Tablet Local

Tarrant water district may have to appoint 2 board members

A federal judge’s ruling Thursday didn’t compel the Tarrant Regional Water District to call an election in May, but it may require the board to appoint members to the seats of Marty Leonard and Jim Lane.

A lawsuit filed by the Rev. Kyev Tatum, his brother Archie and their wives, Tonya and Hershey Ann, contended that the water district violated the Texas and U.S. constitutions by moving the election to May 2015.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor denied a motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed the suit. O’Connor also said Leonard and Lane could “continue to serve after the expiration of their terms until their successor is qualified.”

But O’Connor’s ruling appears to suggest, citing Section 49.105 of the state water code, that they can’t serve indefinitely.

“This, however, does not mean the TRWD can ignore Section 49.105,” O’Connor wrote. “Rather, when a vacancy arises, the board shall appoint a replacement.”

Vic Henderson, chairman of the water board, said it’s too early to determine whether the order requires the board to act.

“Our attorneys will review the law and will advise should any board action be necessary,” Henderson said.

Craig Bickley and Melissa McDougal, who had declared themselves board candidates if a May election were called, said Friday in a news release that they are pleased “that the Court agrees that the terms of Lane and Leonard expire this May.”

In that same release, Tatum’s attorney, Christopher Kratovil, said the Fort Worth pastor intends to appeal O’Connor’s ruling.

“We will be appealing the ruling to the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,” Kratovil said. “And we’re going to be asking the Fifth Circuit to review the legality of withholding election from the citizens of Tarrant County.”

Also Thursday, a petition asking the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth to compel the water district to call an election was denied. The petition for writ of injunction and emergency relief was filed by John Basham, Darla Hobbs and Texans for Government Transparency.

The deadline to call an election for May 10 was Friday.

Basham, who has run three times for the board, has filed a separate lawsuit in state court that was similar to Tatum’s legal action. Both argued that the water district violated the Texas Constitution by not holding board elections in 2014. In the Basham suit, state District Judge David Evans refused in February to order the district to hold an election. That case was also appealed to the 2nd Court of Appeals.

Basham was also joined in that suit by Hobbs and Texans for Government Transparency, a nonprofit, grassroots group formed late last year. It is based in Tarrant County and Basham is president of the organization.

The Tatum and Basham suits are two of several legal actions against the water district.

Board member Mary Kelleher filed a petition in January that would compel Jim Oliver, Tarrant Regional’s general manager, and other employees to answer questions under oath. A petition for depositions may be filed by a person seeking to gather facts before filing a lawsuit.

Dallas businessman Monty Bennett sued the water district last March, saying it violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when it approved parts of the $2.3 billion pipeline project that will bring more water from East Texas to Dallas and Tarrant Regional. The lawsuit argued that the board, without public input, “rubber-stamped” a decision by water district staffers and committees.

The water district challenged the jurisdiction of Bennett’s lawsuit but was denied in 153rd District Court. Tarrant Regional then appealed to the 2nd Court of Appeals but the court has not issued a ruling.

The legal battles continue as the water district moves forward with its pipeline project. The water board voted 4-1 last week to start eminent domain proceedings for a section of pipeline that will run through Bennett’s ranch in Henderson County in East Texas. The property has been conferred to a municipal utility water district but is bordered on both sides by Bennett’s ranch.