The Tarrant Regional Water Board’s newest member, Mary Kelleher, said she expects she’ll align with two others on the board to increase transparency of the Panther Island/Central City Flood Control project. 

Kelleher, Leah King and James Hill were elected to the board Saturday. Longtime board president Jack Stevens was defeated in the election, potentially shifting the power dynamics of the five-member board. The board meets next week to certify the results and discuss hiring a replacement for the district’s longtime general manager, Jim Oliver. He announced his retirement in March.

“The only one I know of is Dan Buhman,” Kelleher said of the GM applicants.

Buhman currently serves as the district’s deputy general manager. He’s worked for the district for almost eight years and counts among his accomplishments during that time, “expand(ing) and transform(ing) the district’s public affairs team to increase transparency, improve media relations, and ensure all communities are engaged,” according to his LinkedIn.

Mary Kelleher (Photo contributed by Mary Kelleher)

Kelleher said she had a high opinion of Buhman based on her previous interactions with him but couldn’t say whether she’d vote for him to be hired without knowing who the other candidates were.

“The lack of transparency in that agency for so long is kind of like an indicator that new blood or a fresh set of eyes might be beneficial,” she said.

King, Hill and Charles “C.B.” Team ran as a slate on a platform of transparency. With Team losing the election Saturday, the Fort Worth Report asked Kelleher if she expected she’d align with King and Hill. Kelleher said she would, “if they ask questions, which I’ve heard they do, and that’s so necessary.”

This comes as King and longtime board member, Marty Leonard, make up the committee searching for Oliver’s replacement. Another board member, Jim Lane, said he knew of several applicants they were considering but held off saying who his choice is for general manager.

Lane said the board would likely meet in executive session during its special meeting May 11 to hear about and discuss King and Leonard’s pick for GM. Lane said the board could then vote on GM as early as the board’s next regular meeting on May 18. Neither meeting’s agenda had been posted as of Wednesday. 

Neither King nor Hill could be immediately reached for comment Wednesday. Leonard declined to comment on the search for GM or the results of Saturday’s election. She referred the Report to Jan Lehman, owner of Austin-based Lehman Associates, regarding the search for GM. Lehman could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

In addition to the hiring of a GM, the board must also see the Panther Island/Central City Flood Control project through. Kelleher, who has served on the board previously, said she disagrees with the other four board members that it is a flood control project.

“I’ve always believed it was for economic development,” Kelleher said.

She also said she was concerned that some involved in the project have conflicts of interest.

“I am just hoping that the board, the five of us, can come together and at least have an important discussion that needs to be had about that project,” Kelleher said.

Jim Lane (Tarrant Regional Water District)

When asked for his reaction to the election results Saturday, Lane, a criminal defense attorney, said, “Having tried cases for 52 years, I don’t argue with juries and I don’t argue with voters when they make their decision. I was kind of sad we lost Jack as board president, but I like Mary and think she will do a great job.”

Besides, Lane said, “it’s not like it’s a new board.”

Both he and Leonard were first elected to the board in 2006. King and Hill have served since 2017. 

If You Go

WHAT: Tarrant Regional Water District Board special and regular meetings

WHEN: 9 a.m. on May 11 and May 18

WHERE: TRWD Board Room, 800 E. Northside Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76102

INFO:  Because the board room is small and that makes it difficult to socially distance, the public is invited to watch or listen to the meeting live or a recording of it at https://www.trwd.com/boardvideos/ rather than attend in person.

Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at jessica.priest@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

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Jessica Priest

Jessica Priest is Fort Worth Report's government and accountability reporter. She was previously on USA TODAY's regional investigative team. After Jessica reported that a Midland County prosecutor worked...

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