Editorial: Business Press backs Bickley and Annis for water board seats


We know what readers think: The newspaper just endorses candidates who agree with the paper’s ideological bent – liberal, conservative, whatever – or who represent the dominant business and political power structure.

That might be true of some newspapers but when the Fort Worth Business Press offers an endorsement, we are sincerely trying to put our support behind the best candidate. True enough, we’re drawn to candidates whose ideas and priorities are similar to ours, but the key question we always try to ask and answer is: Which candidate will do the best job of representing and serving the people?

The Business Press does not endorse in every election that comes along. We weigh in only when we believe the race is so important that we have a responsibility to state our opinion. And we do this not in an attempt to tell readers who to vote for, or in the belief that we can or should influence the outcome of an election; we simply offer our opinion as another source of information for voters to assess as they decide which candidate deserves their vote.

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The May 9 election for two seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District’s board of directors is such an election. We don’t expect anyone to agree with our opinion or vote for the candidates we recommend but we want voters to know that our endorsement is based on serious consideration and careful study of the candidates and their positions.

In the case of the five candidates for the water board, we conducted in-depth, face-to-face interviews and then, to broaden our insight, we sponsored a public candidate forum where candidates answered questions from the public and expounded on their ideas, opinions and proposals for improving the operation of the water district and its board.

Based on that process, the Business Press endorses Craig Bickley and Keith Annis for election to the water board.

We decided to support two of the challengers seeking to unseat incumbent board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard because we are convinced that significant changes are needed in the way the water board conducts its business and deals with the public. Lane and Leonard are dedicated public servants and have been good stewards of the region’s water supply but they have given no indication that they believe changes are needed, much less shown a willingness to take the initiative in generating change.

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This board desperately needs a new direction and new ideas; Bickley and Annis can provide them.

Bickley is one of two candidates tabbed for financial support by businessman Monty Bennett (Annis is unalinged), who has sued the water district to prevent it from using its powers of eminent domain to seize a slice of his Henderson County ranch and running a pipeline through the property.

The pipeline itself is a point of contention in the election, with the incumbents and their supporters insisting it is needed to tap hard-to-reach sources of East Texas water in the future while critics say it’s a sweetheart deal for Dallas that doesn’t benefit Tarrant County.

We’re inclined to support the pipeline and both Bickley and Annis have said they will support it if they are convinced it’s a good deal for district taxpayers and water users. Bickley says he will vote his conscience on the pipeline and Bennett insists that he expects no special favors in return for his contributions to Bickley’s campaign. Bickley impresses us as an independent thinker whose decisions as a board member would not be controlled by Bennett or anyone else. Bennett’s column on Page 32 addresses his reasons for supporting water board candidates.

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Both Bickley and Annis are concerned, as we are, with the widespread perception that the water board lacks transparency and accountability in dealing with the public. They are also concerned, as we are, that the massive flood control and economic development project commonly called Trinity River Vision but now officially labeled “Panther Island.” has become a quagmire of wasteful government spending and an example of Fort Worth cronyism that compromises public confidence in government at all levels.

We understand, as do Bickley and Annis, that even if the water district wanted to, it couldn’t pull the plug on projects like Panther Island and the Integrated Pipeline that infuriated Bennett – “I believe in honoring contracts,” Bickley said at our candidate forum – but we and they are convinced that too many aspects of such projects have been handled behind the scenes and out of the public’s view. Questions about federal funding for Panther Island, for example, have never been adequately answered by the water district or its affiliated agency, the Trinity River Vision Authority.

The public needs to be brought into these discussions. The water board needs to be more open and accountable. Craig Bickley and Keith Annis have the ability and the will to change the board and the way it does business. Change is long overdue.

A link to our TRWD forum video: