Ahead of an election certain to bring new faces to the board, Charles “CB” Team was sworn in Jan. 17 to serve the remainder of Jim Lane’s term on the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors. Lane, who served on the board for more than 16 years, died in late November

Team, a commercial real estate developer, will be eligible to run for a four-year term during the May 6 election, though he has not yet confirmed his candidacy. Both Team and Marty Leonard’s seats are up for election, with Leonard previously announcing her plans to retire after 17 years on the board. 

Board members voted 3-0 to confirm Team’s appointment Tuesday, which came amid criticism of the board’s decision to choose from a list of candidates who were unsuccessful in the 2021 election. 

Board member James Hill said Team was the most qualified candidate to serve in the position and was already vetted by voters in 2021, when he finished fourth behind Hill, Leah King and Mary Kelleher. 

“I’ve supported him for a long time because he is one of the most competent people about the water district that there is in this community,” Hill said. “The voters will have an opportunity to re-choose (among) whoever chooses to run for that open spot in May. We’ve got roughly 90 to 120 days.” 

Kelleher abstained from the vote, citing an apparent conflict of interest due to Team’s appearance on a 2021 campaign flier with current board members King and Hill. Stephen Tatum, the water district’s general counsel, repeated his finding that appearing on a campaign flier alongside other officials did not qualify as a conflict of interest. 

Members of the Water District Accountability Project, a watchdog group pushing for more transparency at the agency, said they opposed Team’s appointment due to potential conflicts of interest as a developer. The board has oversight of the $1.2 billion Panther Island/Central City flood control project, which is expected to transform real estate development in downtown Fort Worth and the Northside community.

The watchdog group also supported a list of potential appointees who agreed not to run in May as an incumbent, which gives the appointee an advantage over other candidates, said former state Rep. Lon Burnam. Burnam told board members that he likes Team but does not support the process for his appointment. 

Lon Burnam, a leader of the Water District Accountability Project, addresses the board during an Oct. 14, 2021 meeting. Burnam is a former state representative and environmental activist based in Fort Worth. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“The Fort Worth Way almost always guarantees an advantage to white people that live on the white side of town that have money. That’s exactly what you’re going to see today,” Burnam said. “I have absolutely nothing against Mr. Team … What I am against is the Fort Worth Way and the process by which you have gotten to this today.” 

Team has not been involved with properties or transactions in the Panther Island area and doesn’t intend to do so in the future, Team told the Fort Worth Report last week. His regular attendance at board meetings for the past several years, including after his 2021 campaign loss, have prepared him to step into the role, Team said.

“I’ve been interested in the district for so many years. I’ve personally laid eyes on every single square inch of the district property and their assets,” Team said. “But I’ve never been in any of these assets and structures, and so I’m really looking forward to getting that last piece of knowledge to really complete my knowledge of the district.” 

Prior to Team’s appointment, the board had no formal policy for filling vacancies that occur during a term. Tatum introduced a new policy Tuesday that would still leave the appointment process up to the discretion of board members, who would consider factors like the amount of time before the next election, the results of the most recent election and public input before moving forward. 

Other proposed policy changes would give general manager Dan Buhman the authority to approve public relations, government lobbying or insurance carrier contracts of $75,000 or more. Buhman will be required to notify the board of any contracts over $75,000, but those contracts will not be subject to a board vote. 

Buhman currently has the authority to approve contracts under $75,000 without going to the board for permission, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage. The $75,000 threshold came under scrutiny when Buhman approved a six-month, $72,000 contract with former Panther Island executive JD Granger last year. That contract, which did not go before the board, expired in October.

The new proposals will be posted online for the next 30 days until the board considers them again at its next regular meeting on Feb. 21. By then, candidates for the two open board positions will be set. Residents interested in running must file to be on the ballot between Jan. 18 and Feb. 17.

In other water district news

  • Water district leaders celebrated receiving five stars from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts’ Transparency Star program, which recognizes government entities for providing clear financial information by publicly posting financial documents, summaries, downloadable data and more. Upon receiving its final star Tuesday, TRWD is the only special purpose district in Texas to hold all five stars in the transparency program and one of 15 agencies to receive the recognition. 
  • Board members approved several contracts, including two with lobbying firms that will advocate for TRWD priorities in the state legislature and federal agencies. The board also gave the go-ahead on a nearly $3 million contract with Huitt-Zollars to develop the second phase of design for the water district’s new “operations compound.” Existing water district operations and purchasing staff will move to a new property on Old Decatur Road because construction of a Panther Island flood channel will cut through their existing facilities. Board members approved an $83,450 contract for the first phase of the project last year. 
  • The water district and the North Texas Municipal Water District will spend up to $90,000 to explore how the two agencies might collaborate on the Cedar Creek Wetlands project. The water reuse facility is expected to provide 80 million gallons of water per day and support an additional 560,000 people in the Fort Worth area.

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email 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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Haley SamselEnvironmental Reporter

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org. Her coverage is made possible by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman...