Editorial: On County government ethics, the citizens must go it alone; on County government spending, however, it’s a very different look and feel

Editorial: On County government ethics, the citizens must go it alone; on County government spending, however, it’s a very different look and feel

WARNING: IF YOU ONLY LIKE TO READ MATERIAL THAT AGREES WITH YOUR OPINIONS, YOU SHOULD NOT READ THIS EDITORIAL.

ERIC YOLLICK, The Golden Hammer

The Woodlands, June 9 – The decision of Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon this morning not to pursue criminal charges against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal for filming political advertisements inside of his County Office has greatly disappointed many people. The Golden Hammer, which has expressed doubts privately that anything would come of the circumstances, is not in the least bit surprised.

When it comes to government ethics, the citizens must go it alone. On County government spending issues, however, it’s a very different look and feel to the response and participation of the County government and its constituent elected officials and employees.

What are you up to, Yollick? What are you up to, The Golden Hammer?!

From the beginning, The Golden Hammer has made clear that its goal and its purpose is to reduce County government spending. While The Golden Hammer will continue to employ many tools to achieve that goal, let’s keep the eye on the ball.

The fingers of government and elected officials always point somewhere else.

At the age of 19, I fell into a philosophical abyss from which I’ve never ascended when I read three books and took them very seriously, even though they contain some contradictions of each other. The first of the books was the Holy Scriptures, which clearly state that one must attempt to do right every single time, regardless of the many mistakes we, as imperfect humans, constantly make. The second was Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged the theme of which is that collective action (government or other forms) is usually immoral. The third was John Locke’s Second Treatise On Government in which Locke argued that government’s two legitimate functions are serving as mutual protective associations – law enforcement and national security – but otherwise man has a moral right to enjoy the freedom of nature.

One time, political consultant Marc Davenport pointedly asked me if I have a “puppet master.” He clearly implied that Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack was my master at the time. My answer to Davenport was, “Yes! I have three masters when it comes to reforming government spending. Their names are Locke, [Thomas] Hobbes, and [Robert] Nozick.”

Several people have asked whether Yollick or The Golden Hammer has an “ulterior motive.” The clear answer is “Yes!” The ulterior motive is a laser-focused commitment to government spending reductions.

But why would anyone care about how much money government spends to give us all the things it gives us? Two reasons. First, when government taxes, it takes away a portion of our freedom. Second, when government overspends, it threaten fiscal collapse, as renowned economist and United States Senator (R-Texas) Phil Gramm made clear in a speech he made at College Station, Texas, in 1996.

If you haven’t caught on, the fundamental purpose of The Golden Hammer and its Publisher in all of these activites is to reduce the Montgomery County government’s spending by $100 million and increase funding for law enforcement and a road and bridge capital fund with $40 million of the $100 million of savings, for a net spending reduction of $60 million.

If you haven’t caught on, the fundamental purpose of The Golden Hammer and its Publisher in all of these activities is to reduce the Montgomery County government’s spending by $100 million and increase funding for law enforcement and a road and bridge capital fund with $40 million of the $100 million of savings, for a net spending reduction of $60 million.

When we – meaning you and I – achieve those goals, then WE will have the moral authority to move on to other taxing jurisdictions. They won’t be able to make the argument “why didn’t you clean up your own backyard,” because we’ll have done so. What’s the next jurisdiction after the County? I’m not telling, but it’s partly your decision along with mine.

Ethics: Ligon and Henderson

Ethics reform is important, because unethical behavior is a tool of government to take away our freedom. Nepotism, secrecy, conflicts of interest, and downright corruption are all means of using government funds for improper purposes. Secrecy helps government get away with poor fiscal management and wasteful spending.

In the area of ethics, District Attorney Brett Ligon has talked a big game. At the January 10, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting and previously, Ligon has argued that it’s time “for the commissioners to reach for the stars…Instead of just the minimum requirements…let’s have some real ethics reform. Why can’t Montgomery County lead the state and nation in ethics compliance?”

Ligon answered his own question today.

Brett Ligon: “Why can’t Montgomery County lead the state and nation in ethics compliance?” Ligon answered his own question today.

Ligon based his decision not to charge Doyal upon discussions with Doyal’s attorney Rusty Hardin, threats that the prohibition of using public facilities for political purposes was somehow unconstitutional, and a tortured interpretation of Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code. This decision was not the first disappointing public integrity decision of Ligon.

Many readers of The Golden Hammer have wanted this newspaper to attack the personal integrity of Ligon and Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson.

Fundamentally, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to depend on elected officials to enforce ethics rules and laws. They don’t want to go after their own. Going after elected colleagues would make budgeting, daily operations, and intergovernmental cooperation far more difficult for them. As citizens, you can’t seriously expect these people to swim against the tide of human nature. (Notice, that The Golden Hammer is not asserting that they’re ethically right.)

Sorry, everyone, but Ligon in many ways is a wonderful District Attorney. When I ride my bike down the street, I genuinely feel safer, because he is very tough on violent criminals, people who commit non-political property crimes, and reckless drivers (both drunk and sober).

Sorry, everyone, but Henderson in many ways is a wonderful Sheriff. When I ride my bike down the street, I genuinely feel safer, because he is very tough on violent criminals, people who commit non-political property crimes, and reckless drivers (both drunk and sober).

There’s an interesting exception within the County government and he’s an exception whom The Golden Hammer has roundly criticized on several occasions. His name is County Attorney J.D. Lambright. Lambright has fought for ethics reform. He’s fought behind-the-scenes and he’s fought openly. He faced off with Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley when Riley tried to get appointments for two of his closest personal and political friends, former Sheriff Tommy Gage and Troy Stuckey, on the new County Committee on Ethics. Lambright also expressed concerns about the appointment of Davenport next-door-neighbor Dale Inman to that committee.

County Attorney J.D. Lambright urged the Commissioners Court members to avoid any appearance of impropriety. The Meador-Riley-Doyal axis quickly sought to swat Lambright down.

Generally, it appears that the Commissioners Court ignores Lambright on many big issues involving ethics when Lambright provides advice to his “clients” in private.

Clearly, citizens can’t count on Doyal or Riley on ethics issues. Doyal and Riley resisted the provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act so hard that they actually had that fundamental Texas policy in favor of “open government” declared unconstitutional. Doyal made the same threat of a constitutional challenge to Ligon over the Election Code provision prohibiting the use of public facilities for campaign advertisements.

In short, citizen vigilance – from The Golden Hammer and from others – will remain the best source of ethics reform, both in government operations and at the ballot box.

The different look and feel of spending reform

County spending reform has a very different look and feel to it.

Ligon has consistently cooperated with information requests for the Citizens Budget Committee and The Golden Hammer on budget matters. Ligon requested that the Grand Jury hear a presentation from this newspaper’s Publisher and from Bill O’Sullivan on the need for a real, full, and independent audit of the County’s finances. Ligon has stuck his neck out on those issues and has shown every willingness, as recently as this morning, to continue to do so.

Henderson has taken a similar approach to Ligon. Henderson and his leadership team met with and provided substantial information to the Citizens Budget Committee. Henderson has engaged in lengthy discussions with Yollick and others about Ayn Rand, libertarian philosophy, and even the “anarchy” of President Trump’s current methods of bringing reform to the federal government. Henderson, his Chief Deputy Ken Culbreath, and his Finance Director Carol Thompson have implemented zero-based budgeting and have made strenuous efforts to bring fiscal reform to the Sheriff’s Office in general and to the Jail in particular.

Even Craig Doyal has indicated some willingness to look at spending reductions. Despite the initial fallacy of his press release in which he tried to argue that “fiscal conservatism” meant increasing government spending, Doyal has not completely obfuscated the budget process.

Meanwhile, two Commissioners – Noack and Clark – have shown enormous leadership on spending and budget issues during the past five months. Numerous County Department heads have proposed substantial spending reductions for Fiscal Year 2018. Even some of the law enforcement departments, which the Citizens Budget Committee had exempted from proposed spending cuts, have proposed reductions in their spending anyway.

Even County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport has shown some willingness to discuss spending reductions.

Only one person inside of the Montgomery County government has openly shown a complete unwillingness and resistance to spending reductions: Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador. Meador is unredeemable. He is the worst spender of them all. He’ll spend tax dollars just to keep the tax rate higher. He has no restraint whatsoever.

Stay away from personal vendettas

Politicians and elected officials are very sensitive people. They believe the slightest criticism is a personal vendetta. Either you’re with them or you’re against them. They’re not people with subtlety. They don’t recognize nuances.

That doesn’t mean that citizens should only support or oppose absolutely everything about every politician. Sometimes, even Mike Meador gets something right. Sometimes, Charlie Riley stands up for conservative principles, even though that’s pretty rare.

There’s nothing that should ever stop you from sitting down in a two-way communication with any of these people. If you begin the communication with name-calling – “idiot,” “fool,” or some expletive – you don’t communicate but destroy the communication. If Mike Meador or Craig Doyal will sit down and have a meaningful conversation, every citizen should regard that as an opportunity, whether you support them politically or not. Don’t put up with euphemisms from them in those conversations, but try to maintain a meaningful dialogue.

Conclusion

Let’s keep the eye on the ball. Let’s continue to deploy all of our tools. As citizens, we must be vigilant. As citizens, we must be vocal. As citizens, we must express our freedom and our opinions with firmness. Ligon’s wrongful decision today is a minor, actually tiny, setback.

Let’s reduce the fiscal size of our Montgomery County government, so we have the moral authority to move to other jurisdictions and get them to make substantial spending reductions as well, so that our children and our grandchildren may enjoy the freedom of America just as we have.

That’s the real purpose. That’s the ulterior motive.

 

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