From: Needham, Judy (Board Member) <>

Sent: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 2:23 PM

To: Sutherland, Ann (Board Member) <>;

Maxines 300x250 (2)

(With copies to the other Fort Worth school board members, Superintendent Melody Johnson, district lawyer Bertha Bailey Whatley, Johnson’s entire cabinet, a Star-Telegram reporter and two ST columnists.)


Subject: RE: FYI Protest filing –how dare you file on behalf of our board?


“ANN—who do you think you are and how dare you file something on behalf of the FWISD board of trustees? You are the most inappropriate, irresponsible elected official in the state of Texas. As I’ve told you, we are a board and by protocol you cannot do something on our behalf without our approval or consent. You, as a private citizen, can do whatever you wish. You have become an anarchist and are a crazy old fool of a woman. You are just adding to the list to encourage people in your district who are actively talking about filing a recall election, and this town and board will hold you accountable for your horrible, destructive behavior. Fort Worth ISD is an almost billion dollar corporation with extremely competent employees led by the most outstanding superintendent in our country, Dr. Johnson. As you saw in the email today from our CFO Hank Johnson, the district has already filed a Rule 37 protest in a timely manner. Your filing has nothing to do with the safety of our children as you try to disguise it, but is about a fool run amuck with power.


“I am requesting that you immediately withdraw your protest and let the district’s protest stand, or file another one signed by you as a private citizen.”


 Judy Needham, FWISD School Board Trustee, District 5




The new year hasn’t even rolled in yet, but the fireworks are already exploding on the Fort Worth school board over one member’s effort to thwart an end-run by Chesapeake Energy to impose a little-known rule that would have allowed it to drill for gas under property owned by the district in spite of the fact that the trustees postponed signing any leases with the giant energy company for 90 days back in November.  


Unknown to the board, until it was notified in an email from community activist Gary Hogan on Dec. 23, Chesapeake filed what is known as a Rule 37 waiver request in early December with the Railroad Commission that would allow it to drill on leases it owned close to one of the district’s schools, T.A. Sims Elementary on the Southeast Side.


The waiver would have allowed the company to draw mineral reserves from underneath the school property even though Chesapeake did not have a lease with the district.  The rule gives a company the right to ask for a waiver for two reasons only: to “prevent waste or to prevent the confiscation of property.” Hogan wrote to the board that the rule has been so misused that it now “basically [gives companies] the right to steal the mineral reserves under unleased property,” unless the mineral owner knows what is happening and files a protest with the RRC within a certain time frame. By the time the board was aware of the threat, it had six days to file a protest. The reason the district wasn’t notified? Chesapeake put the wrong address on its filing with the RRC. The final day the district could protest was Dec. 29 — right in the middle of the holiday vacation.


Emails between Sutherland and the district’s lawyer, Bertha Whatley, show that the district was slow in deciding to file the one-page protest that would automatically stop the process and trigger a hearing in Austin before the RRC. Sutherland repeatedly asked for confirmation that the district was committed to filing a protest, but received only vague replies.


On Dec. 23, Sutherland wrote to the board:


“Thanks to Gary Hogan for this heads-up.  …Counsel Whatley just informed me that the staff is attempting to determine whether any FWISD properties are involved in this waiver request and they will know by Monday, the 27th.   If so we must file a protest by Wednesday Dec. 29….There is some confusion because Chesapeake sent the notification that they were requesting a Rule 37 waiver to the Fort Worth City offices at 1000 Throckmorton.  No one contacted the school district. … Our staff needs to file a protest on any Rule 37 Waiver Request.”


Sutherland also called for president Ray Dickerson to convene an emergency meeting of the board so that it could give its approval to the staff to move quickly on the protest. “This is not a decision the staff should have made on its own,” she said. “This decision was one for the board to make.” But the administration offices were all closed for the holidays. No meeting was called. 


On Dec. 23, Johnson wrote to the board:


“The staff should have some accurate information and a recommendation for moving forward by Monday of next week (the 27th.)  It has been a bit difficult to connect with all critical players due to the holiday.”


On Monday, Whatley wrote to the board:


“Last week the administration became aware of a request for a rule 37 waiver filed with the Texas Railroad Commission.  A subsequent investigation has disclosed the waiver would apply to the T.A. Sims ES site.  Consequently, a protest against the waiver will be filed by the deadline.  The protest will likely trigger a hearing before the Railroad Commission.  We will advise you of further action in this matter.”


Sutherland later notified the board, Whatley and Superintendent Johnson that if the staff did not file a protest on time, that she would do so on behalf of District 6, the area she represents.


By 10 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 29, the district had not filed.  Sutherland then filed her own protest in order to stop the process.  By noon, chief financial officer Hank Johnson (no kin to the super) notified the board that the district’s outside attorney from the Cantey Hanger law firm had filed a protest against Chesapeake’s waiver request.  Sutherland then withdrew her letter of protest. (But not before protesting to Whatley that the district should not have paid a high-powered law firm to file a one-page letter that Whatley could have done as easily as Sullivan did.)


In an email statement sent to Fort Worth Weekly, Sutherland explained her actions:


 “The science is not yet clear as to the health impacts on our children and the potential long-term costs associated with healthcare for drilling related maladies.  Therefore, I have approached this issue seeking an opportunity to get the best information so that any and all necessary protections are in place for our children and schools.


“I felt that a protest to the measure bring sought by Chesapeake was in the interest of the school district and that of our kids.  It was not clear that any such objection had been filed despite repeated attempts to encourage such a protest, and repeated requests to receive notice that a protest had been filed. 


–FWISD officials failed to notify the board of this filing until I raised questions about it

–When questioned, FWISD staff had no plans to act on it.

–They only said they would file after I said I would if they didn’t. 

–At 10 a.m. on the last day, there was still no evidence of filing.”


And, Sutherland insisted, “I did not file on behalf of the board, I filed my protest on behalf of my district and I made that clear in the filing.”


Her protest letter to the RRC states that she is filing on behalf of Fort Worth ISD Trustee 6.


When told of the Needham email, one of Sutherland’s constituents wrote, “I think that you are right to do whatever you have to do to protect ISD property from this type of legally sanctioned property theft. … Also, I don’t think there is any question that you  have been and done all that you can to restore honesty to the FWISD and that you are conducting yourself as openly and honestly as possible.”  This constituent who did not give permission to have her name made public, also said that Needham’s accusation that there were “recall” petitions being discussed in Sutherland’s district was nonsense.


Tobi Jackson, trustee from the East Side, and the only trustee besides Sutherland to return the Weekly’s calls, said she would not comment on the appropriateness of Needham’s language, saying only that the issue was “convoluted.”


“Judy’s been in office 14 years,” she said, “and she’s entitled to her own opinions.” Jackson called Sutherland’s action a “well-intentioned error” but still criticized her for what she said was Sutherland’s failure to “let the staff do its work. … We have a very smart staff,” she said. “We have to get back to our real job, which is making sure our kids are getting the best education they can get.”


Needham did not reply to email requests for comment.



  1. I am wondering if we will see Columnist Linda Campbell write a scathing critique of Judy Needham for her, shall we say, lack of decorum?

    That is a nicer euphemism then saying what others are whispering–that she seems to suffering from dementia. What else would cause her to level such jaw-droppingly crazy insults at a colleague in publicly-available email??

  2. Judy Needham is an embarrassment to the FWISD, the Board. FWISD was completely unaware of the Rule 37 application, to include Judy, until (as you reported) Gary Hogan and I discussed informing not only FWISD, but also the City of Fort Worth, who also had public property involved in the application. Neither of these intities had, or has in the past, a clue as to the importance of a Rule 37 Exception application…and apparently no protocol for dealing with one unless a citizen is concerned enough about the loss of public property to make phone calls.

    I think a public appology from Judy is in order….or perhaps we should just insist on her resignation. Looks like she has been on the FWISD Board for just a little too long!

  3. Sutherland did what needed to be done. Why didn’t the rest of the school board take action to get the necessary filing in place. They didn’t do their job. The School board should be thanking her for protecting the rights of the citizens and the Schools.

    Chesapeake is the villain in this process and not Sutherland. Chesapeake has somehow managed to place the wrong addresses on numerous applications. The main reason seems to be to keep people uninformed of their intentions until it is to late to challenge what they are doing. This is not an mistake on their place, it is to hide their actions and circumvent the laws. There seems to be no penalty for this type of behavior on the part of the gas drilling industry, but there needs to be.

    If you or I did the same thing our permit request would be denied on the spot. Part of the reason the permits require correct addresses is to notify the appropriate people within a certain distance and provide proper notice to those affected.

  4. Sorry, just cannot leave this one alone. “well-intentioned error”??? There was no error at all. I can personally point to other Rule 37 exceptions that the district did not reply to. So I guess the “error” is on the part of the Board that is clueless.

    “We have a very smart staff,” she said…..doesn’t appear so in this case.

    “We have to get back to our real job, which is making sure our kids are getting the best education they can get.” We will have the best educated young people, with a number never making it to their first year in college because people like Tobi are too busy investing in this industry to protect the children from it.

  5. It is very sad to see Fort Worth being ripped apart like dead carcass by the gas drilling industry. In this instance, the only thing that should have mattered is the unbelievably deceptive behavior of Chesapeake. That is what ALL of the School Board should have been outraged about.

    “Tearing into” Ann Sutherland for her efforts to make sure that our children are protected is just symptomatic of the underlying problem that Fort Worth faces. Many, if not most our “leaders”, do not yet understand the nightmare that gas drilling will bring to Fort Worth. It is really a shame, and it is very painful, to have to witness the undoing of a great city.

  6. Well, well, well…

    Still the public needs to know that FWISD is led by a group of incompetent leaders. Melody Johnson couldn’t put her act together to take matters in the issue. Staff on vacation! Do this means that robbers can do whatever they want during vacation? If Melody was aware of this issue, why did she not file a protest letter?

    I’ll tell you this. Some board members and Melody’s staff were interested in letting this Rule 37 go for one simple reason; if Chesapeake would get the waiver, the board members who requested the moratorium to study the effect of drilling in school’s backyards would be blamed for not signing the drilling contract. The top administration, the board legal representative and some board members would be thrilled if Chesapeake would get the waiver. They were defeated in the last board meeting and they would need some political ground to prove themselves.

    Just rewind the tapes for the last couple board meetings, Needham asked to the gas representatives if they can wait for the 90 days. This was a very suspicious request made by this board member. On the last board meeting, just notice who said several times that the Railroad Commission could grant the permission for drilling if they did not approve it right away. Needham revealed the plan, Chesapeake waited for the best opportunity, vacation time, and unattended business!!!

    This is a scary situation. Needham is talking about the integrity and efficiency of a group of people who have proven to be wrong and have let this district to be stagnant. These are the people who should be held accountable. This board member is praising her stellar super-intend-ent, Melody Johnson.

    Needham, we know how many companies milk the cow in FWISD with your support. You hold the cow and somebody milk it. There is not a coincidence that you could get a lot of support during campaigns by your wonderful supporters who have not disclosed their interest in the children but the business opportunities for their wealth. Your e-mail is a great testimony of madness and lost of common sense. Myopia can be cured or corrected. Also, retirement is the solution when incapacity overcomes wisdom. Anyone could file a protest on the Rule 37 if the property is a public domain. The board members are not the sole owners of the district properties either the exuberant FWISD employees.

    Our 100% support to Ms. Sutherland for keeping her ground and defend the constituency rights and protect the children.

  7. One more thing! We wish the 2011brings peace and progress to the Fort Worth Independent School District!

    This is what needed to be happening to bring peace and progress:
    • Hire a new superintendent who could be trustworthy and commit to improve the district. Save a few thousands even though you have to pay what you owe for extending her contract!
    • Downsize the central administration staff and return the resources to the schoolhouse, not to the central administrators.
    • Replace the incompetent leadership team with effective, committed and productive team members. Consider reducing the salary of those CEO positions that only are signing papers and orchestrating ineffective strategies.
    • Change several board members who are so egocentrics and who always seek publicity, establishment and a name brand.
    • Stop the mercenaries who use the achievement gap as a sustainable dilemma for keeping their jobs. This terminology has become a cliché in this district.
    • Allow educators to lead and not the businesses. Businesses and associations are ruining the lives of so many children. This superintendent believes that the schoolhouse is a business like any doughnut shop.
    • Change the road map for the academic. Still you hear some leaders talking about academic progress when we are so behind. The curriculum frameworks have delayed the process. The “do this and teach that.” Teachers are fed up with the pace and unreliable assessments. Texas has its own set of parameters, why to spend more money in rewriting.
    • Discipline the bullies from top to bottom. Children are copying from adults and the system.

    If the same people continue doing the same thing, expect the 2011 a more challenging year. There is not State election this year to camouflage success. We will continue celebrating improvement under Melody but not success.


  8. Even more troubling than senile,closeted, old Judy Needham is the biggest mistake since Obama: Tobi Jackson. Tomas Tocco & Jean McClung are looking real good right now compared to the trash of Johnson & Jackson. Tobi ran a campaign to fix schools and now she is all status qou. Loving the attention she gets from downtown money she quickly has forgotten who elected her. This is the District that needs a recall election. Let’s see if the people who supported her the first time still do? Anyone but Tobi in 2014.

  9. I’m ready to get rid of everyone but the three that seem to be able to research and think for themselves. The only three that seem to listen to the students, parents, taxpayers, and teachers. By the time this is all over and an actual audit of finances and failures can take place…MJ will make Tocco look like a saint.

  10. It should be of particular concern that Chesapeake representatives chose at this time to attempt to take action against both The FWISD and The City of fort Worth without so much as an effort to inform them of this situation ahead of time. AM I to think this was an OOPS. No, I do not hink so. The tactics and attitudes that I and NCTCA have heard while trying to assist these citizens is a testiment that these operstors Chesapeake amoung them operate in the streets with threats of Force Pooling or even worse Rule 37 cases ( attempts to steal mineral interest rather than to negotiate fair and equitable leases has become more and more prevalent. It is said that when economic turn downs come also come increase crime. In my opinion it is a breach of ethics the tactics that these operators are resorting to to exercise leaeholds in the 11 th hour. In most cases they have had 3 to 5 year intial term lease periods to establish their leases. No they wait till the last minute and demand of City Council that they need the permits Now. They wait till the last minute and go to Austin with these Rule 37 cases rather than to attempt leasing fairly and equitably in these areas. These are working class and minority communities most of the time. Rule 37 cases require citizens to take time off work and Go to AUtin to a hearing to protect their private property mineral rights, while the operators have the luxury and ability to hire consultants to handle their business there. Fort Worth if you do not think this is a preconceived game they play on us you are wrong. If you do not think this will continue you are probably just as wrong. This situation shows their true nature and business ethics IMO .

  11. Trustee Sutherland makes a good point, all of this would be academic if Tobi Jackson had not voted to kill those leases for the 90 days … From
    What I have seen, she seems independent and votes her conscience.

  12. How many more stories about FWISD do we have to read in the Weekly, or any other paper, for people to get the message? These “debacles” are disheartening, not to mention embarrassing! I’ve been to a couple of board meetings and I have seen our wonderful board prove time and again…this entire educational governing body is flawed! In the spirit of Ricky Ricardo…Dr. J…”you got some splain’ to do”!!! There have been so many bad thought-out decisions here of late…why should this Rule 37 Waiver be any different?! You have a handful of board members (Rangel, Sutherland and Vasquez to name a few…literally), who appear to be the only honest people in the whole bunch; they really do think about our students. Then you have the self-prophesying, Judy Needham, who appears to be under or over medicated, spouting off cyberbullying comments to another colleague…seriously??? Ms. Needham, wasn’t it you, a member of the board, an elected official, sign off on the districts anti bullying campaign? How dare Ms. Sutherland? No, how dare you!!! I don’t know what upsets me more about this maliciousness…to see how this board continues to drag their feet on important issues involving student welfare, or the fact that Needham came out of the closet, so to speak, as a genuine bully!!!
    Ms. Needham, first of all, anyone knows, including me as an employee, that district email is NOT our personal space to rant and rave, yet alone to send hateful and disgruntle messages to another person. And secondly, if you really wanted to get your point across to Ms. Sutherland, why hide behind the internet to voice your discontent? It is so typical of a bully to use an impersonal “non-confrontational” method to bully their victim…I am sure you are aware of this…or were you on break when the “It’s Not Okay…” campaign was presented to the board??? I don’t know Ms. Sutherland personally, but I am sure your comments probably offended her to the core…as it did me! What is next Ms. Needham? Are you going to send a handwritten note through a friend to Ms. Sutherland and ask she meet you behind the gym after school for a fight? Honestly, your behavior is so outrageous; it borders on mentally unstable! I have seen your name on more articles in the last few months than I care to see in my lifetime…and it is not in a good context. The other board member’s names I mentioned at least have their names included in said articles in a positive light…trying to pursue fairness, equality and true concern for our students. Your name has been mentioned on numerous occasions in regards to sketchy behavior, such as the AHHS calamity, Dr J’s defense of the vote of no-confidence, and now this Rule 37 situation…hmmm! A therapist would question, “Why are YOU being so defensive?” And “Why are you defending other people, when they are more than capable of defending themselves?” I would personally skip all that and just say “Why dost ye protest too much?”

    Unfortunately, I have lowered myself to your standards, by writing this reply (which I am sure you will read) in the same cowardly manner you did your email to Ms. Sutherland. I know if I had the opportunity to voice these words in person, I would, however, we all know what the district does when you tell someone the truth or voice your honest opinions right? The sad part about your email, your continued vote of confidence for Dr. J, and any other superficial “brown nose” comments you have made thus far, is that you are the least interested in our students! It is clear to me that you have your muzzle too close to someone’s perpendicular bisector; to say the leadership, which you profess to be wonderful, is in fact the reason our district is in the shape it has been for the past 3 yrs and counting! I for one am sick and tired of how you and some of our so called leaders behave! Additionally, all of the past and present negative issues surrounding our district have mentioned you in the midst of the debates…again…hmmm!
    It’s time for employees, parents and students to stand up and take this district back from the hands of people like you Ms. Needham! This “oopsie” of yours is probably just the tip of the iceberg I’m sure! Why you all voted to extend Dr. J’s contract for another 3 yrs is beyond me; like everything else, it’s part of a political agenda and not about students at all! It is also about overly paid individuals, who will do anything and everything to keep milking the proverbial cash cows, the citizens of this city, for their own personal agendas. Our district needs leadership who truly care about student welfare, not just implement bogus campaigns and policies “to keep up with the Dallassites”. In my opinion, you all as a board of trustees need to take stock in what you truly believe in and not just vote on something you think will “look good”. Ms. Needham, If you, and others like you, would just put aside your egos for a moment; you might discover interesting things about yourselves and the people you are supposed to be serving and representing! The employees, parents and students of this district are smarter than you think! There are many of us who will continue to hold you, Ms. Needham, and your entourage, accountable for your actions…AND EMAILS to other people! Now, go and make nice with Ms. Sutherland and anyone else you offended thus far…and stop being a bully!

  13. Bravo!!! Well said Frustrated
    The startle gram finally has a story about this situation but in true form they leave out the actual contents of the email and make nice for the district. Just more proof that someone in the district has the startle gram in their back pocket.

  14. Just caught Star Telegram’s “coverage” and am really disappointed. They buried the lead, which was Ms. Needham’s extremely unprofessional email to Ms. Sutherland, and since she obviously wanted it published (since she copied serveral ST staff), I’m not sure why they pulled the punch. Thank you, FW Weekly, for providing an alternative to the McNews that the Star Telegram has become and revealing Ms. Needham’s reprehensible communication, which she addressed everyone but Santa Claus. Your coverage reminds me of our neighbors to the east. Without Jim Schutze, I wouldn’t have any idea — or care — what happens in 214.

    Thank you, Ms. Sutherland, for your action on behalf of students and citizens in Fort Worth.

  15. My thanks to all who have commented on this story. It is extremely gratifying as a writer and investigative reporter to have so many replies from so many intelligent and well-spoken readers. I wish you all a very good New Year. And keep reading FWW.

  16. To Majister: When are people like you going to wake up. Jackson IS a fraud. Listen to her comments before the vote on December 14. She would have voted with her new-found mentor – Needham – were it not for Mr. Rangel’s final plea to the Board. Unfortunately for the Black community, nothing can spare them from the ignorance and indignity of the Sims/Moss fiasco. I suspect that is what comes from having a school named in your honor. There are only three people worth their salt on that Board: Sutherland, Vasquez and Rangel. Melody Johnson’s TERMINATION should be the FIRST order of business for the new year. Make no mistake. Chesapeake took the action they did as part of a plan by Johnson, Dickerson and Needham. Nothing does more to prove Needham’s corruption and/or dementia than the comment that Melody Johnson is “….the most outstanding superintendent in our country.” Can we have Needham declared mentally unfit?

  17. Can we now have a large number of people show up at the next board meeting to voice their disapproval to Needham and the rest of the sheep on the board while praising Sutherland, Rangel, and Vasquez.

    Well said…Wide-eyed!

  18. Let’s collect signatures to request a vote of not confidence on this administration and also to reprimand Needham as board member.

    The strategy that this administration has used to keep several board members out the loop is to hide critical information.

    We encourage Sutherland, Rangel and Vasquez to open a line of communication with the employees who know what is going on on daily basis. We know that the top leaders are monitoring who talk to whom, but I believe it will be a great move if you open that line of communication. Visit the schools, talk to parents, teachers, students, employees… Nobody can stop you for doing that.

    You know employees are afraid to talk. Central administrators could retaliate. Melody and her minions are orchestrating a plan to quiet the employees voices. We don’t believe that through the Site Based Meetings employees are going to be able to channel their concerns. You would expect more grievances from UEA and other associations. Teachers, you would expect more retaliations.

    We will like to read Melody’s response about this mess. She should defend her stellar board member.

    These statements might be out of line but I know the board members will read them.

  19. The Board under Dickerson functions as Johnson’s rubber stamp. It is all about making Johnson look good. The out of control actions of Needham are about to be exposed. We live and work in fear of retaliation. It has got to stop.