I don't have a problem with fixing up the river but the fact is, we have never had a vote on whether to do that. Just like with the new rodeo arena. When we voted last year and the arena was on the ballot, the vote was not whether or not to build the arena, it was just a vote on how to pay for it. It appears that wealthy people in Westworth Village, West Fort Worth and Westover Hills are pretty good at getting our public agencies to pay for their pet projects and land development schemes. Like the Chisholm Trail Parkway. If you've ever looked at a property map of the ranches and undeveloped land between Benbrook Lake and Crowley, Southwest Fort Worth and Joshua, one prominent Fort Worth family owns big chunks of this land. Those tracts are ripe for development now that you and I have paid to open up access with a new road. This family is heavily involved in helping the right people run for elected offices and they have the wherewithal to be very detrimental to those incumbents who do not support their plans.
When I was in school taking a business communications class I did a paper on eminent domain. This was not long after Kelo vs. City of New London and a lot of conservative state politicians loudly decried the supreme court ruling and its affect on private property rights. Many passed legislation in their home states to outlaw eminent domain for economic development. In my research at the time I learned that in Texas, only two entities had gotten bills passed to get the power of eminent domain for development. One was in Arlington so Jerry Jones could take some private residences for a parking lot for the new football stadium. The other was the Tarrant Regional Water District for the Trinity River Vision.
The Water District is ground zero for this corporate/developer welfare. The agency has generally done a good job in the past developing our water resources and the staff is actively planning and developing infrastructure and resources for our future needs. The cost of flood control and water resources development have been covered by the sale of raw water and a property tax. The levees were built and paid off and over the years, various capital projects come up and get paid off. The district brags about having the lowest tax rate of any entity at 2 cents per 100 dollars valuation and no increase for the last 15 years (they conveniently forget to tell you that they've increased the cost of water 64% in the last ten years), but they haven't even needed that 2%. Mayor Price said at a campaign speech a few years back that they should have cut the tax but they wouldn't because it's hard to reinstate or increase a tax without hacking off your taxpayers/voters. But hey, when you've got a source of free money, the ability to used eminent domain for economic development and you get your friends and fellow land developers elected to the board, well, the developers are all laissez les bon temps roulez on the taxpayer's dime!
I support cleaning up and developing the river into a premier central city attraction. But the TRWD has been sloppy in the way it's being done. I think it was a horrible idea to hire a junior lawyer to lead a massive public works project who has no construction/project management experience. Apparently the district general manager didn't look for anybody else and didn't interview anybody else. The lawyer's mom happens to be in the US Congress where the district thinks its going to get a lot of the money to pay for the project, so I suppose that's a major resume enhancement. Then, the gm hired his son (or is it nephew?) as the communications director for the project. And the gm's wife, did she work at the district too until recently retiring? And does or did board member Jack Stephen's son or son-in-law work for the district? And when they got rid of the patrol plane and bought the helicopter for district business, did they put out a want ad for a qualified pilot? They hired the son of one of the lake managers and sent him to school to learn to fly helicopters. If the board is spending our tax money to hire people to work for us, are they picking the best candidates for the job or are they hiring their relatives to help enrich their own family? These are just a few examples but apparently the employment chart at the district looks more like a family tree.
Now, how many companies or people who have been awarded contracts (some without even competitive bidding) with the district are related to people who work for the district or are on the board? I'd really like to know. Did Charlie Geren's girlfriend get a high dollar lobbying contract with the District and now when they need legislation, Charlie's their man in Austin who gets the laws changed? Am I wrong that one of the lawyers for the district's outside legal counsel is married to one of the lawyers for the district? I know for a fact that contractors for the TRWD who are working on various projects contribute to the incumbents campaign funds. The campaign manger for the incumbents gets them elected and then they turn right around and award him contracts for public advertising campaigns. Have you been getting those glossy, poster-sized attack ads in your mailbox from the incumbents? The guy who creates those is the same guy who brought you the lawn whisperer water conservation campaign. Jim Lane will tell you to your face that there is nothing illegal with these examples of nepotism and cronyism. That may be true that there is no specific law that applies to the water district to prevent these deals from happening but I'd think Jim is smart enough to realize that the TRWD's practice of nepotism and cronyism is WRONG and they need to rewrite their ethics code.
I remember one of the early articles I read about the district in the Fort Worth Weekly. The general manager was going to lavish restaurants and private clubs and spending thousands of dollars on the district's credit cards for food and alcohol. Oliver had failed to follow TRWD policy to note who he was entertaining and what purpose the dinner was for. As I recall, the board fixed that problem by getting rid of that requirement. Oliver seems to run the district as his own little fiefdom and I have heard firsthand accounts from people who have gotten on his bad side and have been chewed out and berated. I have been on the opposite end of his index finger as he yelled at me in a parking lot one time. He seems to be an angry person from what I've seen. I think his salary is north of $200k a year which he may deserve for his management experience but I can't help question his judgement sometimes. There was a recent public information request asking for details about Jim Oliver's perks including a membership at the Fort Worth Club and the Colonial Country Club and he has a golf pro and a masseuse on staff. Those might be appropriate perks for a senior executive at a private company but I see that being in no way appropriate for a tax-funded government agency.
I think that the Trinity River Vision project is mismanaged. This was kicked off in 2003 and 12 years later they've just only started a bridge and a roundabout with projected schedule of 4 years. I would not have believed you if had told me 12 years ago the project cost had swollen from $250 million to now near a billion dollars and the project was still being discussed in campaigns. I figured the project would be much closer to completion. The lack of funding and the scope creep has definitely affected the timetable. The pollution on the land that the district will be developing is also an issue. The former American Cyanamid site that is now the jury parking and the Coyote Drive-Inn was an environmental nightmare now bulldozed under an asphalt cap. The district had the property appraised at 9 million dollars after Carl Bell went bankrupt and they decided to bail him out. The final purchase price was $16 million dollars. How can anyone in their right mind say that this is ok? They paid almost double the price their appraisers arrived at to pay off Bell. How many people who had their businesses and property taken for the Trinity River Vision project were paid double the appraised value? Someone said the district also accepted responsibility for the environmental remediation that will add another $20 million dollars to the cost of that land but I haven't read the entire deed yet so I haven't confirmed that. There is definitely a stack of toxic heavy metals and pollutants out there that will need to be dealt with at some point.
With regard to the influence of the Dallas money, there is certainly a lot of it in this race. From their early campaign finance reports, the incumbents have reported raising around $500,000 according to their early finance reports and among their donors are 5 Dallas BILLIONAIRES like Ross Perot Junior, Texas Rangers Owner Ray Davis, Ray Hunt, Lyda Hill, Trevor-Rees Jones and Barry Andrews. Why are these Dallas people investing so much in the incumbents?
If you're a fan of the Fort Worth Way, or perhaps you have some lucrative contracts with the district, or maybe you just enjoy all the entertainment options that the Panther Island Pavilion hosts like the beer floats and concerts and beer busts and beer runs, I'm sure you're ok with business as usual and you will likely vote for the incumbents. I'd like to see some change and some accountability at the District. And I'd sure like to see the records that Jim Oliver is hiding. When Mary Kelleher garnered more votes than anyone in the history of the water board last election and claimed a seat on the board, they changed the rules so that she could not add items to the agenda without the second of another board member. You can read her accounting on her website, for which the web address is in my signature line at the bottom of my posts. The best way to get a little more sunshine in that office and get a thorough accounting of the shenanigans at the TRWD is get a majority of mature, honest adults and so, like Volare, I'm voting for Michele Von Luckner and Craig Bickley and I'm asking you to do the same. Remember that you get to vote for two candidates.