The latest show of haughtiness by Tarrant Regional Water District officials shouldn’t surprise anyone. That bunch wouldn’t be embarrassed after being caught skinny-dipping in a baptismal pool. Their shady manner of overseeing the Panther Island economic development plan disguised as a flood control project prompted Mayor Betsy Price to call for an audit in recent months. Now, water officials are blocking the release of an independent review by Dallas-based consulting company Riveron.
Jim Oliver, Tarrant Regional Water District general manager, defended blocking the report with a quote that proves he and ethics seldom speak the same language.
“Consultants throw stuff up and see what sticks,” he was quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week. “Some sticks, and some doesn’t. We’ve got to go through it and clear things up. We’re at the very beginning of that.”
You see, Fort Worth residents have given the thumbs up – mostly through silence and inaction – to the $1.2 billion-and-rising downtown “flood control project.” The majority of citizenry appear to have no qualms about spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on what critics describe as a boondoggle.
Elected officials have witnessed the collective thumbs up and don’t seem to care that the enterprise smells of good ol’ boy-and-girlism run amok. For many years, Price and other public servants stood by and cheered the sleazy shebang from the sidelines, perhaps because the bulk of the money was expected to come from the federal government. The feeling could be summed up as, “Hey, if Washington, D.C., wants to send tax dollars to Fort Worth to help make a handful of Cowtown folks richer while solving a flooding situation that could have been accomplished for pennies on the dollar, well, hell yes, pardner. Count us in.”
The problem began after Congresswoman Kay Granger – the former Fort Worth mayor turned Panther Island proponent – started running into trouble securing the federal money she’d been promising for more than a decade. Last fall, after years of complicit, unblinking support, Price called for an audit of the project, even though water district officials say they have been keeping city officials informed of their every move all along. Price’s call for an audit smelled of a political gambit to illustrate her independence prior to the May elections. (Voters reelected her to a fifth term with 56 percent of the vote.)
Price’s split from the Unified Front of Arrogance marked the first crack in the water district’s dam of denial. The refusal of water officials to release a third-party report without first tampering with it is another crack. More cracks could lead to a flood of resistance from various fronts, providing the first real oversight that water district officials have ever known. It’s long overdue.