As accusations continue to fly in the race for the Tarrant Regional Water District board, the torrent of campaign contributions hasn’t slowed.
Incumbents Marty Leonard and Jim Lane face three challengers in the election Saturday. Leonard and Lane say the water board has done a good job of managing the region’s long-term water needs.
Challengers Michele Von Luckner and Craig Bickley accuse the incumbents of being poor stewards of the water district, which is the raw water provider to almost all of Tarrant County. They also accuse the district of nepotism and a lack of transparency with the public.
A fifth candidate, Keith Annis, says the district hasn’t focused enough on water quality and hasn’t done enough to plan for climate change.
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“This is an existing trend,” Annis said. “They need to start planning for that today, and they’re not.”
Von Luckner has said the district has lost focus on its priorites. Last week at a Fort Worth Business Press debate, he used the $910 million Trinity River Vision/Panther Island Project as an example.
“It’s been in progress for 10 years now,” he said, “and we still don’t have anything but a movie theater, a restaurant and wading in water that I wouldn’t put my children in.”
Bickley has said the $2.3 billion Integrated Pipeline project, which is being built in a partnership with Dallas, is a bad deal for water district customers.
“I support the concept of using a pipeline to plan for our future,” Bickley said in an email. “However, under the leadership of the current board, we have entered into a deal that provides minimal benefit to the people they are supposed to serve, while saddling them with the bulk of the cost.”
Leonard took issue with Bickley’s assertion, saying the pipeline is beneficial to Tarrant County since it will allow the water district to pull more water from the Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs.
“We are permitted to take more water out of those two reservoirs,” Leonard said. “We just don’t have enough pipeline to get it here.”
Lane has said that Dallas businessman Monty Bennett, who is backing Bickley and Von Luckner, created a cemetery to try to block the pipeline, which is planned to run though his ranch in Henderson County. Lane has Bennett was trying to discredit the water district by suggesting in an early campaign ad that the district was trying to unearth the remains of a veteran.
“I’m not going to stop asking Mr. Bennett to apologize,” Lane said.
In an email sent by Bickley and Von Luckner’s campaign spokesman, Bennett said Lane was trying to shift the focus from his tenure on the board. The ashes were buried at the ranch after a friend asked if her veteran stepfather’s cremated remains could be buried at the cemetery, he said in the email.
“His family is very thankful and happy,” Bennett said.
The two candidates who receive the most votes will win the two board seats.
In campaign finance reports posted Friday, eight days before the election, Our Water Our Future, the political action committee with former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief as treasurer, reported $75,150 in campaign contributions and expenditures of $270,427.58. That was in addition to the contributions of contributions of $447,633 and expenditures of $158,424.76 it reported in the filing period that ended April 9.
Among the contributors in the latest filing are John Goff of Fort Worth, who contributed $25,000. Robert Patton Jr. of Fort Worth, a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, donated $10,000, and G. Malcolm Louden, $10,000.
Some wealthy Dallas residents also contributed during the earlier filing period.
Lane reported campaign contributions of $98,975.99 and expenses of $250. Leonard reported contributions of $125,510.99 and expenses of $7,817.17.
The Clean Water Committee, which has historically supported water board incumbents, reported contributions of $1,750 and no expenditures.
Bickley reported contributions of $112,833.28 and expenses of $1,158.60. Von Luckner reported contributions of $112,498.27 and expenses of $1,135.48.
Each reported an in-kind contribution of $111,878.27 from Bennett’s MJB Operating.
Annis, who hasn’t gone after the large-scale donors like the other candidates, reported contributions of $11,232.93 and expenses of $13,624.56. His biggest contribution was $5,000 from Brian K. Annis.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698