Tarrant water district sued over moving election

Posted Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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John Basham, who has made several unsuccessful bids for the Tarrant Regional Water District board, is suing the agency for cancelling next year’s election and, as a result, extending the terms of two incumbents.

In a lawsuit filed in Tarrant County civil court Thursday, Basham alleges that the district — while following a law recently passed by the Texas Legislature allowing them to move the election from even to odd numbered years — is violating the Texas Constitution and the state water code.

The next election would have been in May 2014 and board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard would have been up for re-election. The board’s five members serve staggered, four-year terms.

“Significantly, this law did not extend the terms of TRWD directors beyond their existing four year terms, nor did it specifically prohibit an election from taking place in 2014...” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit asks the court to rule that no member can serve longer than a four-year term and to require the district to hold an election in May for the seats held by Lane and Leonard.

Joining Basham in his lawsuit is Darlia Hobbs and Texans for Government Transparency, a non-profit, citizens group formed late last month that is based in Tarrant County.

Basham and his attorney Matthew Rinaldi could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Lee Christie, an attorney representing the water district, said he has not seen the suit and cannot comment on its merits. However, he said, “The Legislature passed a bill clarifying that Tarrant Regional Water District elections would be in May of odd-numbered years.”

The law takes effect Sept. 1.

Oddly enough, the water district almost two years ago moved the election from 2012 to 2013 after the Legislature changed the law allowing entities such as school districts and to change their elections to the uniform election date in May.

But in the legislative session that recently ended, state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, states that the water district elections are to be held in May of odd-numbered years, but it did not specifically say that Leonard and Lane could serve beyond their four-year terms.

According to the lawsuit, Basham attended a water board meeting on Tuesday and asked whether the water district was going to hold an election in 2014 for Lane’s and Leonard’s seats.

He also asked if another election would be held in 2015. He did not get an answer from the board, but after the meeting, Tarrant Regional Water District President Vic Henderson stated that the next election would be in May of 2015, according to the lawsuit.

Lane, who was elected in 2010, said he voted against changing the election date in 2012.

“I have a contract with the voters,” Lane said. “If they want to throw my fanny out after four years, they should have the right to do so.”

Leonard could not be reached for comment.

Basham’s latest attempt to be elected to the board was in May 2012 when he ran as part of a slate known as BNK with candidates Mary Kelleher and Timothy Nold.

Kelleher was the top vote getter among seven candidates vying for three board positions. Longtime incumbent Jack Stevens along with Henderson kept their seats, but veteran board member Hal Sparks was defeated.

Basham came in fourth. He did seek a ballot recount after the election but he dropped it before it was completed when it appeared he was not going to have enough votes to change the outcome.

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz

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