There is no shortage of high-profile, controversial issues and candidates on the ballot on May 11. But there is no more important question facing voters than the one posed to residents of the Tarrant Regional Water District: Who should join – or leave – the district’s board of directors? The water board? Since when, you’re wondering, is a water board election important to anyone? Fair question. The answer: since the water board became the vehicle used by arrogant, overreaching politicians and bureaucrats to roll over taxpayers and property owners with the ill-advised, outrageously expensive boondoggle known as the Trinity River Vision. Unfortunately, in election after election, voters have been content to rubber-stamp incumbent board members or their designated successors in much the same fashion that the board has rubber-stamped the machinations of the Trinity River Vision Authority, the agency charged with implementing the project. It’s time for that to change. The water board needs at least one new voice, one fresh perspective, one conscientious member who will represent and advocate for the taxpaying public rather than the political and financial interests of the powerful few who have perpetrated the ever-expanding outrage that is the Trinity River Vision. Seven candidates are seeking three board seats May 11, including three incumbents and four challengers. The top three vote-getters are electeed. Among the challengers, 42-year-old meteorologist John Basham has the best chance of displacing one of the entrenched board members – and the best chance of effecting changes in the way the board operates if he’s elected. We urge voters to support John Basham. Basham may not be able to stop the River Vision freight train or even slow its money-burning momentum but he would bring a measure of desperately needed skepticism and a long overdue insistence on accountability to a board that does business as if it were a private club endowed with fertile fields of cash growing on the banks of the Trinity. For our part, the Business Press has long been skeptical of the River Vision scheme, originally conceived as a flood control project but manipulated into a wildly ambitious economic development plan projected to cost – at the moment – $909 million. That compares to an estimated cost of $360 million a decade ago; can anyone realistically dispute the possibility that the price tag will soar past $1 billion? The project’s most prominent proponent, former Fort Worth Mayor-turned Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger, has promised piles of federal money to help foot the bill. But the dollars from Washington are slow in coming. Given the federal government’s longstanding and worsening financial difficulties, we seriously question Granger’s ability to bring home the federal bacon for this project. Meanwhile, the water board is up to its collective eyeballs in accusations that it has violated the public trust by playing fast and loose with the state’s open meetings laws as well as the laws governing seizure of private property under the powers of eminent domain. One angry property owner has filed a lawsuit and project opponents of every stripe have criticized the way the water board and the implementing agency it created, the Trinity River Vision Authority, have gone about the business of selecting and claiming properties to make way for the development. The Trinity River Vision, aka Trinity Uptown, was foisted upon the public without any appreciable amount of input by the taxpayers – Fort Worth city officials who pushed it early on deliberately avoided any procedure or financing mechanism that would have required voter approval – and the public has remained shut out of the process. As the project plows ahead, the ultimate cost unknown and perhaps inestimable, the public must demand a voice. The people who will have to pay for the Trinity River Vision and who will have to live with whatever level of success or failure it achieves, have a responsibility to demand accountability for every dollar spent, every piece of property seized, every plan and program approved by members of the board and their associates at the Trinity River Vision Authority. The taxpayers must take a stand. They must take it now.
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