TRWD board tries to oust member from emergency meeting

Marice Richter

Tarrant Regional Water District board member Mary Kelleher refused to leave an emergency board meeting Wednesday when other members voted to exclude her from an executive session where several legal matters were scheduled to be discussed.

The other members voted to exclude her from the portion of the executive session related to Kelleher’s request for depositions from several TRWD officials.  

Kelleher, who has opposed the rest of the board on several issues, recently filed a petition against the district to try to obtain records and force depositions about TRWD business dealings. She says district officials have refused repeated requests for the information sought in her petition.

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Kelleher remained in the meeting.

Kelleher also is siding with a group of citizens in a lawsuit they brought over the TRWD’s decision to postpone a 2014 election and extend the terms of two board members by an extra year.

The other four members of the board tried to block Kelleher’s attendance by passing a resolution that states a board member “shall not participate in a portion of a closed meeting involving any litigation that such board member has pending again the district…

“The remaining members of the Board of Directors are entitled to private communicate with their attorneys outside of the presence of the opposing party in a suit,” the resolution states.

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Kelleher said she refused to leave and allow the others to speak privately with their attorneys.

“The voters elect us as directors to represent their interests,” Kelleher said in a statement. “We are their voice, and this is particularly important in all these lawsuits against TRWD.

“It is my understanding that only in the event a director has a personal conflict, meaning an interest in a lawsuit outside of her role as a director, should the director be excluded from an executive session,” she stated. “Otherwise, any exclusion denies the voters their voice and their opportunity to affect policy.”

TRWD Board President Vic Henderson issued a statement regarding board member restrictions.

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“Because a sitting board member recently took legal action against the Water District, we were forced to take the difficult step of restricting that individual’s participation in executive sessions dealing with that adverse action,” Henderson said. “We were elected to represent the best interests of the citizens we serve and the water district, and we believe this is an important step in keeping that commitment. We have to set aside personal agendas and work together if we hope to accomplish that goal. It is my hope that one day soon we can move past these frivolous actions and unfounded lawsuits so we can focus on the job our constituents elected us to do.”

Kelleher’s attorney, Matt Hill, said the TRWD has told Kelleher that the district will no longer pay her attorney fees in the election lawsuit because of her position opposing the rest of the board.

The district had previously agreed to pay the legal fees of each of the board members, who were named individually in the lawsuit brought by John Basham, an unsuccessful candidate for the board last year, and the watchdog group, Texans for Government Transparency.

Basham’s suit in state district court alleges that extending the terms of board members Marty Leonard and Jim Lane by another year violates the state constitution. The TRWD decision to not hold a 2014 election is based on a bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year to change the water district election from even-number to odd-number years.

A lawsuit against the district in federal court makes similar claims.

Matt Rinaldi, the attorney representing Basham and the watchdog group, is seeking a temporary injunction to force the TRWD to hold the election on May 10, the same date that area cities and school districts will hold elections.

In order to hold a May 10 election, the TRWD board must call for the election by Feb. 28, according to court filings.