“A million here, a million there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money”: where the Montgomery County Commissioners Court goes completely awry

“A million here, a million there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money”: where the Montgomery County Commissioners Court goes completely awry

Image: United States Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (right), the Senate Republican Leader, arguing with Senator Mike Mansfield (left), the democrat leader, in 1967, a time when Republicans actually against too much government spending.

Conroe, May 18 – Arguing about too much government spending, United States Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen once said, “A million here, a million there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” That’s where Montgomery County’s Commissioners Court stands today. They’re spending millions of dollars without even considering the massive expenditures they’re making all based upon terrible advice from the County Auditor and the foolish belief that they must do so. Meanwhile, the taxpayers get to foot the bill to support the out-of-control spending habits.

How they spend…

Every two weeks, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court meets on Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m., twice a month. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, at 9:30 a.m. in the Sadler Administration Building on Conroe. They have a written agenda, which County Judge Craig Doyal carefully crafts to obscure the serious actions the Commissioners Court takes. One of the methods of hiding their actions is creating a so-called “consent agenda” of items which they don’t discuss. The “consent agenda” is several pages long and by one vote all five members of the Commissioners Court “approve” the consent agenda. Listen carefully when they vote; you’ll hear the sound of millions of your tax dollars flying out the door with the members of the Commissioners Court not expressing a care in the world. Even conservative Commissioner James Noack, Precinct 3, usually votes for the entire “consent agenda.” It’s a monstrosity.

Almost always, the first item on the “consent agenda” is an item under the “County Auditor” entitled “Consider and Approve Payment of Accounts.” Only six (6) words, yet it’s so much. Behind that agenda item is the “backup” material that is often between forty (40) and one hundred (100) pages long of single-spaced listings of the “accounts” for which the Commissioners Court will authorize payment. Usually, the “accounts” exceed $7 or 8 million. None of the members of the Commissioners Court seem to examine, inspect, investigate, discuss, or deliberate with respect to those millions of dollars spent.

The expenditures often include payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to engineers and contractors who contribute substantial sums of money to Doyal and the Commissioners. Often those “accounts” include payments to the Commissioners, their family members, or elected officials.

The obvious question: why do the County Judge and the four County Commissioners not make the effort to review the bills?

Several months ago, The Golden Hammer or its Publisher began to raise the question why no one seems to pay any attention to the millions of dollars of accounts approved with the wink of an eye at each Commissioners Court meeting. In 2003, when the Montgomery County Hospital District went through some major reforms, some of the Board of Directors members began to raise questions about individual line items of the proposed bills the District staff wanted to see paid. When the Board members took that new approach, it radically changed the spending habits of the District and its employees.

But The Golden Hammer has asked both County Auditor Phyllis Martin and three of the four County Commissioners on several occasions why they don’t review the bills. The answer? Because Martin and the Commissioners claim that they are legally obligated to pay those bills no matter what, so when a County vendor submits an invoice, they must pay it!

Wow! Vendors don’t have to worry about review of their charges or invoices; all they do is submit them and the ignorant Commissioners Court just pays them by rote.

The true answer…indifference to spending other people’s money.

There is absolutely nothing under Texas law that would require a Commissioners Court blindly to pay the accounts which the County Auditor or vendors present to it. In fact, under Article V, Section 18, of the Texas Constitution, the County Commissioners and County Judge have the legal duty to “exercise such powers and jurisdiction over all county business.”

The County Judge, Doyal, and the County Commissioners just don’t want to take the time. They’d rather let other, less important, people look at the bills and then pretend that they must pay them by rote, since they’re spending other people’s money.

Then, however, a troublemaker came along, just like the troublemaking Board member who descended upon the Montgomery County Hospital District back in 2003. In this instance, the trouble has come from David P. Weeks, the Criminal District Attorney of Walker County, the County Seat of which is Huntsville, Montgomery County’s neighbor to the north.

Walker County Criminal District Attorney David Weeks.

In Walker County, the Commissioners Court decided to enter an order “authorizing the [County] Treasurer to pay certain types of claims and bills prior to presenting the actual claims or bills to the Court.” In other words, for certain payments, the bureaucrats of the Walker County government want to pay the bills and ask for Commissioners Court approval later. If Martin and the Montgomery County Commissioners were correct that they can’t review the invoices, then, of course, Walker County could follow a similar procedure. If Montgomery County doesn’t have to review the bills, then why should Walker County do so?

Weeks, the Criminal District Attorney for Walker County, wouldn’t accept that.

In his request for an Attorney General Opinion on the Walker County procedure, District Attorney Weeks noted previously approved claims such as contracts, payroll, debt obligations, and utility payments were approved during the annual budget process. Weeks, however, explained to Attorney General Ken Paxton that he realized that two prior Attorney Generals – John Cornyn (a Republican) and Jim Mattox (a democrat) – both made clear that payment of County accounts or claims was not permissible without a formal Commissioners Court approval of the specific payments to occur. Clearly, Walker County’s Weeks realizes that the likely answer to such a proposed procedure of not having Commissioners Court review before payments occur is that it is not permissible.

In Montgomery County, as in all counties, the County Treasurer is the person who actually cuts the checks after the Commissioners Court has approved payments. Texas Local Government Code Section 113.041(c) states, “[t]he county treasurer may not disburse money out of the county treasury without an order for payment from an officer who is authorized by law to issue the order.”

Here’s the law!

In reality, however, Texas law already requires the Commissioners Court to review and approve the payment of accounts.

Texas Local Government Code Section 115.021 mandates, “The commissioners court of a county shall audit and settle all accounts against the county and shall direct the payment of those accounts.” Texas law also requires that the commissioners court must “examine all accounts and reports…and shall compare the accounts and reports with the accompanying vouchers.”

Texas Local Government Code Section 115.021 mandates, “The commissioners court of a county shall audit and settle all accounts against the county and shall direct the payment of those accounts.” Texas law also requires that the commissioners court must “examine all accounts and reports…and shall compare the accounts and reports with the accompanying vouchers.”

The Montgomery County Commissioners Court, especially County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark should examine Texas law and follow it. They should do their jobs, which include to EXAMINE all accounts and reports and COMPARE the accounts and reports with the accompanying vouchers.

Prediction: they won’t do it.

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