When Jim Oliver announced his retirement as the Tarrant Regional Water District’s general manager, he did so on the assumption that he would work for the district as a senior adviser for another year.

Emails the Fort Worth Report requested through the Texas Public Information Act show the longtime GM assumed he would be working for the district until June 2022. Instead, his position ended June 30.

“Would you consider a shorter window for being senior advisor than June 2022 if the board chooses that?” board member Marty Leonard emailed Oliver the morning of Feb. 11. 

Late that night, Oliver replied to Leonard that anything sooner than that would put him in a “financial dilemma.”

The emails provide a possible reason why on March 8 former board President Jack Stevens issued a memorandum to staff that Oliver was exempt from the water district’s paid leave policy. That move would have paid Oliver about an additional year’s salary after he left as the water district’s general manager.

Leah King, in one of her first actions as the new board president on Tuesday, said Stevens had not sought board approval for his action. She said she considered it improper for Stevens, who was defeated in the May 1 elections, to have the staff place 2,093 hours of additional paid leave into Oliver’s employee account and make him eligible for more than $300,000 in salary after leaving his position. 

The board unanimously approved King’s motion Tuesday to revoke Stevens’ action, stopping the payments from being made.

In the emails sent earlier this year and obtained by the Report, Oliver told Leonard that he needed to work until June 2022 in part because the water district had switched from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan several years ago. He said he had planned to announce his retirement in early 2022, but moved it up so the water district could retain Dan Buhman, who was working as the district’s deputy general manager. The board ultimately selected Buhman as the new GM in May. 

Jim Oliver, Retired Tarrant Regional Water District general manager

“I thought we all agreed to move up the hire date for my replacement and allow a year transition period. That is not unusual. I’ve seen it in the public and private sectors. … The more I thought about it, I realized I could use that last year to concentrate on the Central City project. Two recent polls show overwhelming local support for the project. We have an opportunity, with a new mayor and council coming in, to pull the elected officials together to support the project and send that message to Washington. If the local elected officials can come together with a consistent message and lobbying effort, and we can eliminate the negative headlines, it will increase our funding chances tremendously with the new administration. I can also use that time to transition off some of the state and national boards I serve on and try to transition on my replacement.

“I’ve devoted 35 years to the district. I believe I’ve contributed to TRWD today having the reputation in the water community statewide and nationwide as being one of the best of the best. My last year, under whatever title will continue to be productive,” Oliver concluded.

The project Oliver is referring to is projected to cost a little more than a billion dollars. It calls for redirecting the Trinity River instead of replacing what officials say is an aging and inadequate levy system. Fort Worth leaders say this project also will create economic opportunity in an area north of downtown. It goes by several names: Trinity Uptown, Trinity River Vision, Central City Flood Control and Panther Island.

It’s unclear if Leonard or other board members replied to his email. The Report requested “copies of all compensation records for Jim Oliver since FY 2020, including any correspondence or documents to or from Jack Stevens and to or from Jim Oliver about Jim Oliver’s retirement/compensation.” 

The water district is asking the Texas Attorney General’s Office if it can withhold some of the information requested. It wrote in a letter to the AG that it believes that some of the information is confidential, concerns litigation or settlement negotiations or falls under attorney-client privilege or work product or deliberative process privilege. The Attorney General has 45 days to make a decision.

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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