The typically quiet board meetings at the Tarrant Regional Water District took a loud and rowdy turn on Tuesday morning. A standing-room-only crowd, including some carrying protest signs, heckled board members throughout the two-hour special meeting. The board was debating whether to censure fellow board member Mary Kelleher. A censure is a public reprimand with no penalties or legal ramifications.
Board President Vic Henderson introduced the motion, linking Kelleher to several alleged policy violations and ethical lapses. He accused her of not reporting in-kind donations from Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett, who has wrangled with the water district for three years to prevent a water pipeline from crossing his East Texas ranch. And he complained that Kelleher misrepresented the water district’s stance on a water management plan at a recent Fort Worth City Council session.
Kelleher then leveled a symbolic fire hose at her fellow directors and water district President Jim Oliver. She said her supporters are fed up with the “cronyism, nepotism, corruption, and mismanagement that have plagued the water district for years.”
She said Oliver had “stonewalled me and the public at every opportunity.” Then she accused him of using water district heavy equipment for personal home improvements.
“Whoa, whoa,” board member Jim Lane said, trying to rein in Kelleher. But she was on a roll.
“Let me finish … how about using your position to engage in extramarital affairs with staff?” she said, looking at Oliver.
At times, Henderson resembled a substitute teacher who’d lost control of a junior high classroom. He admonished and threatened hecklers but never followed through. The crowd became bolder as the meeting wore on. Former board candidate John Basham practically dared Henderson to throw him out. Nothing happened.
Several legislators, including Tarrant County’s Jonathan Stickland and Lon Burnam, attended and wrote letters supporting Kelleher in her request for public documents.
Despite crowd support, Kelleher appeared overwhelmed at times. As for misrepresenting board policy at a city council meeting, she said she was unaware of the policy, implemented before she was elected. Regarding campaign reports, she said she was new to the political game and unfamiliar with all the requirements. Board member Jim Lane said ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse.
In the end, Henderson, Jack Stevens, and Marty Leonard voted to censure. Lane abstained, saying each accusation against Kelleher should be voted on separately. But he joined in a 4-0 vote to audit recent campaign finance reports from board candidates. Kelleher abstained.
Kelleher declared her censure a “badge of honor.” Oliver declined to comment.