A Tarrant Water District incumbent wants to rush hiring of manager before election

Luke Ranker
·4 min read

The longest serving Tarrant Regional Water District board director wants to push through the selection of a new general manager, the top executive of the agency, before voters have a chance to see potentially new leadership on the board.

General manager Jim Oliver is retiring after 35 years leading the Tarrant Regional Water District. His departure and the election for three at-large seats on the board offers the greatest chance for fresh perspectives for the agency, which supplies roughly 120 billion gallons of raw water to more than 2 million people and oversees the $1.17 billion Panther Island project.

The board in March selected Austin-based Lehman Associates to conduct a search for a new general manager. A list of job candidates has not been made public.

Jack Stevens, president of the board and the longest serving director at 17 years, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that his intention is to hire a new general manager before board members are sworn in after the May 1 election. That view was in contrast to other candidates, including incumbent director James Hill, who said the decision should not be rushed.

Hill, Stevens and Leah King are campaigning for another four year term. Voters will choose three at-large members for the Tarrant Regional Water District Board of Directors from a list of seven candidates, which also includes Mary Kelleher, Jeremy Raines, Charles “C.B.” Team and Glenda Murray Thompson. Board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard are not up for election.

Stevens argued during an editorial board interview of candidates that the current board “knows what needs to be done and knows the personalities involved.”

Asked if he thought it would be a good idea to hire a new general manager and stick that person with a potential new board of directors, Stevens said it was unlikely the board would change much.

“We won’t be leaving them in the hands of a different board,” he said before pausing. “Marty and Jim will be there, so that’ll be two. And there’ll be, uh, then if I’m reelected there will be three. Besides we’re going to hire someone who knows what’s going on.”

Stevens later said he had not seen a list of applicants.

Hill, who was first elected four years ago, said he thought the board should be methodical in choosing a new general manager and not hire someone ahead of the election.

“I want to make sure that we’re not rushing this or trying to make a decision on any sort of politically motivated time frame,” Hill said. “I would not be in support of any kind of approval either prior to an election or prior to a swearing in.”

During the editorial board interview, Thompson and Kelleher, a former board member who also ran in 2019, said they thought the choice should be made by whoever is elected in May. Raines said it would be wise for the board to wait to avoid the impression the hire was pushed through quickly for political reasons. Team, who ran in 2019, called hiring a replacement for Oliver “a herculean task” that deserved a national search.

Lane was not a part of the Editorial Board interviews because he is not up for election. He did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

King and Leonard make up the search committee and both have met with the contractor a few times, Leonard said. She said pushing the hiring through before the election was never discussed and a list of applications had not been delivered. Though Leonard thought there could be merit to the current board selecting Oliver’s replacement because they have the most knowledge of district, she said it was unclear if candidates would be vetted at the April 20 meeting.

“I don’t think it matters one way or the other if you want to know the truth,” she said of making the selection before May 1. “It’s just a matter going through the proper process.”

King said she hoped to vet a list that included internal and external applicants. She didn’t say how long that process would take.

“I don’t know that there’s even a time frame,” she said. “We’ll let the process play out.”