Editorial Update: Montgomery County’s Spaceman: ethics can’t be “aspirational” if we can’t even reach the floor, plus a tribute to two courageous ladies

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: THIS EDITORIAL WAS UPDATED ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2017, TO REFLECT CURRENT EVENTS.

An astronaut on a spacewalk. While he reaches for the stars, he has no floor on which to stand.

Eric Yollick, Publisher, The Golden Hammer

Back in February when the Montgomery County Commissioners Court considered whether to pass a Code of Ethics in order to comply with a Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) requirement, so the County could continue to receive State funding for road projects, Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon appeared before the Commissioners Court and suggested they consider adopting a Code of Ethics that went far beyond the minimum TxDOT requirements. Ligon suggested that they “reach for the stars” and adopt an “aspirational” ethics code that provided stringent rules to inspire Montgomery County citizens that our elected officials went far beyond the floor of compliance with criminal laws and truly aspired to do the right thing.

Of course, the Commissioners Court ignored Ligon entirely and passed a Code of Ethics that barely even met TxDOT’s minimum requirements for receiving state road funds. The Code of Ethics has no enforcement teeth whatsoever.

Since then, we’ve discovered that Ligon is the Spaceman. A Grand Jury has investigated Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Magnolia Independent School District Todd Stephens, and a host of County employees for using government property (County and school district) for personal or personal political use. The investigation has gone forward for three months.

We should appreciate the hard work of Ligon, Assistant District Attorney Tyler Dunman, and the entire team within the District Attorney’s Office. They’ve done good work on this investigation to the extent that the outside world can ascertain what’s happening with a Grand Jury investigation, which is secret by law.

Since then, we’ve seen a Liberty County Commissioner, Mike McCarty, convicted and removed from office for using public property and services for his personal use. McCarty’s removal from office resulted from his conviction of misdemeanors. Please see “Liberty County Commissioner McCarty’s Conviction and Removal From Office Raises the Spector of Montgomery County’s ‘Goetz-Gate’ Scandal: ‘This Jury Sent a Message that They Wanted Change,” The Golden Hammer, April 25, 2017.

Since then, we’ve seen the Montgomery County Judge, Craig Doyal, violate Texas law by filming two political advertisements right inside his County Judge’s Office. The District Attorney, Brett Ligon, not only took no action but then went so far as to declare there was nothing wrong with Doyal’s conduct. Ligon’s inaction and public condonation of Doyal’s use of his office for advertising particularly excited Wayne Mack, the janitor-turned-JP, who declared there was nothing wrong with Doyal’s conduct and that every elected official did the same. In a sense, Mack was correct about the last part of his reaction, that other elected officials did the same in Montgomery County. Almost immediately after Ligon made his public announcement, two elected official’s campaign websites disappeared temporarily, the campaign advertising with photographs and videos filmed in their official offices disappeared, and the websites reappeared without the offending photographs and videos. (Many people captured the before websites and videos prior to the removal.) Did Montgomery County even reach the floor of compliance with criminal and election laws? No. Not even close.

Since then, substantial information has appeared that Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have used the Precinct 2 County Barnyard – behind a locked fence and gate – to store private property, that they’ve gotten County employees to construct plumbing and electrical improvements for them, and that they’ve used Precinct 2 employees and equipment for personal purposes. The investigation took a major turn when facts surfaced that Riley has used the school district property and resources of the Magnolia Independent School District for his political purposes for years. In that instance, did Montgomery County even reach the floor of compliance with criminal laws? No.

Since then, in the October 15, 2017, edition of The Golden Hammer, and thanks to the courageous persistence of two remarkable ladies – Mrs. Ginger Russell of Magnolia and Mrs. Kelli Cook of Montgomery – it has come out that Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley has stored his personal musical equipment in the Administration Building of the Magnolia Independent School District and has utilized Magnolia ISD trucks and employees for personal and political purposes. Russell and Cook caught Riley, Magnolia ISD Superintendent Todd Stephenson, and other County and school district employees red-handed in the act. In that instance, did Montgomery County even reach the floor of compliance with criminal laws? No.

By the way, that was Charlie Riley himself and his truck unloading the equipment in the photographs which Russell took around 8 p.m., October 14, 2017, in the parking area of the Magnolia ISD Administration Building.

Now, let’s be fair. Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon is a remarkably talented attorney, trial lawyer, and politician. His work as the enforcer of laws against violent crimes in our community is remarkable. He makes me feel safer when I’m out on the road, because I know he is our District Attorney enforcing laws against crimes.

Ligon is placing the citizens of Montgomery County in a terrible position, however. We’re less than 90 days away from the Republican Primary Election on March 6, 2018. As of today, the Grand Jury investigation continues and will likely continue, by extension of their term, past the beginning of the year. Undoubtedly, there are massive political forces from the political “establishment” pushing Ligon to delay any determination by the Grand Jury – or unsealing of their determination – until after the March 6 Election.

That’s not how public integrity investigations should work. Public integrity investigations should be public and conducted with integrity. The investigation should run its course and then go into the hands of the Grand Jury to make a decision expeditiously. It simply would be wrong for Ligon and his team to endorse Doyal, Riley, and possibly others by delaying the Grand Jury’s determination.

As a law enforcement leader, Ligon should be a 16-ton anchor unmoved by the “establishment’s” powerful inside politics.

As voters, the citizens of Montgomery County should have disclosure of the investigated facts, which can only occur if the Grand Jury rules and its ruling is made public through an appropriate disclosure.

Unfortunately, when it comes to “public integrity” laws involving the members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, Brett Ligon has seemed like a spaceman floating outside his ship on a spacewalk. He has infinite aspirations that “reach for the stars” to use Ligon’s own phrase. But he has no floor on which he stands, because he hasn’t required Doyal, Riley, and possibly others even to reach the floor of criminal public integrity laws.

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