Judge rules TRWD not required to hold May election

Marice Richter

Special to the Business Press


The Tarrant Regional Water District does not have to hold an election in May for the two board seats that are expiring, a state district judge ruled Thursday.

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State District Judge David Evans denied a temporary injunction and said he would dismiss the lawsuit filed by John Basham, an unsuccessful candidate for the board last May, and others to try to force an election.

Basham and other TRWD residents have been seeking an election for the seats of Marty Leonard and Jim Lane, whose four-year terms expire this year.

TRWD officials praised the decision.

“We are pleased the judge denied the request for an injunction, and agreed that state law directs that the next board election be held in 2015,” TRWD spokesman Chad Lorance said in a statement.

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But the ruling also appears to prolong the battle over the issue.

“This not how we wanted this to go but we still have several options for remedies,” said Matt Rinaldi, attorney for Basham, Darlia Hobbs and Texans for Government Transparency, a watchdog group.

“By not holding an election, every voter in the TRWD is being deprived of their constitutional right to vote,” Rinaldi said Friday. “And that is a very scary precedent.”

Rinaldi said there is ample case law that supports an election this year.

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Earlier this week, a U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor deferred a ruling in a companion federal lawsuit until after a ruling in state district court.

The federal lawsuit was brought by the Rev. Kyev Tatum and his relatives, who contend their constitutional right to vote would be violated by not holding an election.

The water district had planned to bypass the election this year because of a bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year moving the TRWD election cycle from even-number to odd-number years.

The bill did not resolve the  question of whether the terms of Leonard and Lane could be extended to five years.

“Our decision to move the election to 2015 was based on mandates issued by the Texas Legislature,” TRWD officials said in a statement. “The Texas Secretary of State expressly authorized TRWD to move its elections back one year to implement this new election schedule.”

TRWD officials also said they are pleased with the federal court order earlier in the week “which supports TRWD’s position that this is not a federal constitutional issue.”

Basham, president of Texans for Government Transparency, also said he was pleased with the federal court ruling.

“Judge O’Connor made it clear that Rev. Tatum could redress this claim in his court if the state district court’s ruling is in error or the state fails to rule at all.”

Basham and Craig Bickley, an engineer, have both announced plans to seek board seats in the next election.