Water district doesn’t have to call election, court rules

Marice Richter


The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the Tarrant Regional Water District does not have to hold an election in May to fill two expiring seats on the board.

“We are very pleased with 5th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision,” said TRWD spokesman Chad Lorance. “It confirms what we have said all along that we were acting in accordance with the law.”

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The ruling from the appellate court in New Orleans could be the final blow for activists who have been trying since last summer to force the TRWD to hold an election to fill the seats of board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard, which expire in May.

“We are obviously disappointed, but we are evaluating all of our remaining appellate options,” said Christopher Kratovil, attorney for plaintiffs, the Rev. Kyev Tatum of Fort Worth and his relatives.

The three-judge appellate court panel agreed with the ruling of U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor that “no election is authorized under Texas law until May of 2015, and the United States Constitution does not require an election this year.”

However, the judges made no ruling about what will happen when the Lane and Leonard’s terms end in May.

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“That question is not yet ripe,” the judges ruled. “When their terms end, Texas state law will control the question of how the director positions will be filled and any related issues.”

Tatum and his relatives appealed this case after O’Connor ruled that the terms of Leonard and Lane create vacancies that could be filled by appointment rather than by election.

John Basham and other activists who support more transparency within the TRWD filed a companion lawsuit in state district court to try to win a favorable ruling for an election. The Texas Supreme Court affirmed lower court rulings that an election in May is unnecessary.

TRWD attorneys argued that an election is unnecessary this year because the Texas Legislature passed a bill last year that moves water board elections from even-year to odd-year cycles.

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But the legislation sponsored by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, did not address whether Leonard and Lane could serve a fifth year without a vote.

TRWD Mary Keheller, who supports an election to fill the seats, said the circuit court position on filling the two positions “indicates to me the justices are advising the TRWD to exercise good judgment in how the positions are filled,” she said.

“The justices are wise and won’t rule on a decision or action the TRWD hasn’t made or taken yet,” she said.