How “open government” should work: from Stephanne’s mind’s inner recesses to enactment

County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport (right) and Lindsey Doyal, Craig Doyal’s daughter (left).

Conroe, April 20 – County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport introduced the idea of a “reorganization” of her County Department, which has six employees, in early September, 2016. Her proposal faced much trouble and some opposition from the County’s Human Resources Department and from two of the members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court. The proposal finally passed on March 14, 2017, the day when County Judge Craig Doyal and Davenport knew Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack would be on a spring break vacation with his family.

Davenport’s trouble with her proposal is a textbook example of how the secrecy of Doyal’s Commissioners Court operates in contrast to the way an “open government” could operate. Sadly, in this instance, the citizens were the primary victims.

STEP #1 IN THE SECRETIVE COUNTY GOVERNMENT: Plans, secret queries, and arguments.

Davenport decided in her mind to “reorganize” her Department. It’s unclear what she really planned, because she carefully avoided any public disclosure of any of her plans for fear that the public might seek to provide input. Around the same time – in September, 2016, County Judge Craig Doyal asked one of his colleagues, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, what Noack would think of the idea of promoting Doyal’s daughter, Lindsey Doyal, a Treasurer Department employee, to the position of Assistant County Treasurer with a nice pay raise.

Around September 16, 2016, Davenport submitted some Position Description Questionnaires (PDQs) to the Human Resources Department. The PDQs reflected that Davenport had prepared them, that she named Lindsey Doyal to the new position of Assistant County Treasurer with a contemporaneous pay raise, and that Davenport made a few other changes in the organization of the job functions of her four other employees as well. It was all nice and secret.

County Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw and Assistant Director Kathy Flowers reacted very negatively to the PDQs and proposed “reorganization” in a meeting between them, Davenport, and Lindsey Doyal, in which Shaw and Flowers raised concerns about “nepotism,” arising from Lindsey Doyal’s being the daughter of Judge Craig Doyal. Davenport and Doyal found Shaw and Flowers offensive.

Davenport maintains that the mention of a promotion for Lindsey Doyal in the PDQs was a mistake, but, of course, she refuses to name the person who made the mistake. In the same speech on March 14, 2017, when Davenport told the world that Shaw and the Human Resources Department lacked “honesty” and “integrity,” Davenport also told us that she would not name the person who prepared the PDQs submitted in Davenport’s name with the promotion of Lindsey Doyal in writing, because Davenport doesn’t want to “dwell on the negative.”

HOW STEP #1 SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED

Every one of those steps should have been open, transparent, and in public under the policy of the Texas Legislature in favor of “open government.”

Davenport should have announced her planned reorganization idea in a press release and posted the plan on her County website. County Judge Doyal should have asked Noack in an open Commissioners Court meeting what Noack thought of the idea to give Doyal’s daughter a major promotion.

Shaw, Flowers, Davenport, and Lindsey Doyal should have posted on their respective Departmental websites that they planned to have a meeting to discuss a reorganization of Davenport’s County Treasurer’s Department and invited the public to attend and offer input.

That way Davenport could easily have discovered the alleged “mistake” in the PDQs giving Lindsey Doyal a big promotion. There never would have been any fuss whatsoever. A citizen who follows County websites could have caught the “error,” reported it, and ended the problem.

STEP #2 IN THE SECRETIVE COUNTY GOVERNMENT: Rumors, Doyal’s “Hit List,” in-fighting, failed lobbying.

Rumors began to fly among the County government’s employees that County Judge Doyal and Davenport were seeking a big promotion for Doyal’s daughter, Lindsey Doyal.

The meetings and communications between the Human Resources Department, Doyal’s office, and the Treasurer’s office were nothing less than toxic. Davenport raised her voice to Shaw and Flowers during several meetings. Davenport wrote a very harsh letter criticizing Shaw and Flowers on January 9, 2017, and distributed the letter first to Doyal and then, through him, to the rest of the Commissioners Court.

Noack tried to come to the defense of Shaw because he respects her professionalism and quiet integrity. Noack and Craig Doyal exchanged nasty letters in which Noack accused Doyal of enforcing his political “Hit List” which named County employees who didn’t support him when he ran for County Judge in 2014. Doyal accused Noack of illegally leaking documents from an “executive session.” County Attorney J.D. Lambright mostly sided with Noack with respect to the legal positions.

Shaw wrote a stern response to Davenport’s harsh letter in which she argued for her handling of Davenport’s PDQs and noted that she feared for her job, because she knows she’s on Doyal’s political “Hit List.”

Davenport tried to meet with each of the four County Commissioners to lobby for her proposal to “reorganize” her Department. Noack refused to meet with her. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark first agreed to meet with her but then recanted.

HOW STEP #2 SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED

Davenport should have announced her proposal as a presentation-only agenda item in the Commissioners Court. She should have welcomed the Commissioners to ask her questions. Then Doyal should have invited public comment during the same meeting at the time of that agenda item, so that the public could interact with Davenport and the members of the Commissioners Court on this subject.

With all of the communications occurring in the open during public meetings of the Commissioners Court, there’d be no need to have secret confrontations between Davenport and Shaw or between Doyal and Noack. They could air their grievances – and engage in feats of strength – out in the open.

STEP #3 IN THE SECRETIVE COUNTY GOVERNMENT: Dysfunction.

Have you ever seen the Academy Award-winning movie “Ordinary People” starring Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Donald Sutherland? It’s about a completely dysfunctional family. They can’t communicate with each other and really don’t even want to do so. They live in torment.

It’s time to send the entire County Commissioners Court to a good psychiatrist, because they are five of the most dysfunctional people you’ve ever witnessed.

They can’t conduct a conversation, because they all hate each other and they’re all jealous of each other. Instead, they make “public statements” that are somehow to impress the citizens. What they don’t realize, however, is that we’re not part of their dysfunctional “family.” Since we sit apart from the members of the County Commissioners Court separately, we can see how stiff, dysfunctional, bitter, guilt-ridden, and strained they genuinely are.

When Davenport presented her almost tearful proposed “reorganization,” she spent far more time defending Lindsey Doyal, attacking Dodi Shaw, and announcing that she refused to disclose the author of the PDQs submitted to Shaw under Davenport’s name than she did explaining what the proposed “reorganization” actually was.

The Commissioners Court hardly discussed the reorganization, although Riley and Doyal had some nicely-rehearsed questions in which they asked questions about the role of “my daughter” (Doyal) or “inheriting employees” (Riley). Davenport’s rehearsed answers suffered some factual challenges as well.

HOW STEP #3 SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED

Davenport should have come into the Commissioners Court and presented her proposal in an even, businesslike tone, with collegiality towards her colleague Shaw, and then engaged in a full discussion of the proposed reorganization with the entire Commissioners Court and members of the public who cared to join the discussion as well. Ultimately, the Commissioners Court could have had a full discussion and a vote.

The reorganization after that entire “open” (!) process would have seemed like a normal function of a smoothly operational governmental institution rather than an bunch of political hacks trying to score points against each other in front of a public they view with scorn.

THE MEDIATOR’S WAY

Sometimes the most difficult family problems come to a solution through a process called mediation. It’s truly a process, however.

Real mediations require that the participants have the opportunity to vent towards each other. The nasty discussions eventually move towards less harsh tones as the mediator brings the parties closer.

Eventually, they begin to do something which is sorely lacking in the Montgomery County government: open communication.

Open government can actually work. Doyal and his colleagues ought to try it.

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