Monday, October 17, 2011

"Too often, the public's business becomes private business."

Potential conflicts of interest at North Texas Tollway Authority examined


By Steve Miller
Texas Watchdog
Copyright 2011

"Too often, the public's business becomes private business," state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, says in a weekend story about the North Texas Tollway Authority in the Fort Worth Star –Telegram.

He's stating the obvious, but is anyone paying attention?

The context is the tollway authority and its heretofore ability to escape public scrutiny of its cozy relationships with vendors and consultants.

There have been issues raised for a while. For starters, as pointed out in the Star-Telegram:

This year, before being appointed chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority, former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr disclosed that his brother worked for the Locke Lord law firm, which provides much of the authority's legal services.

Other board members wondered if there was a conflict of interest. Barr explained that he had already sought an opinion from the authority's legal counsel -- who also works for Locke Lord -- and together they had determined it was ethically safe for him to vote on issues involving the firm.

Board member David Denison has a financial interest in a company that owns land in the path of tollway growth. But it’s OK, he said.

Denison wrote in a Feb. 11 memorandum to fellow board members and tollway staff: "There is no scenario under which that acquisition can result in any economic benefit to me."

In the next year, tollway authority revenue is expected to hit $480 million with debt of $9 billion. That’s plenty of authority.

A report commissioned by county judges in Tarrant, Denton, Dallas and Collin counties, set to be released Tuesday, may shine some light on this operation (which has at times displayed transparency). The report could even bring some reform of a board that has grown in both scope and taxpayer spending, although it's important to understand that the judges requesting the audit are the same ones who select board members for the tollway authority.

Other reform efforts have gone nowhere.

The state legislature in this past session considered a bill that would subject the tollway authority to a sunset review. It failed, as did another bill that would have required tollway authorities to undergo an annual financial audit by the state auditor.

On Friday, the authority’s fifth CEO in five years resigned, claiming he couldn’t get along with the board. Allen Clemson has a deal under which he gets 90 days of severance, but he could request to be paid through the end of his contract, which is May.


Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

© 2011 Texas Watchdog:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE