TRWD board censures Mary Kelleher in raucous meeting

By Scott Nishimura

The Tarrant Regional Water District board voted Tuesday to censure board member Mary Kelleher for violating “applicable standards of conduct” in her opposition to the board majority on several key issues facing the district.

Board members Marty Leonard, Jack Stevens and President Victor Herderson voted for the motion to censure Kelleher by Henderson. Member Jim Lane abstained, and said an interview afterwards he wanted the multiple-point list of allegations “broken down” into separate resolutions and wanted to hear more from Kelleher.

“Members of the Water District Board of Directors have sworn under oath to abide at all times by the law and should exhibit honesty while acting in good faith to uphold their sworn duties and responsibilities to the benefit of the citizens and communities served by the Water District,” Henderson said in a statement he read after the board vote.

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In the same meeting, the water board voted 4-0 with Kelleher abstaining to hire the Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech law firm, which it had already engaged to help it, to look into whether board members have been filing the proper finance disclosures for their election campaigns.

The board did not authorize a specific amount of money to be paid to the firm. Henderson, who declined to answer reporters’ questions about the censure, said in an interview that the board “has funds available for counsel.”

Kelleher, elected last year, has been outspoken in her criticism of the Water District for what she says has been misuse of taxpayer funds some board members and top TRWD officials, and lack of open proceedings and records. She acknowledged she missed the deadline for one campaign filing last summer.

Kelleher maintained her criticism in a statement to the board before the vote.

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“This is about bad leadership and abuse of power and loss of control by this board,” she said, to applause from supporters who filled the board room, carried signs with slogans like “Put an End to the Corruption” and “Stop Hiding Documents,” hooted at Henderson, and implored the board to “drop it” when the censure vote neared.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, who attended the meeting, released a copy of a letter to Water District General Manager Jim Oliver that raised concerns about the “denying access to records for Mary Kelleher,” who has filed numerous open records requests seeking information.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, who also attended the meeting, told reporters he was “very disappointed” that only board members and counsel were allowed to speak at the meeting.

“We’re not having public comment today; this is a board matter,” Henderson told people who demanded to speak.

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The censure resolution accused Kelleher of voting Sept. 17 against pursuing an appeal in an open meetings lawsuit brought against the district by Dallas County businessman Monty Bennett, subsequently accepting two in-kind campaign contributions from a Dallas limited partnership that Bennett owns an interest in, and then on Feb. 18 voting against acquiring a water pipeline easement across land controlled by Bennett.

“Not guilty, my vote is not for sale,” Kelleher said in response. She then reiterated what she said was favoritism in selecting chef Tim Love for his location of the Woodshed barbecue restaurant on the Trinity in Fort Worth, expensive meals charged, and “using your position to engage in extra-marital affairs with staff.”

The resolution alleged that Kelleher inappropriately purported to admit, on behalf of the district, allegations in litigation against the district. “This one is true,” Kelleher said.

The censure resolution alleged Kelleher refused to excuse herself from executive session discussions of litigation in which she was an “adverse party” to the TRWD. The board issued a resolution Jan. 29 that said Kelleher should not participate in the closed discussions, the censure resolution said.

“I never saw it on any agenda,” Kelleher said.

Finally, the censure resolution – and much of the board discussion – focused on Kelleher’s appearance at the April 8 Fort Worth council meeting and saying during a hearing on conservation measures that “the TRWD board does not support this ordinance.”

Lane, a lawyer, asked several questions during the board discussion, first asking counsel what the proper procedure for consideration of censure was. “I’ve never been through one of these before,” he said.

And then Lane focused his questions on Kelleher. On her City Council appearance, he asked, “you got up and said that we didn’t support it…It’s not true, is it? You’ve got to be accountable for the truth.”

Kelleher, who was elected in May with the largest number of votes for any of the directors elected, said the board has not discussed Fort Worth’s water conservation measures in that time. The censure resolution pointed out that the board voted Jan. 22, 2013 – months before Kelleher’s election – that it supported the conservation measures that Fort Worth eventually made permanent April 8.

“She didn’t have any business going down there,” Lane said after the meeting.

Kelleher said after the meeting she didn’t think she acted inappropriately, given the length of time between the TRWD January 2013 vote and Fort Worth’s vote.

“We’ve been behind water conservation since I’ve been on this board,” Lane said.

Lane questioned Kelleher on why she didn’t know about the campaign finance deadlines.

“Whose responsibility is it to know?” he said.

Kelleher said her’s was an honest mistake and that she subsequently filed the July report.

Lane, who has offered to help Kelleher take her allegations of misuse of public resources to the Tarrant County District Attorney, asked Kelleher if she had contacted the D.A. Kelleher said she had not, because she didn’t know who she could trust.

Wednesday’s fracas continued after the board meeting, when some Kelleher supporters shouted at board members who voted for the censure. “Shameful!” one man shouted at board member Marty Leonard, pointing in her face.