Friday, August 23, 2013

Incoming From Texans For Government Transparency



(Fort Worth, Texas) Today, a lawsuit was filed against the Tarrant Regional Water District by John Austin Basham, Darlia Lee Hobbs and Texans For Government Transparency over the TRWD’s interpretation of a new state law (HB 3900) which altered the district's election cycle to odd numbered years. The lawsuit charges the change in the water code unconstitutionally extend directors terms without holding an election. The TRWD’s action would essentially grant two sitting board members, Jim Lane and Marty Leonard, five year terms – exceeding the maximum allowed under the State Constitution.

The lawsuit is brought by Mr. Basham, a former candidate for the Tarrant Regional Water District's Board of Directors who fell 80 votes shy of taking office in 2013; Darlia Lee Hobbs, a grassroots activist for open and responsive government; and a non-profit, Texans for Government Transparency. The district has long been accused of utilizing secret meetings in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, abusing eminent domain authority and now, manipulating election laws to extend their terms without voters' consent.

“The Texas Constitution and Water Code, which governs TRWD, couldn't be more clear.” says John Spivey, Secretary of Texans For Government Transparency, “Water board members cannot have a term longer than four years. The law that was recently passed changing TRWD's election cycle to odd numbered years does not allow for a five year term – nor does it prohibit an election in 2014.” Spivey adds, “The new law does not and cannot change the Texas Constitution, which explicitly restricts the directors terms to four years.”

TFGT President John Basham says, “We simply want the TRWD to start complying with the laws of the State of Texas.” He went on to say, “Picking and choosing how long a term you will serve and when a voter can vote for you doesn’t even sound like something you would expect in America. If it weren’t really happening in front of me I wouldn’t believe it!”

At the TRWD Board Meeting on August 20, 2013, Mr. Basham asked Board President Vic Henderson if he intended to hold elections as required by law in 2014. Mr. Henderson refused to answer, although after the board meeting, he stated that they did not intend to hold elections in 2014 referring back to HB 3900 and advice from TRWD counsel Lee Christie. These concerned citizens are asking the court to require TRWD to hold elections in May of 2014 when the director’s terms expire by law.

An election in 2014 would place Marty Leonard's and Jim Lane's seats back on the ballot. Ms. Leonard and Mr. Lane have been on the board since 2006. The petition was filed in the 48th Judicial District in Tarrant County, Texas by lead attorney, Matthew Rinaldi of Miller, Egan, Molter & Nelson, LLP. Texans For Government Transparency is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization that was formed to promote openness and transparency in Texas state and local government affairs while advocating for citizens' rights of privacy and property rights.

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