Never in this magazine’s history — 26 years and counting — have public and elected officials at every level of local government acted with such disregard for the public interest. One Weekly reader recently summed up the growing sentiment among Tarrant County residents who follow our reporting on inept and vindictive leaders at Tarrant County College (TCC), Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD), the district attorney’s office, and other branches of local government.
“Tarrant county is facing a crisis of legitimacy across the board,” the reader wrote. “The sheriff, TAD, medical examiner, and Tarrant County College are all full of people showing no regard for the people of the county they claim to serve and whose tax dollars they take while failing to earn.”
Based on our extensive and ongoing investigations, local officials are openly defrauding taxpayers, falsifying government documents, working under false titles, lying, cheating, and stealing as a means of doing favors for friends and clinging to power. It defies belief that the FBI or another law enforcement agency hasn’t raided Tarrant County’s Administrative Building for original copies of documents that we readily publish — week after week.
Countywide government malfeasance has reached levels that require an expansive examination of the commissioners court, high-ranking county elected officials, and groups like the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), TAD, and all levels of law enforcement, from the Fort Worth police department to the Sheriff’s Department and district attorney.
Beginning next week, we are launching a new series, City in Crisis, in which we will compile recent and new reporting as part of a countywide examination of local government. We’re going to name names and connect the dots between public officials and the public resources they misuse.
The Eighth Administrative Region that serves Tarrant County and is based in Fort Worth may have defrauded the county of hundreds of thousands of dollars by allowing a retired Tarrant County judge to preside over trials under the false title of senior judge.
Tarrant County’s family courts rarely grace the pages of the Weekly. The recent story of a local father who had to battle a Tarrant County family judge to see his dying and now deceased son was so egregious that we’ve decided that Tarrant County’s family courts deserve the same level of scrutiny we give other branches of local government. For too long, mothers and fathers have financially bled just for the right to see their children while wealthy and well-connected parents enjoy unfair advantages in court.
Tarrant County’s criminal judges are assigning important cases to many visiting retired judges who neglect to take their constitutional oath of office on the first day of assignment, thereby voiding their rulings. The recent assignment of visiting retired judge Lee Gabriel that recused Judge David Hagerman from the trial of former police officer Aaron Dean should be void because Gabriel refused to follow state law and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rulings that both mandate that visiting retired judges file their oath of office with each new assignment. Filing an oath of office would pause retirement payments, based on Texas law, so the constitutionally unqualified judges choose to put greed over jurisprudence.
The overuse of visiting retired judges allows active judges to take days or weeks off work while still earning salaries far north of six figures.
TAD has long-skirted public and media scrutiny. After two years of dogged reporting by this magazine, locals are showing up and speaking out against the appraisal district that sets property valuations that remain among the highest in the state. Just two weeks ago, hundreds of angry homeowners lined TAD’s Eastside headquarters. The public outrage wasn’t directed at soaring property taxes but rather the unprovoked attack on a local Realtor by high-ranking TAD staffers.
Government transparency is at an all-time low. Our office fields regular complaints about delayed or blocked open records requests. Once lawyers with the state attorney general’s office rule that certain documents must be released under the Texas Public Information Act, the requestees have 10 days to release the documents. The county district attorney’s office recently sat on dozens of pages of emails for seven weeks after the AG’s office ordered the release of the emails to one of our reporters. Last fall and spring, city leaders failed to physically post Fort Worth City Council’s agenda as required under the Texas Open Meetings Act. In November, council slashed days for public comment in half — from four to five times per month to the first and third Tuesday meetings only.
The recent overturning of the constitutional right to abortion has opened an avenue for local government to arrest and prosecute mothers and doctors for procedures that were constitutionally protected for nearly 50 years until just weeks ago. Indicted State Attorney General Ken Paxton — who is facing disbarment for inciting rioters to attack the U.S. Capitol last January and for spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election — is urging district attorneys across the state to use old anti-abortion laws and a new so-called trigger law to prosecute abortion providers. The most recent anti-abortion law was passed by state leaders last year and makes performing an abortion a felony that could result in a life sentence.
Tarrant County DA Sharen Wilson responded to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade by stating that local prosecutors will “follow Texas state law” that criminalizes abortions.
We reached out to Fort Worth police department to comment on how they will handle the pending criminalization of abortions in Texas.
FWPD has “no opinion to offer on the matter,” a spokesperson told us. “FWPD is focused on providing quality service in partnership with our community to create a safe environment for all in accordance with our mission statement.”
Through protests, livestreamed encounters with public officials, blogs, Facebook groups, and other grassroots efforts, conservatives, liberals, and folks of all political persuasions are rising up and speaking out against local government malfeasance, in no small part based on the award-winning journalism of our reporters.
What’s missing from that activism is a comprehensive examination of those government groups that explains who is ripping off taxpayers and why. For the indefinite future, and until every lead is exhaustively investigated, this magazine will be exposing corrupt and self-serving government employees and public officials.
Up first in our series will be Sheriff Bill Waybourn, Tarrant County’s family courts, and the district attorney’s office.
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. Submissions will be edited for factuality, clarity, and concision.