As the county’s regional water group prepares a legislative pitch to expand its boundaries, the Bell County Attorney is looking into possible conflicts with state law with a board director.
County Attorney Jim Nichols said he would research this week possible conflicts between current representatives on the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1’s board of directors and stipulations in the Texas Water Code, which governs those districts.
According to wording in the law, board representatives are not allowed to work as real estate developers within the boundaries of the district.
The district’s current boundaries are contiguous with the city of Killeen’s 1985 corporate limits even though the district serves several area communities. If the district’s plan to expand its boundaries to include all of its municipal customers passes the Legislature, it would put one developer/director within the boundaries.
Board president John Blankenship is a developer for the Bella Charca community in Nolanville, which would fall within the new boundaries once they are expanded and now falls under areas served by the district.
“I’m not sure how the boundary expansion will affect the current board members,” Garrett previously told the Herald. “I’ve seen the definition of developer in the Water Code. It appears to be pretty broad.”
Garrett did not comment on whether any board members are in current violation of the code.
The Bella Charca neighborhood purchases water from the Bell County WCID No.3, which is a wholesale customer of WCID No. 1.
Nichols told the Herald he would look into concerns this week on whether Blankenship could be in violation of the water code currently or with future plans.
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Water Code 49.052(a) specifies when a person is disqualified from serving as a member of a board. Pursuant to 49.052(c), any person who willfully occupies an office as a member of a board and exercises the powers and duties of that office when disqualified under the provisions of Subsection (a) is guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $1,000.
“The TCEQ does not have jurisdiction to enforce this section,” spokeswoman Andrea Morrow told the Herald. “Suspected violations of this section are typically reported by district residents to their local county attorney or district attorney for investigation. It is up to the local prosecutor to determine if charges will be filed for violating Section 49.052(a). In addition, the remaining board members are authorized to remove a disqualified board member and replace the board member with a person who would not be disqualified.”
District Attorney Henry Garza said Friday he was awaiting Nichols’ findings on the issue and would later decide whether or not to investigate.
What’s happened so far
In December, the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 board of directors voted to pursue a proposal that would extend the district’s boundaries to include all municipalities it served, while simultaneously taking away elections for board members in favor of an appointment system.
In January, the district, which serves Copperas Cove, Killeen, Harker Heights, Nolanville, Belton and Fort Hood, lobbied each entity for resolutions of support, which would more easily allow the plan to pass through the current session of the Texas Legislature Session.
During the Jan. 21 meeting of the Killeen City Council, the council voted to support expansion of the district’s boundaries, but did not offer support for the removal of elections to choose WCID-1 board members.
The next day, members of the WCID-1 board of directors said they misjudged the response Killeen residents and council members would have to the proposal, and its five members voted unanimously to keep elections.
The board decided to add two seats to the board, going from five members to seven. This would allow each municipal customer of the district to have a seat, with Killeen having three seats, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, Nolanville and Belton each with one and a representative from Fort Hood serving as an ex officio member.
In order for this to happen, WCID No. 1 would need an act of legislation that would amend the district’s bylaws.
“To date, notices have been published in both the Killeen Daily Herald and the Gatesville Messenger,” WCID General Manager Ricky Garrett said. “The notice is required to run for 30 days before a local bill can be filed. Also there has been a meeting with our Bracewell attorney and an attorney with the Texas Legislative Council regarding our proposed legislation. At this juncture a draft is being generated. I expect to have a version ready to discuss at our upcoming board meeting.”
The WCID board will meet Feb. 27.
Sec. 49.052. DISQUALIFICATION OF DIRECTORS. (a) A person is disqualified from serving as a member of a board of a district that includes less than all the territory in at least one county and which, if located within the corporate area of a city or cities, includes within its boundaries less than 75 percent of the incorporated area of the city or cities, if that
(1) is related within the third degree of affinity or consanguinity to a developer of property in the district, any other member of the board, or the manager, engineer, attorney, or other person providing professional services to the district;
(2) is an employee of any developer of property in the district or any director, manager, engineer, attorney, or other person providing professional services to the district or a developer of property in the district in connection with the district or property located in the district;
(3) is a developer of property in the district;
(4) is serving as an attorney, consultant, engineer, manager, architect, or in some other professional capacity for the district or a developer of property in the district in connection with the district or property located in the district;