Another lawsuit filed in TRWD election plan

Marice Richter

Another lawsuit has been filed in an ongoing effort to press for an election for two spots on the Tarrant Regional Water District board this spring.

The water district had not been planning an election in May because the Legislature passed a bill last session that would move water board elections from an even-number year to an odd-number year cycle. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, did not address the expiring terms of board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard.

The Rev. Kyev Tatum and three family members filed a federal lawsuit during the week of Jan. 13 alleging that by not holding the election, the TRWD is illegally extending the four-year terms of Lane and Leonard by a year.

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The suit makes similar allegations to those in a lawsuit filed by John Basham and Texans for Government Transparency, a citizens’ watchdog group, filed last year in state district court in Tarrant County.

“I filed this lawsuit because the board has gone too far this time,” said Tatum, who is a member of Texans for Government Transparency. “They have a long history of unethical behavior and the fact is they are violating the Texas Constitution.

“The right to vote is a fundamental political right,” said Tatum, a resident of the TRWD. “I’m doing this to protect the interest of all residents, taxpayers and voters of Tarrant County.”

The suit names all five board members in their official capacity but it states that board member Mary Kelleher is not implicated because she supports an election in 2014.

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Meanwhile, the Texas Attorney General’s office declined to intervene with the Basham suit. At a recent hearing, State District Judge Davis Evans directed attorneys to notify the Attorney General’s office of a potential constitutional challenge of the legislation changing the election date, although both parties said they were not challenging the legislation.

“The Attorney General made a decision not to intervene to defend the constitutionality of the law setting elections in odd-number years,” said Matt Rinaldi, the attorney representing both Basham and Tatum. “We take this as further support that the attempt by TRWD to unconstitutionally extend the term of its directors by refusing to hold an election is unlawful.”

TRWD attorney Lee Christie argued in Evan’s court last month that HB 3900, the legislation that changed the election date from 2014 to 2015, is constitutional, was unanimously supported by lawmakers and that the TRWD is following state law.

“The lawsuit repeats the same allegations which are already the subject of a pending lawsuit in state court so adds nothing new,” said Lee Christie, TRWD attorney, in response to the new lawsuit.. “The TRWD Board has strictly complied with all state and federal laws governing the election process, including the Legislature’s recently passed bill which requires elections in odd-numbered years. The Board will continue to follow all applicable laws.”

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This is the second time in recent years that the TRWD election date has been changed. TRWD had previously changed its May 2012 election date to May 2013 to comply with a uniform election date that was the result of a previous change in state law.

“The TRWD’s position is dangerous precedent,” Rinaldi said. “They can’t refuse to heold an election and establish an indefinite terms for directors any more than Congress can refuse to hold a presidential election to establish an indefinite term for the president.”

Filing for May 10 elections – including local school districts and city councils — begins Jan. 29. The last day to call an election is Feb. 28, according to the Texas Election Code.