By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
GUN BARREL CITY–The Henderson County Grand Jury has been asked to look into allegations of wrongdoing by Tarrant Regional Water District. Outgoing Dist. 4 State Rep. Lance Gooden told those attending the November luncheon of the Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce that he testified in September on the matter.
Gooden said he strongly suspects wrongdoing and a cover up because his repeated Open Records requests for basic accounting documentation have gone unfulfilled and been repeatedly responded to by letters from lawyers.
“I’ve turned in open record requests in March and they have stonewalled me since then,” he told The Monitor Monday.
Correspondence from TRWD has come back four and five times stating the information Gooden requested is either not kept or further clarification is needed. Another time he was told he has to come down to their office in Austin to view it, he said. Some of his requests include accounting documents, list of expenditures and lobbying contracts, Gooden said.
“There are unanswered questions and possibly law breaking,” he said.
The requests were initiated because a Henderson County landowner asked Gooden to look into the TRWD for mismanagement of funds. The landowner charges that the TRWD owns a costly lakehouse, flies their people in and out by helicopter and provides a number of costly perks to insiders, all the while pumping more and more water from Cedar Creek Lake and raising the cost of raw water and the cost of water to its Fort Worth customers.
“I’ve never had this experience with any other governmental agency,” Gooden said.
Checking with the Henderson County Appraisal District found the TRWD owns 11 properties at Cedar Creek Lake, none of them with a residence.
The TRWD was created in 1924, as a political subdivision of Texas. TRWD provides raw water to more than 1.8 million people, including residents of Cedar Creek Lake, and maintains floodway levees along the Trinity River. It also has broad powers to take private land for eminent domain purposes.
“Any citizen has a statutory right in Texas to appear before a grand jury,” Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee said in a statement on the matter. “Furthermore, grand juries have broad power to subpoena witnesses and documents, and to conduct investigations.”
Gooden isn’t the only one having trouble gaining access to basic accounting information. A recently elected board member has also gone to the press complaining of the lack of transparency from the district.
Gooden could not be more specific about his testimony before the grand jury. “Secrecy is a hallmark of the grand jury and its proceedings for a number of reasons,” McKee’s statement explains. “One of those reasons is to protect the integrity of an investigation. Another is to protect the reputation of an individual who might ultimately be cleared by a grand jury investigation. I, along with any witness that testifies before a grand jury, am under a legal obligation to not divulge any testimony, questions or things that they have observed before a grand jury.”
TRWD representatives could not be reached for comment concerning Gooden’s allegation about misuse of funds or the grand jury investigation.
TRWD’s media spokesman Chad Lorance requested that an email be sent to him outlining Gooden’s allegations before he issues a statement. TRWD owns Cedar Creek Lake, and it was built as a water reservoir for Tarrant County in the mid-1960s.
On June 21, TRWD board member Mary Kelleher told a group of journalists and others at the University of Texas at Arlington that the water district was being uncooperative in providing public information.
TRWD Executive Director Jim Oliver responded to her remarks with several years worth of statistics on open-records requests. Kelleher responded that the stats, though probably correct, are misleading. Others including The Fort Worth Weekly have had similar experiences when it comes to gaining public information about the expenditures of the district. Every request is responded to within the 10 working days as the law requires but the requestor is given the runaround instead of the information.
Usually, a letter from a lawyer is received stating that district records do not correspond to information you are seeking. For instance, The Fort Worth Weekly reports: it’s well known that top water district officials put relatives on the agency’s lucrative payroll. But ask the agency for a list of relatives who work there. Ask how many of Oliver’s relatives work there. You won’t get a straight answer. You’ll get a non-answer from a lawyer. However, in Oliver’s mind, that counts as the agency responding to a public information request in a timely manner.
Oliver’s elitist, secretive attitude is one of the reasons Kelleher said she decided to seek a spot on the board in 2013.
Kelleher said Oliver was trying to muddy the waters with his statistics. “The general statistics you attached regarding the district’s responses to open records requests for the last few years imply that these statistics were discussed [at the meeting in June],” Kelleher wrote. “They were not. Instead, we discussed the district’s response to two particular requests for records – one from me, and the other from State Rep. Lance Gooden. It is indisputable that both these requests have been stonewalled … . There is no excuse for the district’s reluctance to freely share information with the public and elected officials when it is a taxing entity and a subdivision of Texas state government.”
Kelleher, who is a school psychologist by education, and employed by Tarrant County Juvenile Services as a Court Intake Supervisor for 22 years, closed with a final thought.
“If we are to move forward in the best interests of the residents and taxpayers of the district, your attempts to bully, intimidate, and harass public officials who demand transparency from the board must stop,” she said. “Your behavior has resulted in a hostile work environment for me and has damaged the reputation of the district.”
Elected to the board in 2013, she and her husband own farm acreage on the east side of Fort Worth.
Posted by : November 20, 2014| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
Posted by : November 9, 2014| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
ATHENS–After bomb-sniffing dogs went through every Athens ISD campus Wednesday, the all clear was given by 5 p.m. Of course, by then every student had been safely relocated to his or her home.
Students had to be relocated shortly after arriving to school due to a bomb threat called into the Athens Police Department around 9:30 a.m. The caller had told police that a bomb was planted at each campus.
Athens ISD wasn’t the only school to deal with terroristic threats Wednesday.
A Brownsboro High School student was arrested and charged with Terroristic Threat in response to satanic graffiti claiming “10 students would be sacrificed.”
In Navarro County, a Mildred ISD student told the bus driver, he intended on blowing up the school. The student was taken into custody and the threat was found to be an empty one.
Though probably a hoax, the bomb threat was taken seriously. Athens ISD spokesperson Toni Garrard Clay said every precaution had to be taken and buses, teachers and administrator started relocating students to various churches, The Cain Center and Trinity Valley Community College under very rainy conditions.
Word was spread via social and electronic media to keep parents informed and to avoid widespread panic and ensuing traffic jams, which would hinder the evacuation effort.
“Within an hour and a half of the initial phone call, all five of our campuses were safely relocated,” Clay posted in a day-after account.
Local law enforcement met with school officials as well as representatives of every campus to plan a sweep of every campus. KIDS (Kontraband Interdiction and Detection Services) also arrived with trained personnel and a bomb-sniffing dog.
They started with the two largest schools: Athens High School and Athens Middle School. By 3 p.m., the high school was cleared. By 5 p.m., every campus was declared safe.
Posted by : November 2, 2014| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
SEVEN POINTS–A Seven Points police officer has a broken shoulder after rolling his squad car Wednesday on Seven Points Boulevard (SH 274).
Patrolman Chris Watson was Kemp-bound around 4:30 a.m., Sgt. Roger Cullum told The Monitor, when either a black dog or a coyote darted in front of his Tahoe Chevrolet near Michael’s Patio. “Chris took evasive action and missed hitting the animal but caused his vehicle to roll into the ditch on the other side of the roadway, landing upside down,” he said.
“The vehicle was never air-borne,” adding that the officer was not in a vehicle pursuit at the time. Misinformation to that effect were widespread by Thursday.
The 2011 SUV is likely to be claimed a total loss by the insurance adjuster, he predicted.
The Department of Public Safety is investigating the incident.
The officer had been with the department for six months and was taken to the Emergency Room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Kaufman.
It was unknown when the officer might be able to return to light duty.
Though the wreck leaves the department with just one patrol car, once the insurer makes its ruling, a replacement will be ordered, Cullum said.