DA Turns off Water District Investigation
When District Attorney Sharen Wilson expressed interest in investigating the Tarrant Regional Water District last summer, Lon Burnam was cautiously optimistic. The former state rep who now volunteers for the grassroots group Water District Accountability Project has long criticized water district leaders who have wasted tens if not hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on lavish personal expenses and boondoggle projects like Panther Island, the $1.2 billion Northside development aimed toward the wealthy.
Our news magazine and other media outlets have documented the graft and abuse of power at the water district for nearly two decades, but the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office refused to investigate our findings. Now, many of those offenses are now too old to prosecute, according to a recent letter by DA Sharen Wilson.
“While these past violations may have been substantiated, none of the violations were within the statute of limitations for prosecutions,” Wilson wrote to one member of the accountability project earlier this month.
In other words, DA attorneys — over multiple administrations — ignored white-collar crimes for so long that it’s now too late to hold the scofflaws accountable.
“I believe that white-collar crime is never prosecuted anyway,” Burnam told us. “I was pleasantly surprised when Sharen Wilson approached me in July. I thought it had more to do with her reelection than cleaning up government activity. We had a good working relationship with her assistant district attorneys. After she announced that she would not seek reelection, I knew [the investigation] would go nowhere.”
Burnam said his group forwarded documents to the DA’s office that showed water district employees breaking large contracts into smaller ones as a means of skirting laws that require government projects to go through an open bidding process. The fudged agreements allowed water district officials to selectively award projects to personal friends, Burnam alleges.
Nepotism was rampant at the water district, and the investigation forced much-needed resignations and restructuring, Burnam added. The recent departure of Shanna Cate Granger is linked to new anti-nepotism policies that the water district’s board adopted in response to the DA’s investigation. Three years ago, Shanna married J.D. Granger. Congress member Kay Granger’s son is the executive director of Panther Island and, until recently, his wife’s supervisor. The billion–plus development has long been Kay’s pet project, and the placement of her son in a top position that pays $242,216 annually remains an example of how Tarrant County’s powerbrokers rule with impunity.
Burnam said many of the water district employees who would have been culpable for criminal acts were low-level workers, and that may have been by design.
Water district “staff are obstructionists when it comes to complying with public information requests,” Burnam said. “They do what might be considered the bare minimum in allowing citizen input at board meetings. Even though this DA has put this particular investigation to rest, that doesn’t mean that a new DA won’t reopen the case if there is probable cause.”
More than 18,000 Texans Disenfranchised from Recent Primaries
The primaries matter more than ever. Many state representative and federal congressional districts are no longer competitive due to a concerted effort by Republicans to crack and pack minority voters into diluted or isolated voting pockets that favor conservative candidates.
If those efforts weren’t evil enough, Gov. Greg Abbott and his misogynistic, racist, transphobic cohorts have gone after access to the ballot, especially when those votes come from Democrats and large urban centers that are more diverse and educated and less likely to be duped into beliefs that the gay mafia is out to take over the world. Last year, state leaders passed SB 1, a voter suppression law pushed through under the guise of “election integrity,” because, ya know, voter fraud was behind President Joe Biden’s 2020 landslide electoral win.
The law largely targeted mail-in ballots that were heavily favored by Texas Democrats during the 2020 election. SB 1 criminalized efforts to register voters for mail-in ballots, and a new requirement that voters include their driver’s license number or last four digits of their social security number on their absentee ballots disenfranchised more than 18,000 voters during the recent primaries.
Recent reporting by the Texas Tribune found that the new voter suppression law was responsible for spikes in mail-in ballot rejections across the state. Harris County, a Democratic stronghold, saw 6,919 ballots scrapped, and all but 31 of the tossed votes were due to the new ID requirement. In a public statement, End Citizens United, a nonprofit that works to reduce corporate influence in elections, said Texas’ voter suppression law achieved its aim.
“The Texas GOP politicians who passed this restrictive voting law are getting exactly what they wanted — preventing Texas voters from making their voices heard on issues that matter most to them,” End Citizens United said. “The alarming ballot rejection rates in Texas underscore why it is so important to election champions of protecting the freedom to vote.”
And where is Papa Joe when the most fundamental democratic right is being stripped from tens of thousands of Texans? Apparently giving lip service to ending the filibuster while ass-slapping Joe Manchin and fumbling his way through his second year of office.
Fort Worth Police Union Butt-Hurt Over “No” Votes on Third Armored Vehicle
Given the Fort Worth police department’s history of racially profiling Black and brown drivers, shamelessly meddling in local elections, and failing to discipline high-ranking officers for breaking the law, you’d think blue leadership would spend more time building trust in the community and less time trying to acquire military equipment.
Last week, three Fort Worth city councilmembers — Elizabeth Beck, Chris Nettles, and Jared Williams — voted to not accept federal grant monies for Fort Worth police to buy their third armored personnel carrier. According to the manufacturer, the vehicle can be fitted with gun ports and a wide range of weapon systems that can include M240 machine guns.
Although the measure passed with five councilmembers voting in favor of the $368,236 Bearcat, police union president Manny Ramirez blasted Fort Worth’s three progressive councilmembers for doing what their constituents demand — placing the safety of Fort Worth residents over the Fort Worth police’s perverse desire to militarize local law enforcement.
“It is a slap in the face to every Fort Worth police department member and their family members for these three councilmembers to put politics above the safety of our police officers,” Ramirez said in a public statement.
What’s a slap in the face to not just every Fort Worth police officer but all of us Americans is the militarization of local law enforcement. Since 1996, through the controversial 1033 program, the federal government has awarded nearly 10,000 jurisdictions with more than $7 billion in equipment. The preponderance of cops with rifles, helmets, allegedly “non-” or “less-lethal” weaponry, and combat vehicles has — you guessed it — not made our streets any safer. Released just months before police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the ACLU report “War Comes Home” documented the myriad ways in which militarized police “act aggressively and violently, target Black and Brown communities, and kill Americans at an alarming tempo.” Chickenshit white politicians and bullshit artists on TV will clutch their pearls and say protests like the Black Lives Matter ones last summer demand a military-grade response from local law enforcement. The truth is that over 95% of all BLM protests were nonviolent, based on research by Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, and of the small percentage that resulted in violence, vandalism, or something else negative, Radcliffe says, “Very often police or counterprotesters were reportedly directing [violence] at the protesters.”
So when you find yourself wondering whether or not our local boys and girls in blue need military-grade weaponry, just ask: If it’s used by the U.S. Army in wars overseas, does it have any place on our city streets?
No. The answer is no. And if you find yourself thinking “well, maybe,” then that’s because our biggest domestic terroristic threat is not BLM or “antifa” (whatever that is) or poor children crossing the border. Our biggest domestic terroristic threat is white supremacy. You wouldn’t think that by the way the cops let the Jan. 6 insurrectionists just waltz into the Capitol and how police across the country fired rubber bullets at BLM protestors and worse merely for being Americans, but it’s true. White supremacy is everywhere. Including the Republican party. Including local law enforcement. Until we see a Bearcat mowing down some Nazis, we’re a hard “no.”
While we may never know what Beck, Nettles, and Williams were thinking when they voted, it’s absurd to think they were trying to endanger Fort Worth police. The three likely understand that public safety should be based on building trust with local communities and employing best practices when it comes to investigating and preventing crimes. Over the past 20 years, 11 Tarrant County law enforcement agencies have received more than $4 million in military equipment, according to one federal government website. Armored vehicles, assault weaponry, and other types of “enhanced weapons” are designed to kill on a mass scale. If Fort Worth police are so enamored with military weapons, then they should join the Army.
Southlake Families PAC Bristles Under Civil Rights Probe
Donors to Southlake Families, the deep-pocketed right-wing PAC with $168,907 on hand, appear poised to initiate Phase 2 of Operation Upend Liberal Democracy. Last year, funds from the PAC supported backward-facing lunatics who now control Carroll school district’s board, Southlake city council, and the Southlake mayor’s office.
According to recent campaign finance disclosures, the PAC paid a $10,000 retainer to Meadows Collier, a Dallas law firm whose main focus is defending clients in “investigations, litigations, and other civil, criminal, and administrative controversies with governmental agencies.”
It would make sense that the fragile white donors to the PAC would seek legal counsel after the U.S. Department of Education recently launched an investigation into alleged civil rights abuses of three Southlake students. The tony suburb is quite possibly the most racist city in the United States, and the federal intervention is all that stands between Southlake Families donors and their plan to transform the wealthy community into a fantasy world where conspiracy theories are enshrined in law and minorities learn their place.
Tim O’Hare, the Republican county judge candidate who falsely claims he founded Southlake Families, alleges that the civil rights probe is a political hit job spearheaded by President Joe Biden.
“Joe Biden and the Democrats have no right to interfere in one of the highest performing school districts in Texas because our community chose to reject the brainwashing of our kids through Critical Race Theory teachings,” O’Hare said in a public statement, echoing false information about CRT peddled by Fox News and other right-wing propagandists who love the sound of their own whining over nonissues. “I am proud to have founded Southlake Families to counter the onslaught of CRT and other liberal ideologies into schools by electing strong, conservative candidates to our school board.”
Unlike Tarrant County’s judges and DA, federal investigators cannot be bought. The feds could not care less about the conspiracy theories that fuel political life in Southlake. No amount of money can stop the process that will inevitably bring Southlake’s school into compliance with federal laws — something the well-monied PAC’s supporters appear unwilling to accept.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Columns will be gently edited for factuality and clarity.