Entire Commissioners Court (sans Doyal) receives Golden Hammer Award for more than $13 million of “slush fund” spending

Golden Hammer Award recipients Charlie Riley (left) and Mike Meador (right), with arms around each other on May 18, 2017.

Conroe, May 25 – All four of the Montgomery County Commissioners (without County Judge Doyal) received the Golden Hammer Award on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, for spending more than $13 million in “slush funds” during Fiscal Year 2017 so far. The “slush funds” are dollars that Doyal and the Commissioners have hidden from outside of the $377 million County government budget.

How the budget process should work

The purpose of county budget processes, under the Texas Local Government Code and the Texas Constitution, is to provide full public disclosure and understanding of the County Budget during the Commissioners Court deliberation and upon passage. There are lengthy and detailed requirements for what must happen for a County to adopt a budget. The process includes public hearings, which the Montgomery County Commissioners Court skipped for the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, a vote to adopt a proposed budget and tax rate at the conclusion of those hearings, and two other public hearings along with certain statutory disclosures. The initial public hearings must permit the public to participate and provide comments. Under the direction of Commissioners Mike Meador and Charlie Riley, the Commissioners Court excluded the public from participation during the so-called “public hearings” in July of 2016.

After the Commissioners Court finally approves a budget, they may not amend the budget other than for certain statutory exceptions. The statute, Section 111.010 of the Texas Local Government Code, permits two methods – and only two methods – of amending the approved Budget. First, the Commissioners Court may move funds around from one approved account to another. Second, they may amend the budget by spending extra funds outside of the budget only in the case of “emergencies” which constitute a “grave public necessity” that reasonable diligence and thought could not have foreseen.

In other words, the Commissioners Court can’t spend money they haven’t budgeted, unless it’s an emergency.

What the four County Commissioners do in Montgomery County

With the assistance of County Judge Craig Doyal, who has approved every “slush fund” expenditure, the County Commissioners hold huge amounts of money off-budget from previous budget years when they didn’t spend the funds within their Departments. Rather than lowering taxes to reflect the unspent funds that were not necessary in previous year’s budgets, the County Commissioners carry over those funds into “slush fund” accounts. Their method of extracting the “slush funds” is through secretive “budget amendments” that they make during the “consent” agenda in each Commissioners Court. On Tuesday, May 23, the Commissioners Court “budget amendments” fell under Agenda Item 8A2 on the “consent” agenda.

The “slush funds” are over and above the $377 million Fiscal Year 2017 Budget.

Before Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, here’s how much each Commissioner moved from his “slush fund” so that he could spend the money:

Mike Meador, Precinct 1 Commissioner = $4,969,647

Charlie Riley, Precinct 2 Commissioner = $906,027

James Noack, Precinct 3 Commissioner = $4,245, 680

Jim Clark, Precinct 4 Commissioner = $2,765,924.

Total “Slush Funds” Spent Through May 22, 2017 = $12,887,278.

On Tuesday, May 23, however, Commissioner Meador pulled an additional $128,714.38 out of his “slush fund” without specifying what that amount of money was for other than simply saying he wanted to spend it on machinery, equipment, and building. Meador and the Commissioners Court voted to call that “slush fund” transfer an “emergency” and a “grave public necessity.” Of course, none of them had any idea on what they voted.

Meador’s transfer this week brought his Precinct 1 total “slush fund” expenditure for Fiscal Year 2017 to $5,098,361.38. This week’s transfer brought the total “slush fund” expenditure for the four Commissioners to $13,015,992 for Fiscal Year 2017 to date.

The four Commissioners have trampled upon the due process for budgeting under the Texas Local Government Code and spent more than $13 million of funds for which they never accounted to the citizens within the budget process. They deserve the Golden Hammer Award for that, as they are hammering the taxpayers quite vociferously.

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