Board member’s dispute with water district over public records kicked up a notch

A Tarrant Regional Water District board member who for months has asked the agency to make more documents public has taken her dispute to court.

Mary Kelleher, who was elected in May, on Friday filed a petition for depositions in Tarrant County district court. The filing, if successful, would force water district General Manager Jim Oliver and other key employees to answer questions under oath about many of the expenditures and contractual arrangements that Kelleher has questioned for months.

Under Texas law, a petition for depositions may be filed by a person seeking to gather facts before filing an actual lawsuit.

Since taking office, Kelleher has filed numerous requests under the Freedom of Information Act and state open meetings laws with the water district, which manages long-term water resources for much of the western portion of Dallas-Fort Worth. Her requests seek information on whether certain committee meetings were held behind closed doors in violation of the law, as well as how certain contractors were selected for water district work.

Kelleher has also asked for 10 years worth of documents showing payments made to Oliver, several other employees, current and former board members and lobbyists.

Oliver said Wednesday that he hadn’t yet received a copy of the petition.

“We have yet to receive a notice for petition of depositions. However, we were disappointed to hear a board member felt it necessary to take this action, considering we have provided her with a voluminous number of requested documents over the last several months,” Oliver said in an email. “We cannot provide additional documents that do not exist.”

Kelleher’s petition asks for depositions from water district employees Alan Thomas, Nancy King, Madeline Robson and Sandy Newby. Those employees declined to comment, spokesman Chad Lorance said.

“None of those employees has seen that petition and they don’t know what it says and can’t comment on it,” Lorance said.

Kelleher’s lawyer, Matt Hill of Rockwall, said that although his client has received some documents she requested, she hasn’t received everything, and she has proof. In particular, he said, Kelleher obtained copies of emails from outside sources, emails that should have been included in her requests for documents, but weren’t.

“We have documents that should have been produced but were not produced, which makes us wonder what else was not produced,” Hill said.

Kelleher said she felt compelled to file the petition because the water district “hired lawyers to stall and avoid my requests.”

“I had no other choice but to file this request for depositions to gain access to the information needed for me to do my job and to ensure the public is being well-served and that the TRWD is in compliance with the law,” she said in an email.

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