Conroe, April 12 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley received a very serious “Golden Hammer Award” yesterday during the meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court for their secrecy and anti-openness which led to the costly criminal prosecution of them under the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). The lead Special Prosecutor, Christopher Downey, will likely submit the invoices to the County over the next several days for his work and the work of his co-counsel in prosecuting Doyal, Riley, political consultant Marc Davenport, and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark for alleged violations of TOMA.
Special prosecutors receive payment under Section 2.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure which mandates that counties must compensate them from the county’s indigent legal defense fund. It is likely that the invoices for the prosecution of Doyal and Riley will be in the range of several hundred thousand dollars.
Doyal and Riley received the “Golden Hammer Award,” because they easily could have avoided the prosecution and the problems which arose leading to the prosecution by following the State of Texas’ policy of open government. The Golden Hammer is not suggesting that Doyal and Riley were guilty of any offense under the Texas Government Code or the Texas Penal Code. Nevertheless, they most certainly did not act openly with respect to the negotiations leading up to the November, 2015, road bond referendum.
The “Golden Hammer Award” recognizes instances in which County government leaders have committed conduct that was extremely wasteful and thereby “hammered the taxpayers.” Doyal and Riley chose not to conduct several negotiations concerning a potential November 2015 road bond referendum in open meetings, properly noticed 72 hours in advance, so that the public could attend and hear the deliberations.
There were serious questions whether Doyal and Riley participated in “deliberations” at all under TOMA and whether or not they were guilty of any offense. Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp never reached those issues, because on April 4, 2017, he granted Doyal’s, Riley’s, and Davenport’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges on the grounds that TOMA’s Section 143 under which the State of Texas prosecuted them is unconstitutionally vague, violates their right to free speech, and is bad public policy. The special prosecutors and the State of Texas are appealing the dismissal, so it’s quite possible that Doyal, Riley, and Davenport will have to face a jury trial in the future over the criminal charges against them.
Judge Doyal and Commissioner Riley could easily have avoided this mess, the cost to themselves, and the massive cost this County will suffer, merely by acting openly with respect to their negotiations with the Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC and others that eventually resulted in the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding with Doyal, Riley, and others as signatories, and further discussions about which road projects would be part of the November 2015 road bond referendum.
The State of Texas has adopted a policy of open government:
- that means members of governmental bodies should conduct deliberations, discussions, and debates in public, and
- that means their decisions should occur in public in open meetings, not behind the closed doors of political meeting rooms.
Doyal and Riley could have avoided the TOMA prosecution and the deep price the citizens of Montgomery County have paid by:
- instead of having private or secret meetings with the Texas Patriots PAC, they could have noticed open meetings with them, and conducted those meetings out in the open in the bright lights of the cameras or audio recordings of the Commissioners Courtroom;
- instead of hiring a political consultant Marc Davenport to do their bidding, Doyal and Riley could have met with directly with Bob Bagley, John Wertz, Bill O’Sullivan, Jon Bauman, Gordy Bunch, and Julie Turner directly in front of those same cameras;
- instead of behind-the-scenes actions to negotiate lists of road projects to go on the bonds, they could have discussed those lists in front of the public and with the public in an open meeting.
During the “Golden Hammer Award” presentation, the following points came out about why Doyal and Riley suffered the criminal prosecution and caused County taxpayers to suffer along with them by having to pay the cost of that prosecution:
- Doyal and Riley chose not to communicate directly with a group which they considered political adversaries
- Doyal and Riley chose to avoid public meetings which would have required that they prepare for open discussions about complex issues
- Doyal and Riley chose to avoid situations where they’d have to listen to different ideas rather than “those ideas emanating from the groupthink of their closest political supporters.”
During yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting and the “Golden Hammer Award” presentation, the Golden Hammer‘s Publisher noted that:
- “The time for consent agendas with secretive spending and policy items is long past.”
- “The time for secret animal shelter planning meetings is past. Doyal and Riley should have insisted that the discussion of the selection of the new Animal Shelter Director should occur in an open meeting.” There simply was no reason to hold those discussions in secret executive sessions.
The entire Commissioners Court – Doyal, Riley, Clark, Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, and Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack – need to conduct their policy discussions, considerations, and deliberations in public, open meetings for the world to see. Yesterday’s Commissioners Court was an illustration of the problems on several levels:
- Noack was the most vocal and seemed willing and ready to discuss several complex issues;
- Clark was also vocal and argued for the Court to begin having lengthy workshop sessions in order to provide an opportunity for more open discussion, but Doyal, Riley, and Meador voted down that proposal by a 3 to 2 vote;
- Doyal, Riley, and Meador, either out of political dislike of their colleagues, their personalities, or an unwillingness to speak their minds in public, showed that they were withdrawn from public discussion and only would speak when they couldn’t avoid doing so.
The “Golden Hammer Award” to Doyal and Riley not only represents hundreds of thousands of taxpayer funds they’ve wasted but also reveals the complete unwillingness of Doyal and Riley to act in the open shining daylight of “open meetings” with notice to the public and public scrutiny.