Mary Kelleher was elected just a few weeks ago to the board of the Tarrant Regional Water District, on a platform of demanding transparency from the agency. Last Friday, she found out just how hard that job will be.
In a letter addressed to TRWD General Manager Jim Oliver and also sent to other district board members on Tuesday, Kelleher described an encounter with Oliver in which, in response to Kelleher’s request to a staff member for records, she says Oliver angrily confronted her, yelled at her, beat on his chest, and demanded that all future requests be made to him. She also noted his “similarly inappropriate” attitude toward John Basham, who ran unsuccessfully for the water board.
In the light of those actions, Kelleher wrote, she thinks the water board should reconsider Oliver’s continued employment or at least require him to take anger management training.
In her letter, Kelleher repeated her assertion that, as a member of the water district’s governing board, she has a legal right to review the documents she requested.
“I take very seriously my responsibilities as an elected official, and I expect that my attempts to provide necessary oversight in the future will not be met with raised voice, chest-pounding, disrespect, and other behavior unacceptable for a public servant, let alone the senior executive member of the TRWD,” she wrote.
“In the light of these repeated outbursts, in my view, the district should consider whether it is appropriate for you to continue in your current position and/or whether you should be required to take anger management training,” she wrote.
Kelleher attached to the letter a printout of e-mails between Basham and Oliver on May 6. In the taunting exchanges, Basham referred to a hypothetical government employee using government facilities to seek votes for certain people running for office and to spread libelous information about other candidates, suggesting that perhaps one such call had been recorded.
In his replies, sent from his water district e-mail account, Oliver called Basham a “loser” and said, “Imagine if you were … bankrupt, with your house foreclosed and pretending to be a meteorologist with no education. Oh, wait a minute, you don’t have to imagine because it’s you.”
Oliver’s actions, and the revelation that some of the records she requested do not exist, have increased her concerns over whether the district is fully complying with the Texas Open Meetings Act, Kelleher wrote. “It is conduct such as this that motivated my request” that an outside law firm be hired to conduct an independent analysis of the water board’s compliance with that law.
Fort Worth Weekly obtained a copy of the letter from a source other than Kelleher. Reached by phone on Wednesday evening, Kelleher declined to go into any further detail about the confrontation with Oliver. “I would prefer that to be handled internally,” she said. “I think my letter pretty much covers it.”
In her letter, Kelleher requested that most of the documents she had asked originally for be provided to her by Wednesday afternoon (June 26), along with other documents she added to the request, and that the rest be provided by Thursday. She noted that she was not making a request under the state’s open records act –– which gives government agencies 10 working days to reply –– but as a member of the board itself.
Kelleher said Wednesday evening that, following delivery of her letter, she had received an e-mail reply from Oliver indicating that some of the records did not exist, that some of them would be mailed to her, and that on others, the water district staff would seek an opinion from the state attorney general as to whether they had to release the documents. She said Oliver wrote that the water district staff would search for records regarding lobbyists and respond later.
She said that the tone of Oliver’s e-mail was professional and to the point.
According to the letter, last Friday Kelleher went to TRWD records manager Nancy King and asked for minutes and recordings from all the board’s executive sessions since June 2012, as well as minutes and recordings from all meetings of the board’s Construction and Operation Committee during the same time period.
She also asked for e-mails sent to political consultant Bryan Eppstein, documents reflecting contracts with and payments to lobbyists, records of payments to the engineering firm of Freese & Nichols over the last three and a half years, and all of the e-mail correspondence of TRWD board members, Oliver, planning director Wayne Own, and J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, over approximately the past two months.
Additionally Kelleher asked for numerous documents relating to any real estate transactions between the water district and Oliver or any entity controlled or owned by him.
She said that Oliver’s response, following her letter, indicated that there are no records of any real estate transactions between Oliver and the water district.
Kelleher said that in response to her initial request, King had earlier told her that no minutes or recordings exist of executive sessions or of meetings of the construction committee.
At that point, Kelleher asked instead for agendas of all those executive session and committee meetings and was told they existed and that, if she returned later the same day, they would be provided to her. However, rather than being given those records when she returned, she was confronted by Oliver and was not given any records at that time.
Kelleher said she was shocked to be told that some of the records had not been kept. “As much money as the TRWD handles, I think I just assumed that they kept more records about it,” she said. “It just surprised me how little is documented.”
Putting aside the question of Oliver’s actions, Kelleher said that her reception on the board thus far has been about what she expected. “I know what I am up against,” she said. “My fellow board members … do not see what I see.”
She said people come up to her in the grocery store and elsewhere and tell her how concerned they are that TRWD board meetings are frequently held during the work day, when many people find it difficult to attend. “The general public opinion is that the agency isn’t open enough,” she said.
Kelleher said she has been assured by her attorney that she has a right to the records she asked for. Her requests shouldn’t have come as a surprise, she said.
“When we ran for election, we all said that our main goal was transparency and open government, and my goal was to request records and find out what’s going on over there,” she said. “This was my first attempt at that.
“It’s my job to help oversee operations of the TRWD,” she continued. “I take it seriously and just want to make sure I’m serving the public like I said I would. I had to start somewhere.”
In the letter, she wrote that if Oliver continues to block what she considers to be proper oversight of the water district, “I will be forced to take all necessary actions to fulfill my duties. … I will not be stopped or intimidated in my efforts to fulfill my responsibilities.”
The water district issued a statement Thursday afternoon describing Oliver’s version of the encounter. According to the statement, Kelleher, “accompanied by two unidentified males, appeared unannounced at the district offices on June 21 and requested numerous documents from staff, including some that were confidential in nature.”
Release of the confidential documents would have violated state law, according to the water district. Oliver “advised Ms. Kelleher during a meeting later that day that requests for such information are typically addressed to the general manager and reviewed by general counsel for compliance with all laws,” the statement said. “Staff members confirmed that Mr. Oliver did not raise his voice during that discussion.”
She is awesome
Thank God for Mary Kelleher.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reasonable request met by angry spluttering bluster and chest-pounding is a strong indicator that the spluttering blustery chest-pounder has something to hide.
I’ve long felt that the TRWD has been used as a piggy bank for a select few. This confirms those feelings. I’ve lived in Ft. Worth all of my 60 years and have seen a number of political and corruption scandals but what we are experiencing now is unprecedented. Not just at the TRWD but the FWISD and city hall. Regretably far too many our elected officials and public employees don’t have the moral fiber needed to hold the positions they are in.
This is a very one-sided viewpoint of the situation. I think it’s wonderful for a Board member to challenge the established practices of the organization they joined. However I can see where there may be a great deal of frustration with her approach. It appears the TRWD is not accustomed to a mountain of paperwork requests in such a short period of time. That’s unsurprising in any business. It’s quite likely this just added a great deal to their normal workload and as their general manager I can see why Jim Oliver would inform her that requests of his employee’s time be directed at him. That’s his job. He certainly could have handled it better, but I think suggesting he needs “anger management” because she did not instantly get her way is hilarious, attention grabbing, and shows she is every bit as irascible.
Kelleher was only elected to the Board a few weeks ago and she’s instantly expects the employees of the TRWD to jump when she says how high? She may have the ability to devote herself full time to this new endeavor and that is a benefit for everyone. Coming in like a bull in a china shop, demanding everything instantly and then getting the media involved when she doesn’t get her way seems very unprofessional. I doubt that is how she means to come across. The fastest way for her to get the transparency she wants is not creating enemies. Heck, I’m a yankee by birth, upbringing and education and even I know that. I hope that she takes a step back from the conflict and can reach her goals without wasting time with this nonsense.
[Full Disclosure: I have nothing to disclose. I don’t know any of these people]
Ms. Geissler, I think perhaps you miss the point. No manager should respond to someone who oversees the organization to which they belong in the manner that Mr. Oliver did, period. The TRWD being a public entity it is required to have complete records of all meetings and if they don’t they are in violation of the law and need to be accountable for those and any other violations. Also if Mr. Oliver has sold to or purchased land from TRWD and there are not accurate records of those transactions, then at the very least there is the appearance of inpropriety. Ms. Kelleher is well w/in her rights as a board member to get the documents she asked for or find out why. The goings on of the TRWD have been questionable for a long time and it’s refreshing to know someone is finally trying open the dealings of this organization for the public.
Could the FW Weekly please post the full letter and the full TRWD response? That would make things a bit clearer.
Wow! Are you sure TRWD isn’t code for FWISD? I shouldn’t be that amazed at the existence of bad politics and unadulterated bullying in this city. The names Mike Moncrief , Walter Dansby and Judy Needham come to mind! I applaud you Ms. Kelleher for standing up for people, who need more transparency and accountability from a large public entity. Ms. Kelleher, our school district could use someone like you on the board to demand the same. Unfortunately, our district censures trustees for doing exactly what you are doing with TRWD! Go get ’em Rocky! You sound like my kind of “Justice” warrior!
Mary has her hands full ; negociating a responce from jim oliver is like pulling ticks off a dog ..you might get a few but their heads are still burried in their furr.. no one likes their dirty laundry revieled. but with persistance the truth will be found and all TRWD problems will be made transparent
Well. After reading today’s news (April 27-2014) I must say that I can’t trust this lady. I voted for her thinking that she would bring a new unbiased voice to the table. I regret my vote. How can she support someone like Mr. Bennett who with his arrogant attitude is willing to fight the TCWD’s efforts to run a water pipeline through its land to benefit thousands of people in Fort Worth?. His attitude is selfish and arrogant no matter how you put it. I have no information for or against the water district, but regardless of its history, to oppose such a plan is disgusting. If the water district has been involved in mismanagement as she has implied, then do the homework to prove it but without getting involved with people who would benefit from her being in the board. There is a conflict of interest right there. I will shure vote against her next time.