Five months after receiving a criminal complaint, District Attorney Sharen Wilson has closed a grand jury investigation into the Tarrant Regional Water District’s financial settlement with former general manager Jim Oliver.

No charges have been filed in the case, said Anna Tinsley Williams, a spokeswoman for Wilson’s office. 

The complaint was filed shortly after Oliver was paid $161,647.20 in exchange for dropping his threat of a lawsuit against the water district. He also received a $95,674.28 payment for his unused vacation time and a 401k contribution payout.

Last summer, Oliver and his attorney, Jason Smith, complained that the water district board violated his constitutional rights by revoking an agreement between Oliver and former board president Jack Stevens that would have given Oliver more paid time off than he had earned. The paid time off was equivalent to an additional year’s salary of more than $300,000, according to current board president Leah King. 

Wilson’s office concluded there is a “low likelihood” of successfully prosecuting criminal charges related to violations investigated in the case, Wilson wrote in a March 2 letter obtained by the Fort Worth Report. 

During a month-long investigation, attorneys looked into allegations that water district officials misapplied fiduciary funds, abused their official capacity or committed theft by deception. Wilson wrote that her team had fairly unfettered access to financial reports for the water district and searched them for transactions that could have been hidden or obscured.

“While there was evidence that individuals may have committed violations of these criminal statutes in isolation, it was determined that the evidence was insufficient to meet the state’s high burden of proving each element of the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt,” Wilson wrote.

She added that the board’s decision to reverse the $300,000 payout and changes to the board’s oversight policies have reduced financial loss and “the risk of future financial malfeasance.” 

The office also investigated potential tampering of government records and violations related to the Texas Open Meetings Act and environmental laws regulating land cleanup. Investigators did not discover evidence to support those allegations, Wilson wrote. 

A water district spokesperson declined to comment. Williams, the district attorney’s spokeswoman, said all parties were notified of the investigation’s closure in the March 2 letter. 

Policies within the water district that created a risk of corruption, nepotism, fraud and waste have been revised, Wilson wrote in the letter. While past accusations may have been substantiated, none of the violations could be prosecuted because they do not fall within the statute of limitations, she wrote. 

The investigation put pressure on board members to adopt better governance policies, said Doreen Geiger, a member of the Water District Accountability Project, an activist group that frequently criticizes the district for lack of transparency. In January, board members approved a new employee code of conduct aimed at curbing nepotism. 

The rules, which went into effect Feb. 1, prohibit relationships between employees and subordinates, forbid employees to be involved in the hiring or advancement of a relative and ban the water district from hiring an employee to be a direct report to their relative. The district also sent a survey to staff asking them to self-report any romantic or familial relationships with coworkers. 

“It’s discouraging that Wilson never filed any charges, but we feel encouraged because we started this process May 18 – that’s the day the new board was installed,” Geiger said. “From May 18 to Feb. 15, we have seen a series of small, incremental improvements. They’re incremental, there’s nothing gigantic, but they’re all things that move the agency forward instead of backward.” 

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman FoundationContact her by email or via Twitter.

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@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.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...

Rachel Behrndt

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org

Leave a comment