There has been too much drama at the Tarrant Regional Water District this past year, caused in large part by the board’s newest member and her major benefactor, a Dallas businessman and owner of an East Texas ranch opposed to a pipeline that would cross his property.
The board member, Mary Kelleher, was duly elected. So despite some of her obstructionist tactics, the rest of the board and the staff must deal with her and the issues she raises.
One way the board could mitigate Kelleher’s latest complaint is by simply appointing two board members to continue to fill their current seats.
Their terms expired in May, but they continue to serve because the water district changed its election cycle to accommodate a new federal voting mandate.
Since her election last year, Kelleher has bombarded the district with open-records requests and took legal steps against the district to force the staff to answer questions under oath. She’s dedicated to bringing issues to light that she believes are important.
She has refused to attend the last three board meetings because she says she believes that members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard became “unqualified” when their terms expired.
She has said the board should have held an election in May. Because it did not and the terms for Lane and Leonard expired, she argues that the five-member board is operating without a quorum.
But federal and state courts have ruled that district does not have to call an election this year.
And the Texas Constitution says all state officers “shall continue to perform the duties of their offices until their successors shall be duly qualified.”
Congress complicated the electoral process when it — in good judgment — required that armed forces personnel outside the country be mailed absentee ballots at least 45 days before an election.
That meant that county officials would have a difficult time in even-numbered years conducting elections (including possible runoffs) for county and statewide offices and for a large number of nonpartisan elections like the water board, city council and school board contests.
The Texas Legislature, realizing the problem, voted to allow those entities with nonpartisan elected governing bodies to change their election dates to odd-numbered years, helping to spread out the election workload.
Changing from an even-year to an odd-year election meant the incumbent board members could lose one year of their term or serve an extra year.
Neither option is ideal: Shave a year off of voter-determined terms or delay voters’ opportunity to elect someone else.
Kelleher, who has been censured by fellow board members because of her conflicts of interest with Dallas hotel chain executive Monty Bennett, insists that an election be called or that the board appoint members to the seats held by Lane and Leonard.
Two candidates supported by Bennett for bids in a May election (which did not happen), received more than $75,000 each from the businessman, Star-Telegram writer Bill Hanna reported Sunday.
Kelleher has received three donations totaling $83,960.88 from Bennett’s MJB Operating L.P.
Bennett no doubt will continue his fight to keep a proposed $2.3 billion pipeline, designed to bring water from East Texas to North Texas, from crossing 11.6 acres of his land in Henderson County.
And there’s little doubt that Kelleher will continue to do his bidding while she’s on the board.
But to put the election/appointment issue behind them, water district board members should simply appoint Lane and Leonard to their current positions until the elections in 2015.
That way, Kelleher will have no more excuses for not showing up at meetings, some of the petty squabbles would stop and the board could get on with doing what it was elected to do: taking care of the public’s business.