Special Projects Correspondent
Supporters of an election for two expiring seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District board are scrambling against the clock to win a favorable court ruling that would require a vote in May.
After a setback in state district court last week, John Basham, an unsuccessful candidate for the board last year and a prospective candidate this year, and other advocates are appealing State District Judge David Evans’ dismissal of their lawsuit seeking an election.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Kyev Tatum, a TRWD resident, and some of his relatives have petitioned to re-open a federal lawsuit that was set aside while Basham’s companion suit was pending in state district court.
“The TRWD is trying to deprive people of being able to vote for two board members,” said Matt Rinaldi, the attorney for the Tatum group and the Basham group, which also includes Darlia Hobbs and the watchdog organization, Texans for Government Transparency.
“We are going to any and all means to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Rinaldi said Feb. 13.
Rinaldi said he is seeking expedited rulings because state law requires election filing to end Feb. 28 for the May 10 election.
TRWD officials do not plan to hold an election to fill the expiring four-year terms of board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard because of a bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year that moves the election date for the TRWD from even-numbered to odd-numbered years.
But the legislation did not resolve the matter of whether the terms of Leonard and Lane could be extended another year until the May 2015 election.
The state and federal lawsuits allege that it is illegal for Lane and Leonard to serve five years.
“The legislature passed a law moving our elections to odd-numbered years, and the court recently affirmed that it had no authority to change those dates,” said TRWD spokesman Chad Lorance. “We expect Directors Leonard and Lane to continue to serve in their respective roles until re-elected or successors are named in May 2015.”
In his ruling, Evans stated that he has no authority to order an election for a one-year board term and “that if Lane and Leonard are not permitted to serve beyond four years, then the TRWD through a majority of the remaining directors….is the proper entity to choose successors for those positions” until the next election.
Rinaldi said the board could only appoint members under limited circumstances that don’t apply in this situation.
“We feel that the law is very clear and that there will be an election,” he said.
Basham, president of Texans for Government Transparency, said U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor left open the possibility of revisiting Tatum’s federal lawsuit.
“Judge O’Connor made it clear that Rev. Tatum could redress this claim in his court if the state district court’s ruling is in error or the state fails to rule at all,” Basham said in a statement.
Besides Basham, two other people have announced their intention to run for the TRWD board in May: Craig Bickley, an engineer, and Melissa McDougall, who works for a retirement fund and is a community and neighborhood activist in Fort Worth.