Brazos River Authority manager: We are not lacking in oversight, accountability

 

The Brazos River near Nemo  is so dry that vegetation almost covers a wide sandbar. Photo by Kathryn Jones/GR Current

The Brazos River near Nemo is so dry that vegetation almost covers a wide sandbar.

Photo by Kathryn Jones/GR Current

Phil Ford

General Manager/CEO, Brazos River Authority

During the current legislative session, there has been quite a bit of discussion regarding oversight and transparency as it relates to local government entities, like river authorities and other special districts. At times during these discussions, there seems to be a misconception that entities like us are somehow immune from public process, input, and participation or in some way try to avoid the “sunshine” laws that exist to make public entities more accessible.

While I cannot speak for all river authorities, I can say that we at the Brazos River Authority take public participation and openness very seriously. As a governmental entity, we strive at all times to inform the public, the legislature and respective state regulatory agencies as to our operations and actions.

The BRA maintains several layers of accountability. First, direct oversight of the BRA is vested in the board of directors, which is the policy-making arm of the organization. These individuals are appointed by the governor of Texas with the advice and consent of the state senate. The BRA is also accountable to the legislature.

The organization’s enabling statutes can be found under Chapter 8502 of the Special Districts Local Laws Code. These enabling statutes provide and enumerate each and every power the BRA has under state law. As an entity created by statute, the BRA is directly accountable to the state legislators since they have the ability to change the powers and duties of the BRA as they see fit via legislation.

Phil Ford

Phil Ford

The BRA is accountable to the cities, businesses, and individuals to whom we provide water. Since their payments for water fund the Brazos River Authority’s operations, there is a fiduciary duty to ensure the BRA is using their money wisely. These entities and individuals have the ability to challenge the BRA’s ratemaking with the TCEQ (Texas Commission for Environmental Quality) if they feel the water rates are not fair.  The TCEQ also maintains oversight of the BRA. This agency is responsible for granting water right permits which in turn allow the BRA to provide water to the basin. They require annual reports detailing water diversions and usage. TCEQ also grants the BRA permits to operate water and wastewater plants and maintains oversight of operations of these facilities.

With regard to transparency, the BRA undergoes annual external financial audits which are required to be submitted to the TCEQ, the State Auditor’s Office, State Comptroller, and the Texas Water Development Board. Additionally, the BRA is subject to audit by the State Auditor if approved by the Legislative Audit Committee.  The BRA also employs an internal auditor that reports to the board of directors. The internal auditor performs numerous management audits throughout the course of the year and reports the results to the BRA board of directors.

As for public access, the BRA is a public entity; therefore, the board of directors meetings are open to the public per the Texas Open Meetings Act. The board meets quarterly in January, April, July, and October. Agendas are posted in advance of the meetings on the authority’s website. The public is welcome to attend these meetings and may address the board. The BRA is also subject to the Texas Open Records Act, so records may be requested by a member of the public and made available in accordance with state law.  Financial reports and budgets are available on the BRA website and we provide copies of these reports upon request.

In conclusion, the information presented above should serve, if nothing else, to debunk the rumor that the BRA is somehow immune from oversight.  The facts conclude quite the contrary.  That said, as the legislature debates requiring further oversight of local government entities, including BRA, our position is to always err on the side of openness.  We believe we do a very good job of providing for public access and transparency now, but if asked to do more, we will comply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to Brazos River Authority manager: We are not lacking in oversight, accountability

  1. Jim Cagle Reply

    August 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Mr. Ford,
    Please share your response to Suzanne Gentling’s question.

  2. Suzanne Gentling Reply

    June 4, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Ford, for ellucidating the structure and responsibilities as defined by the legislature, for the Brazos River Authority. Your engagement with the citizens here is appreciated.

    The most troubling contradiction that I see, however,concerning authorities that manage and control our water, is that they depend entirely on the sale of the very resource they are instructed to protect in order to survive financially. Would you care to address this conflict of interest, please?

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