Remembering “Landslide” Clyde Picht
Clyde Picht had an uncanny nose for misconduct, and he always pointed it out without any niceties. In a 2006 Weekly cover story, Picht — the former Fort Worth city councilmember who died Friday at age 87 — called out then-Mayor Mike Moncrief for awarding city contracts to oil companies that were directly profiting Moncrief.
“If he gets any money from them, he sure as hell shouldn’t vote on those issues,” said Picht, who served on city council from 1997 to 2005.
History has vindicated Picht on many of the issues he took hard stances for and against. Calling out the influence of Big Oil on local politics is a common trope these days, but many elected officials at the time failed to see the Barnett Shale for what it was and continues to be: a shell game.
Early into the development of Panther Island, the $1.2 billion development on the North Side by the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), Picht questioned the motivations behind the “flood control” project.
“We don’t have a flooding problem in the areas just north of downtown now,” he told the Weekly in 2011. “These parks get a little flooding every now and then but nothing like you will see if the bypass channel is built. It is just basic engineering. Move water into a more compact and shorter waterway, and those downstream will get more water coming their way.”
The bulk of federal funds appropriated for Panther Island have yet to materialize, and the project has effectively stalled, although TRWD directors see a bright future for the project.
News of the former councilman’s death has saddened friends and family who admired Picht both for his lifelong service to his country and refusal to denigrate those he disagreed with.
Layla Caraway, who knew Picht the last 12 years of his life, said the former city councilmember had a penchant for “speaking the truth, even when most didn’t want to hear it.”
Online comments from people who held different political viewpoints than the conservative Picht have been respectful or even full of praise, she said.
“I think that’s a pretty good legacy to leave,” she said.
Picht was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was active in the Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts. After earning a BS in Forest Management from Utah State University, where he was also enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, he worked for the U.S. Forest Service fighting forest fires and managing recreational areas. A subsequent 22-year career in the Air Force saw him reach the rank of lieutenant colonel after several stints overseas, including a combat tour in Vietnam that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart.
After retiring in 1978 from his post at Carswell Air Force Base (now Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth), Picht began a second career as a flight instructor for American Airlines. He retired in 1996 after 18 years of training flight crews.
Picht then turned his attention to civic endeavors and public service, first as the president of the Wedgwood East Neighborhood Association, then as city councilmember for District 6. Picht won his council seat by a scant 10 votes, which earned him the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Landslide Clyde.”
In his last year in office, Picht won the Weekly’s staff choice for Best Elected Official.
“During his long council career, Picht was about the only one in City Hall who stood up against all the massive tax breaks being handed out like candy to the rich,” the Best Of issue read. “Don’t expect him to be on the sidelines for long — he’s taken the first steps to run for a spot on the board of Tarrant Regional Water District, which will oversee the biggest potential tax-grab of our time,” Panther Island.
In 2006, Picht ran against and ultimately lost to Jim Lane in his bid for a seat on the TRWD’s board, and he lost a three-way mayoral race to Moncrief in 2009. Throughout his tenure at City Hall and well after, Picht was a constant source of insight into the inner workings of local government. When Weekly reporters had questions, Picht laid bare the facts as he saw them.
Ahead of several 2012 proposals that aimed to weaken the city’s code of ethics, Picht reminded our readers what was at stake.
“The ethics code,” he said, “was created to hold city officials in check, not to protect them, so to have the city attorney, whose salary is set by the city council and who serves at the pleasure of that council, rewrite the city’s ethics code … well, I’m not sure that the city attorney is the best person to write the code meant to keep those officials in check.”
As recently as June, the Weekly republished a past quote from Picht to illustrate the city’s permissive approach to governing the Fort Worth police department’s Crime Control and Prevention District (CCPD), which is fueled by a half-cent city tax. Fort Worth city councilmembers have governed the roughly $85 million annual fund since 2010 — the year Moncrief disbanded independent citizen oversight over the tax funds. Many civic-minded individuals and groups are calling for the restoration of independent oversight of the CCPD.
“A large part of the crime district budget has just been […] for just buying things” that the police wanted, Picht said in 2004, referring to how the CCPD is viewed by critics as a slush fund.
Caraway said the world won’t be the same without Picht.
“His spirit, wit, integrity, and sense of humor were unmatched,” she said. “His drive to right wrongs and call out cronies was an extension of his military career, which was the stuff of legends. To many, he was a hero. To me, he was a dear friend, and I miss him already. As he would say in closing, ‘Cheers.’ ”
Picht’s wife of 65 years, Emeline “Tru” Picht, died in June from complications related to Alzheimer’s. Picht is survived by his four children — James Picht, Renée Thelin, Wendy Picht, and Steven Picht — as well as three grandchildren. The Picht family plans to hold a memorial for him when it is safe to do so publicly.