Federal lawsuit filed over TRWD election

01/15/2014 6:09 PM

01/16/2014 4:46 PM

The Rev. Kyev Tatum and several family members are suing the Tarrant Regional Water District in federal court, alleging that they are being denied their right to vote and accusing the district of illegally extending the terms of two board members to 2015.

Tatum, along with his brother Archie, and their wives Tonya and Hershey Ann, want the water district to hold an election in 2014, which is when the terms of Jim Lane and Marty Leonard should end, according to the lawsuit.

Board members Victor Henderson, Jack Stevens, Marty Leonard, Jim Lane and Mary Kelleher are also named in the suit. But the suit also says that Kelleher has said publicly that the district should hold the election in 2014.

“It is fundamentally unfair and constitutionally impermissible for public officials to disenfranchise TRWD voters in violation of state law and against the plain meaning of the Texas Constitution by simply refusing to hold an election at the end of a public officials' term,” the lawsuit stated.

Tatum’s suit is similar to one filed by John Basham in state district court. Basham ran unsuccessfully for the water board several times.

The federal lawsuit alleges that the district is violating both the United States and Texas constitutions by extending Lane’s and Leonard’s terms and that not calling an election in May 2014 denies voters the right to choose candidates.

The first day to file for the May election is Jan. 29, and Feb. 28 is the last day that entities can call an election, according to the suit.

“It’s really quite simple. The ending of a term requires an election and TRWD’s refusal to call a required election deprives the Plaintiffs of their constitutional right to vote, attorney Matt Rinaldi — who is also representing Basham — said in a news release.

Lee Christie, an attorney who represents the water district, said he hasn’t seen the suit and can’t comment.

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

But in the legislative session that recently ended, a bill authored by 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.

The law took effect Sept. 1.

In Basham’s state district court suit, state District Judge David Evans asked that the Texas Attorney General be notified and given an opportunity to respond or appear in court, the judge said in a court order.

In a letter dated Jan. 13, the Attorney General’s office said that it was not going to get involved in the case.

“At this time, the OAG has decided not to seek to become a party to this case. This decision should not be construed, in any way, as a negative comment on the constitutional viability of the statute … .” the letter said.

Tatum, who spoke in front of the federal courthouse Wednesday afternoon, said he is a member of Texans for Government Transparency, the same group also mentioned in Basham’s suit.

Tatum said that Monty Bennett, a wealthy Dallas landowner, supports the federal lawsuit.

Bennett, who helped finance Basham’s and Kelleher’s campaigns, is also suing the water district, alleging violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The water district is constructing a pipeline that would cut across Bennett’s ranch in Henderson County.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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