The Tarrant Regional Water District board on Thursday plans to meet in closed session to discuss a $300,000 payment to former general manager Jim Oliver.
One board member questioned whether the item should be discussed in executive session, especially considering that many of the details about the large payment — which was later revoked by the board, before the money actually changed hands — have already been made public.
“I think it ought to be done in an open meeting. I don’t know why we’re doing it closed-door,” water district board member Jim Lane said in a phone interview. “Everybody campaigned on accountability and transparency, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.”
District board president Leah King, who was elected in June, said the closed session briefing is needed because a legal team is reviewing the matter and wishes to report its progress, which could include legal advise.
Earlier this year, then-board president Jack Stevens used a clause in the water district’s regulations that gave him the power to authorize payments of $300,000 to Oliver, and $60,000 to Panther Island executive J.D. Granger.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram obtained documents showing that the water district’s regulations include a clause that gives board members broad authority to skirt district policies for a wide variety of reasons — including making exceptions to paid leave policies, employee discipline, harassment, use of district vehicles and retiree health benefits.
The board in June revoked the arrangement with Oliver, as well as “any similar exceptions” made by Stevens. King previously told the Star-Telegram that the board effectively revoked Granger’s arrangement, as well, because it was a similar exception.
However, according to the executive session agenda for Thursday, the board only plans to discuss Oliver’s payments. Granger and his arrangement are not mentioned on the executive session agenda.
There are a few differences between Oliver’s and Granger’s situations. Oliver has retired from his position as general manager, while Granger has continued as the Panther Island executive director.
Plus, Oliver has hired an attorney and is seeking to have his $300,000 payment restored. And, on Tuesday, Granger said in a phone interview that he has not retained a lawyer in the matter, and is focused instead on securing federal funding for the massive project.
“I’m not entertaining that, I’ve not spoken to a lawyer,” Granger said. “That’s a distraction.”
King said that if the board plans to take action on the executive session item, she expects that a robust public discussion will take place before the vote.
“Our intention is to share what is happening,” she said. “Certain things we may not be able to share, but for the most part it’s minimal.”
Oliver is seeking to have the $300,000 payment restored, and has hired attorney Jason Smith to represent him.
In a July 2 letter to Carlos Lopez, one of the lawyers working for the board, Smith argued that the board’s decision to revoke the $300,000 compensation to Oliver for unused paid leave “was hasty and contrary to the applicable law and TRWD policy.”
“Pursuant to TRWD Board Policy and apparent advice by TRWD legal counsel, Board Chair Jack Stevens apparently granted Mr. Oliver an additional year of leave benefits,” Smith wrote. “These benefits may be used during employment or retained by the employee at the end of their employment.”