After a rough start, a “feel good” story about pockets of transparency in the Montgomery County government

After a rough start, a “feel good” story about pockets of transparency in the Montgomery County government

Conroe, June 10 – After a rough start to a mundane Open Records Act/Public Information Act request, certain departments within the Montgomery County government showed a serious commitment to “open government” by responding much faster to a subsequent request than Texas law would ordinarily require. The rapid responses from several County departments reveal a commitment to transparency that other pockets of resistance to open government, such as Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, do not have.

9th District Judge Phil Grant gets the “King of Transparency” award for the most rapid response.

Request for budget information to Phyllis Martin 

On May 26, 2017, at 8:02 a.m., the Publisher of The Golden Hammer, as a “private citizen,” made a request to County Auditor Phyllis Martin, Doyal, County Attorney J.D. Lambright, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley for their proposed budgets and budget packets submitted to the County Auditor as a Fiscal Year 2018 department budget request.

Without any problems whatsoever, Lambright, Noack, and Clark rapidly provided copies of their proposed budgets and budget packets in three days or less from the request. Riley never responded at all. Meador’s response is actually somewhat laughable considering the subsequent events. Meador responded, “Mr. Yollick everything that we have per your request is a duplicate of what is in the Auditor’s office.”

Meador and Riley produced no documents in response to the Open Records Act request. As usual, Doyal ignored all requests sent to his office.

Of course, everyone should realize the ulterior motive behind the Open Records Act request: the Citizens Budget Committee is diligently working on its report to the Commissioners Court to propose a complete Fiscal Year 2018 Budget.

Martin’s obstructionism

Phyllis Martin, the County Auditor, never responded to the request directly. Instead, she informed County Attorney Lambright that, while she had numerous documents responsive the Open Records request, she would not produce any of them. All County Departments had to submit their proposed budgets for Fiscal Year 2018 five weeks ago. Therefore, Martin should have all of the responsive documents.

Martin, however, told Lambright that she had written all of the budget proposals and she’s unwilling to produce her notes. Apparently, Martin has never heard of copying documents before you write on them, a fairly typical office practice for auditors who actually perform audits. Furthermore, Martin somehow believes that she could take documents that we subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act and make them no longer subject to disclosure merely by writing on them. (Martin has also never heard of Adobe Pro, which has a feature to scan and then redact marginalia from documents.)

Second Open Records Request; the Race Towards Transparency is on!

At the suggestion of Lambright, Yollick sent another Open Records Act request to every single Montgomery County department head at 11:26 a.m., Thursday, June 8, 2017. Yollick’s second Open Records Act request was identical to the first but sent to every County department.

Normally, ten (10) days is considered a reasonable time for governmental bodies to respond to an Open Records Act request.

Instead, in some ways, it became a “Race Towards Transparency.” Some of the responses were impressive because of their speed. Some of the responses were impressive due to the thorough nature of the responses.

The Race Towards Transparency

Much to the requester’s surprise, many County Departments provided very rapid turnaround to the Open Records Act request.

The winner of the Race Towards Transparency was 9th District Judge Phil Grant. Grant provided his proposed budget in a 6-minute turnaround!

The entrants in the Race Towards Transparency with military times of the document production were:

June 8, 2017

1126 Request Made

1132 9th District Judge Phil Grant documents with brief philosophical explanation in 6 minutes!

1159 County Court at Law Number Two Judge Claudia Laird documents with explanation and backup

County Court at Law Number Two Judge Claudia Laird.

1226 Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Edie Connelly’s documents with substantial statistical backup

1239 Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack for several departments he oversees

1335 Kelly Vidal of the County Purchasing Department documents

1342 Dr. Joanne Ducharme of Community Development Block Grants Department documents with explanation (what an interesting person!)

1349 Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams documents with extensive backup documentation

1452 Executive Director Christen Arnold of Montgomery County DWI & Drug Court

1501 Scott Smith, Director, Montgomery County Airport documents with detailed backup

1549 County Clerk Mark Turnbull documents with commentary

1607 Precinct 1 Constable Philip Cash documents with extensive backup documentation

1651 Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack documents

1658 Nathan Jensen, Director of Office of Court Administration, documents

June 9, 2017

0925 County Engineer Mark Mooney documents

1009 359th District Judge Kathleen Hamilton documents

1123 Marshall Shirley, Information Technology, documents with extensive backup

1135 418th District Judge Tracy Gilbert documents

1135 Tammy McRae, Tax Assessor-Collector, documents, massive backup, several email explanations, offer to speak by telephone

1146 Lorena Garcia, Custodial Services Director, documents

1252 Suzie Harvey, Elections Administrator, documents

1306 Don Carpenter, Lone Star Convention Center, documents, very helpful email explanation

1310 Kay Lee, Veterans Services, documents

1348 410th District Judge Jennifer Robin, documents, excellent email explanation

1522 Nathan Jensen, Director of Office of Court Administration, provided the documents for all of the other four County Courts at Law Judges (besides Judge Laird: Judge Dennis Watson (Court #1), Judge Patrice McDonald (Court #3), Judge Mary Ann Turner (Court #4), Judge Keith Stewart (Court #50

1525 435th District Judge Patty Maginnis documents

1649 221st District Judge Lisa Michalk documents

1659 Dodi Shaw, Human Resources and Civil Service Departments, documents

Additionally, while 284th District Judge Cara Wood did not provide the documents, she stated that they are available for public viewing and copying in her office during normal business hours.

The Race Towards Secrecy

Meador, Doyal, and Riley received the request for the documents 14 days ago. They have no excuse.

County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport’s husband complained about the document request in a Facebook post. Neither of the Davenports produced the budget documents, as that office seems to operate behind a veil of secrecy.

Including Noack and Clark, 32 out of the 60 County Departments responded.

County Judge Craig Doyal, the chief public information officer for the County under Section 552.201 of the Texas Government Code, did not respond.

 

 

 

 

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