tarrant Water District Agenda

Shelley Kofler

At her first meeting as a new Tarrant Regional Water District board member, Mary Kelleher made good on her campaign promise to challenge the status quo.

  Just a few minutes after her swearing in she began questioning business as usual.    

She suggested the board get an outside attorney’s opinion on an open meetings lawsuit filed against the board.

“I don’t understand why my other fellow director would be opposed to getting one,” she said.

Board member Jim Lane balked.

“Why would we want to spend taxpayer funds on another lawyer if we have lawyers already hired by the taxpayers?” questioned Lane.

To which Kelleher pointed out, the district had just lost a legal battle with Oklahoma over water rights that cost the district more than $6 million.

“No offense to our current council but we just lost a huge suit, quite embarrassing.  If that was the opinion of our legal counseling I would like an outside one,” responded Kelleher. 

And that was just the beginning of Kelleher’s quiet but persistent questioning.

When the executive director of the billion dollar Trinity River Vision (TRV) project recommended approval of a new board member for his project, Kelleher asked why most on the TRV’s board and citizen advisory committee were political officials.

“I would like someone along the public lines to get on it, someone with fresh opinions,” she said.

Then some rolled their eyes as Kelleher asked why the engineering firm of Freese and Nichols seemed to be awarded an abundance of work on a new pipeline and other projects.

“When you look at the agendas all you see is Freese and Nichols. Are they the only engineering firm?” Kelleher asked.

General Manager Jim Oliver said Freese and Nichols is just one among many of the water district’s contractors and the district hires “whoever has the best experience in that area.”

During her campaign Kelleher and other candidates hoping to oust incumbents questioned whether the Tarrant water board was awarding sweetheart contracts and making big money decisions behind closed doors.

“So many people indicated that they didn’t feel as though they had a voice,” said Kelleher.

So she plans to speak for them and hopes to get some answers.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.