Former Panther Island executive JD Granger will receive an additional $72,000 following his departure from the Tarrant Regional Water District for unused paid time off, the water district confirmed Thursday.  

The $72,000 will double the amount of money Granger is set to gain from his work with the district during the next six months to $144,000. He accepted a six-month consulting contract for the same amount in April. 

“Based on the normal payroll schedule, JD will receive his final TRWD paycheck on May 13,” water district general manager Dan Buhman said in a statement. “It is also important to note that this payment is in no way related to the action attempted last May by a former board president to award JD additional paid leave in the amount of $60,000.”

The district’s earned time off policies are not transparent enough, longtime environmental activist and former state Rep. Lon Burnam said. In his view, it isn’t clear how time off accrues, and senior officials shouldn’t receive compensation for unused time off because they’re not hourly employees. 

“I think it’s outrageous that they’re claiming time off at all. In a job like that you’re not punching the clock; you’re doing the job,” Burnam said. 

A year ago, former Board President Jack Stevens directed staff to deposit extra paid vacation into former general manager Jim Oliver’s and Granger’s employee accounts. Stevens did this without the rest of the board’s knowledge, and when discovered, the action was unanimously revoked by the current board of directors last June.

By August, the district wasn’t sure if Granger was going to stay on in any capacity. The month was a tumultuous time for the water district, including a legal conflict with its former general manager and discussions about board governance policies. While the organization restructured, Buhman had a brief conversation with Granger about his concerns regarding the proposed restructuring of the organization. 

The next day, Buhman received his resignation.   

Organizational Restructuring 

The water district did not disclose the specific restructuring concern that may have led to Granger’s resignation. But organizational charts from June 2021 and May 2022 reveal substantial changes to the district’s management structure. 

Under the previous chart, four employees reported to Granger. Those employees now report to floodway and construction manager Lexi McCalip, who reports to Chief Operations Officer Darrell Beason. Granger’s position no longer exists in the updated organizational chart. 

The organizational chart from June 11, 2021 (left) to May, 2022 (right)

Buhman didn’t accept the resignation request. Instead, he talked Granger out of resigning in a face-to-face meeting, according to emails received by The Report through a public records request. 

“As a result of a second discussion with him about the organization’s path forward, he decided there were some additional things that needed to be accomplished on the Central City project before his departure,” Buhman said in a statement. 

The two agreed that Granger would stay on until at least March 2022 while working out a transition plan. Eight months later, Granger officially left his staff capacity and accepted a $72,000 consulting contract with the district. 

Board member Mary Kelleher, elected last year on a platform of water district accountability, called the general manager’s handling of Granger’s departure “a step backward for TRWD.” Granger, the son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, has had a controversial role in the Panther Island project. He was ousted from his role of executive director in 2019 and never received another formal title.

“I believed the relationship between the new general manager and board had moved toward  one of mutual respect instead of former general manager’s absolute control of the board,” Kelleher said, “but it’s evident the board-general manager relationship needs more work.”

Consulting contract flies under board approval process

When Granger’s new consulting contract was announced, it caught some board members and accountability advocates alike by surprise. Emails indicate negotiations over the contract had been ongoing since February, but the contract was not made public until April. The proposed contract was reviewed by three committees within the district before approval, but not the board.

Board approval is required for any contracts above $75,000, a number that Kelleher said makes it clear Buhman deliberately planned to dodge a vote on Granger’s contract. Kelleher said the board also was not informed of Granger’s earlier resignation notice, but Buhman said he made the board aware of his decision before executing the contract. 

“Through their approved policies, the board has delegated to me the ability to approve contracts under $75,000. As I have said before, I believe the six-month contract with JD is the right decision for moving this project forward,” Buhman said. 

Regardless of administrative policy, Kelleher said, the board should have been included in discussions. 

“I hope Dan will use this experience moving forward to realize he works for the board and the best practice would be including the board in major decisions,” Kelleher said. 

State law requires organizations to solicit bids for contracts greater than $75,000. At one point, Buhman told Granger in an email that the contract would be presented to the board on April 19, but in the end board members did not receive the contract to review.  Buhman confirmed the original plan in a statement. 

“Initially, we discussed a longer-term contract that would have exceeded the $75,000 threshold…” Buhman wrote. “To that end, we were prepared to take it to the board and get their approval. As my conversations with JD continued, I decided that a shorter six-month contract would meet the project’s needs going forward.” 

How the water district handles contracts and exits of key personnel

Granger is now the second contractor employed with the water district to be engaged in coordination with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Mark Mazzanti, a former employee of the corps, was receiving $25,000 a month to help coordinate the project. Following a board vote, Mazzanti’s contract was updated to pay $7,500 a month. 

Mazzanti’s previous experience working for the corps is an asset to the project, Buhman said in an interview with the Report in February.   

“Because of Mark’s background, I think he’s in a good spot to help us as we coordinate not just on funding but on project execution,” Buhman said. 

Granger will also contribute institutional knowledge to the project, Buhman said in a statement following Mazzanti’s contract announcement. 

The same language found its way into Granger’s contract; he was also brought on to contribute institutional knowledge, Buhman said in a statement immediately following the announcement of Granger’s contract. 

During the negotiation process, Granger sought to differentiate his work from Mazzanti’s in an email obtained by the Report. Granger will not produce any documents related to his work with the district, instead engineers and architects hired by the district will provide reports. 

“I will be negotiating with others and guiding them,” Granger said. “… Unlike Mazzanti, I will not be creating monthly reports for others. I pulled that because leaving it in would lead others to believe that I was doing it and then when I have nothing they may think I was failing to provide it. Therefore, I pulled all that out for clarity and transparency.”

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org 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.

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Emily Wolf

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative...

Rachel Behrndt

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