Many members of the Fort Worth business community have rallied around the re-election of water board incumbents Marty Leonard and Jim Lane. And why wouldn’t they?
Leonard and Lane have been devoted public servants for many years, as members of the Tarrant Regional Water District’s board of directors and in other capacities. They are Fort Worth to the core.
So we laud those whose support has been mustered in what has become a highly financed and expensive race. Campaign contributions from PACs and other sources already total more than half a million dollars and some fundraising experts project that the five candidates running for the two seats now held by Leonard and Lane might end up raising upwards of $1 million or even $2 million.
How can we resist saying that a million or two for this campaign is no drop in the bucket? It is, frankly, an astounding sum to spend getting elected to what not so long ago was one of the most obscure public bodies in the region.
What has surprised us at the Fort Worth Business Press is the consternation expressed by local businessmen that we would profile the water district’s leading critic and nemesis, Monty Bennett, a Dallas hotelier.
Bennett has been fighting the water board for several years, trying to prevent it from running a water pipeline through his 1,300 acre ranch in Henderson County. While he cloaks his disdain – dare we say hatred? – for the water board in criticism of its lack of transparency, alleged violations of open meetings laws and nepotism, his real source of anger is parochial.
He doesn’t want the pipeline on his ranch. The water board would take the land by virtue of eminent domain.
The origin of the Bennett versus water board fight is disputed. Bennett says he was stonewalled when he asked for a meeting to propose an alternate route for the pipeline that would bypass his property. Bennett says the board ignored both him and his request so he decided to fight back in court and with his own candidates for the board.
If we look for a match that lit this fire it may have been this snub. That is, if there was a snub. Jim Oliver, executive director of the water district, says Bennett’s assertion is untrue and released a statement Saturday giving the district’s side of the story. (Read Oliver’s statement here.)
Amid all this activity and controversy, we wanted to know: Who is Monty Bennett? What makes him tick, other than his opposition to a water pipeline crossing his land?
So one of our reporters, Marice Richter, wrote an in-depth profile of Bennett. It was published in the April 6-12 issue of the Business Press.
And our story revealed more about Bennett than anyone locally had known, describing his business acumen in building a growing hospitality empire that includes two hotels in downtown Fort Worth, The Ashton and the Hilton.
It also described his family’s attachment to land bought by his grandfather in 1963 and inherited by Bennett’s mother after her father died. Bennett told Richter that his mother cried when she learned of the water district’s plan to use its eminent domain authority to take a piece of the property.
That’s the sort of unguarded personal information that a good reporter can unearth and perhaps provides some insight into what drives Monty Bennett to do the things he does. And it’s something we wouldn’t know if we hadn’t decided that Bennett was worth an in-depth profile.
Bennett continues to make news by pouring money into so-far unsuccessful court challenges and into campaign coffers of candidates willing to challenge the elected majority on the water board. To date, only one of the candidates he has backed, Mary Kelleher, has won an election. She has dutifully hauled water – sorry, couldn’t resist again – for her benefactor but has yet to emerge as a particularly effective or even active member of the board when it comes to dealing with the many crucial issues facing the water district.
There are businessmen and women in the community who saw our profile of Bennett as disloyal, as a betrayal of their effort to re-elect Leonard and Lane. Maybe everyone’s focus on the hit-and-run news coverage that dominates the Internet has caused them to forget that one job of a newspaper is to shine a light in dark corners and to try to present all sides of a story.
Personally, I’d rather know my enemies than make uninformed assumptions about how to defeat them.
Richard Connor is chairman of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at email@example.com.
To read the Bennett story: