When Fox 4-TV investigative reporter Becky Oliver took on the Tarrant Regional Water District this week, Static seemed to hear an echo. Oliver looked at expense reports from the water district’s employees and found they enjoy spending a thousand bucks for steakhouse dinners and staying in expensive hotels around the country.
Oddly enough, Fort Worth Weekly found the same kind of taxpayer-funded shenanigans going on two years ago and wrote about it in a cover story headlined “Rollin’ on the River” (Aug. 23, 2006).
TRWD general manager Jim Oliver didn’t want to comment for us then or for the TV folks now. But we did get a response from newly elected TRWD board member Jim Lane in 2006. “Those documents showed the [expense] policy wasn’t being followed,” Lane told the Weekly. “That’s all going to change, at least as long as I am on the board.”
Lane still is on the board and said this week that he was “not happy” with what Fox 4’s investigation showed. “I’ve called Jim Oliver and asked him to give a briefing to our board at our next meeting,” Lane said. “I think the public is entitled to a response from our general manger about our expense account policy.”
Maybe the TRWD should just schedule the explanation of its expense policy for a meeting at some swanky hotel, where staffers will wolf down some expensive grub. And then two years from now, we can all go over all of this again.
Paws Off the Park
Many interesting odors can be found at the Fort Worth Zoo, but State Rep. Lon Burnam smells a rat there more than anything. The Fort Worth Democrat, re-elected last Tuesday with 70 percent of the vote, didn’t spend much time celebrating. On Friday, he e-mailed constitutents and news media to accuse Fort Worth city employees and the Fort Worth Zoological Association of meeting in secret since May to hatch a new contract that will privatize part of Forest Park and kill off the park’s soccer fields. The city managed the zoo up until 1991, when the association, led by Ramona Bass, took control. That contract is now up for renewal.
“There has been a private dialogue between city bureaucrats and privatizers at the zoo, and unless you make this a public dialogue, the public will come out on the short end of the stick,” Burnam said. “There is some very serious hustle going on here.”
The park and soccer fields are used by many on the lower end of the economic scale, including Hispanic families who host quinceañeras and other cultural celebrations there, the legislator said. He believes that putting this parkland in the zoological association’s hands isn’t good for his constituency, and he’s angry that the city hasn’t included residents and park visitors in discussions.
“The process sucks,” he said. “Bureaucrats act like it’s their private information that nobody else has a right to … which is generally the way Fort Worth does its business. I’m saying, uh-uh, not this time, not with a park that people who were raised in Fort Worth love.”