A photo of the of the Tarrant Regional Water District. (Courtesy photo | TRWD)

The Tarrant Regional Water District general manager soon may be subject to a higher standard than his predecessor — and even the law — when it comes to nepotism.

The board on Thursday added domestic partners or girlfriends to the list of people Dan Buhman is prohibited from hiring to work for the district. Under state law, he’s only prohibited from hiring family members. 

Tarrant Regional Water District general Manager Dan Buhman listens during a meeting. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Buhman succeeded Jim Oliver, who had numerous family members work for the district over the years and most recently hired his girlfriend.

Thursday’s discussion was a continuation of one the board held last month. The board is updating and in some cases drafting new policies to address the public’s concerns. 

Earlier this week, the Fort Worth Report revealed a grand jury is investigating the water district’s $257,000 settlement with Oliver. Oliver threatened to sue the district after the board revoked paid time off one board member had given him without the rest of the board’s knowledge. He also claimed they violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and discriminated against him because of his age. He is 72. 

But four members of the public voiced even more concerns on Thursday. Some said they should be able to comment on individual agenda items, rather than confine their comments to three minutes at the beginning of the meeting as the district currently requires. 

“You’re trying to formulate new governance rules, and you’re not even following rule No. 12 in your existing board governance,” said Thomas Torlincasi, one of those four people.

That rule states that board members should “encourage the free expression of opinion by all board members, and seek systematic communications between and among the board, staff, and all elements of the community.”

Other  members of the public stood outside the water district with signs calling for a forensic audit, which looks for evidence of misconduct or fraud.

Under questioning from board member Jim Lane, Katie Long, an attorney advising the water district on its policies, said the district is already complying with the law as it relates to public comments and audits.

The board didn’t adopt the policies Thursday, but may adopt them during its next meeting on Tuesday or sometime in November.

Tarrant Regional Water District board secretary Jim Lane listens during a meeting. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Board members met in closed session for about an hour, but board president Leah King left about 10 minutes into that closed session, and the board took no action when it came out, other than to adjourn the meeting.

“People are confused about the audits, bless their hearts,” Lane said in an interview with the Fort Worth Report after the meeting. “We have internal audits, but yearly, we are required by statute to have external audits that specialize in governmental entities.”

Lane said these audits are financial audits and available to the public, and Buhman said he’d explain in more detail all the audits the water district undergoes on Tuesday.

“I’m a lawyer so I keep asking, ‘Are we complying with state law?’ I mean, that’s all we can do,” he said.“And today, we’re going a little bit beyond on some of the nepotism things.”

Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at jessica.priest@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jessica Priest was the Fort Worth Report's government and accountability reporter from March 2021-January 2022. Follow more of her work at www.jessicapriest.me.

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