The Tarrant Water Board skipped its plan to honor retiring general manager Jim Oliver during its board meeting this week.
The board’s agenda called for it to “consider the adoption of a resolution honoring” Oliver. This honor was to come after the board met in closed session to discuss purchasing land for the Integrated Pipeline Project, as well as the compensation for Oliver’s replacement, who is set to take over July 1.
Instead, a video of the meeting shows that when board members came out of closed session, they skipped those two items.
Leah King, who became the board president Tuesday, said the board unanimously approved authorizing staff to purchase about half an acre of land for $16,300 for the pipeline, but tabled the item honoring Oliver.
“There’s some further discussion that the board wants to have about how best to work with what his official retirement date is, which hasn’t been settled, and so we want to have everything understood and do it all at one time,” King said in a phone interview with the Fort Worth Report after the meeting.
King did not know why there was no video showing action on the two items, she said, but asked staff to reach out to the company that videotapes the meetings to find out whether there had been a technical issue.
King and board members Marty Leonard, Jim Lane and Mary Kelleher declined to say whether skipping the honor for Oliver was related to matters discussed during the closed session. Board member James Hill could not be reached for comment. Through water district spokesman Chad Lorance, Oliver declined to comment on the matter to the Report.
Oliver announced his retirement in March. He’s worked for the Tarrant Regional Water District for 35 years, but has been in the spotlight more in the past decade because the agency is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to change the course of the Trinity River. The agency says that, by doing this, it will better protect the city from flooding while also revitalizing the economy of an area north of downtown. This is a project known by several names: Trinity Uptown, Central City Flood Control and most recently, Panther Island.
Some district observers said they were suspicious about what caused the delay in Oliver’s honor.
Layla Caraway, an office manager who formerly served as chair of the board of the Northeast Tarrant Chamber, noticed the items concerning the integrated pipeline and Oliver weren’t videotaped when she tried to watch the meeting online Wednesday.
Caraway has made it her mission to increase awareness of the water district after she experienced a flood in Haltom City in 2007. She said that years ago, residents filmed the meetings then because they were concerned many couldn’t attend them because of their timing on a weekday morning. It’s a concern she still has today as she thinks the water district’s modus operandi is to be secretive.
Caraway questioned what was behind the video problem of the public meeting.
“There’s a reason it was tabled, and I’m assuming that happened in executive session, so we’re not going to know,” she said. “But why didn’t we see it being tabled?
“I don’t know what the issue is, but nothing would surprise me at this point.”
The Report submitted on Wednesday a Texas Public Information Act request to the water district for copies of all compensation records for Oliver since fiscal year 2020, including any correspondence or documents to or from longtime board member Jack Stevens and to or from Oliver about the general manager’s retirement and/or compensation. Stevens was previously board president but lost re-election May 1. King, Hill and Kelleher, who won the election, campaigned on making the board more transparent to the public.
The board is scheduled to hold a special meeting June 29. The agenda for that meeting was not posted as of publication of this story.