Special to the Business Press
Challengers failed to seize control of the Tarrant Regional Water District board but voters elected one challenger over a long-time incumbent in Saturday’s hotly-contested election.
Mary Kelleher, 50, was the top vote-getter among all seven candidates running for the three open spots on the five-member board.
“I think the people spoke,” said Kelleher, who is a court intake supervisor for Tarrant County Juvenile Services. “This is the first time an incumbent has been beat and I’m excited and looking forward to serving.”
Kelleher ran as a bloc with John Basham and Timothy Nold to challenge incumbents Vic Henderson, Hal Sparks and Jack Stevens, who also ran as a slate. Challenger Dwayne Herring ran independently,
Henderson and Stevens were re-elected along with Kelleher. Sparks, who has served on the board since 1988, finished fifth in the election, which seat the top three vote-getters.
“I am pleased the voters re-elected Jack Stevens and myself,” said Henderson, chairman of the board and a member since 1985. “It is unfortunate that Hal Sparks, with 24 years of experience on the board, was a victim of a very negative campaign effort.”
The divisive race was infused with an unprecedented amount of campaign spending and support by political action committees.
Incumbents ran on a platform of experience and desire to complete unfinished business, including development of the Trinity River Vision and construction of a $2.3 billion pipeline to transport water from Lake Palestine to meet growing water needs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Kelleher, Basham and Nold ran on a platform pledging open government. They received more than $226,000 in campaign contributions, mainly from two wealthy Dallas businessmen who oppose the pipeline that will cut through ranches each own in Henderson County.
One of the men, Monty Bennett, sued water district over the pipeline, contending that the Tarrant board – a government entity – has violated the Texas open meeting laws and set up a system of circumventing public discussion of significant projects such as the pipeline. Public votes amount to a “rubber stamp” of decisions reached in closed private meetings, according to the lawsuit.
Since the water district has the power to access or condemn private land for the public good and is entrusted with billions of dollars of public money, the lawsuit seeks full public disclosure of district business and voiding the contracts related to the pipeline.
Henderson said the water board takes all its votes in public.
Kelleher said she fully intends to make good on her campaign promise of bringing more transparency to the board.
“My biggest goal in running for the board is transparency,” she said. “I have had the pleasure of being elected and will make my focus water quality, transparency and being a voice for the voters and public.”
Kelleher, who owns a 12-acre ranch in east Fort Worth, has been a victim of ongoing property flooding and her neighborhood has been plagued by the challenges of natural gas compressor stations, circumstances that prompted her to run for elective office for the first time.