The Tarrant Regional Water District turned its attention Dec. 14 to curbing nepotism among rank-and-file employees.

The board discussed prohibiting water district employees from being involved in the hiring or compensation decisions for a relative or working in the same chain of command.

It is considering defining relatives as “an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, child, cousin, aunt, uncle, in-law, grandparent, grandchild, significant other and the same relations above which derive from foster, step, or adopted relationships.”

Board members previously passed similar rules for themselves and the general manager to follow.

The policy under consideration also prohibits employees from dating subordinates. It states that, if they do enter a relationship, they must disclose it and go work in different departments.

The board is expected to vote on whether to adopt this policy at its meeting in January. Until then, residents can review it online and provide feedback to board members via a contact form on the district’s website

Some regular meeting attendees, meanwhile, continued to raise concerns about conflicts of interest.

One member of the public, Doreen Geiger, asked whether the chief financial officer and director of finance were one and the same.

This was relevant because the director of finance is responsible for ensuring the water district complies with federal tax law in effect at the time of issuance of its bonds and over the period the bonds are outstanding, Geiger said. The water district must do this to maintain its tax-exempt status for its governmental bonds. Geiger understood Chief Financial Officer Sandy Newby’s husband, Brian, worked for a law firm involved in one of the district’s bonds, she said.

Under questioning from Board President Leah King, Newby said she is chief financial officer and supervises the director of finance, as well as the purchasing manager. Newby indicated this was a recent change. 

Afterward, the Fort Worth Report asked when and why Newby’s title changed and who the director of finance was. 

“There was a recent reorganization, which commonly happens when there is a change of leadership,” Water District Spokesman Chad Lorance said.

The director of finance is Jennifer Mitchell, and Sandy Newby is the water district’s first chief financial officer, he said.

Lorance has previously told the Fort Worth Report that that law firm Newby’s husband works for “was on retainer to provide general legal services and government affairs services” to the district.

“Going forward, we will only use them on an as-needed basis,” he said.

Geiger said those answers didn’t ease her concern.

“To me, it’s just too close,” she said.

The Report also asked Lorance if the water district had determined how many of its employees were relatives working in the same chain of command and whether it had taken any action on that.

“If the new policy is approved by the board in January, we will poll employees then to determine if there are any indirect reports,” he said.

In other business, the board: 

  • Awarded a more than $11 million contract to Plummer Associates Inc. to design and help the district obtain the required state permits to establish a second wetland. Staff said this wetland near the Cedar Creek Reservoir in Henderson and Kaufman counties is a cost-effective way to keep up with water demand. They hope to use it by 2032.
  • Accepted a donation of an about 1.5 acres of land appraised at $2 million to be used for the stormwater canals on Panther Island.

The board is expected to meet next Jan. 16.

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

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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