Image: Star Wars’ Dark Emperor Palpatine. But, golly, The Golden Hammer, Palpatine operated out in the open too, didn’t he?!
Conroe, May 7 – The May 9, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting agenda for the 9:30 a.m. meeting contains another super secretive “consent agenda.” But is it really fair to describe the 9-page long “consent agenda” super secretive, because, gosh, it’s all out in the open, isn’t it? Not only “no,” but, in fact, “Hades NO!”
The public policy of the State of Texas pronounced in Section 552.002 of the Texas Government Code is “Every regular, special, or called meeting of a governmental body shall be open to the public, except as provided by this chapter.” Meetings require posting of the discussion 72 hours in advance. Meetings require deliberation about issues in public. Some would argue, “But, The Golden Hammer, the meeting is in public, but they’re just voting on things they’ve already decided…” That’s precisely the problem. First, members of a governmental body must make their decisions in public, so the public may observe and learn why they’ve deliberated in a particular manner. Second, making decisions in advance of the meeting is not acceptable under Texas law. That’s a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”).
Now, one might argue that the TOMA is now unconstitutional, because the King and Prince of Government Secrecy, County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, convinced Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp to declare TOMA unconstitutional in the criminal proceedings against Doyal and Riley for violating TOMA. But that was the action of one wayward judge legislating from the bench. The Beaumont Court of Appeals is considering the State of Texas’ appeal from that bizarre judicial declaration and will likely reinstate the criminal charges against Doyal, Riley, and local political consultant Marc Davenport, the husband of County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport.
If one looks closely at the “consent agenda,” however, it becomes pretty apparent that the public does not have the opportunity to know what the Commissioners Court will discuss. In fact, the Commissioners Court members themselves don’t even know on what they’ll vote because much of the backup material for the “consent agenda” is missing entirely.
In reality, the “consent agenda” is a lot more than 9 pages. It is actually thousands of pages. The “consent agenda” is a classic example of steganography, hiding something in plain view. No one, especially the lazy County Judge and County Commissioners in Montgomery County, will actually review each and every item they’ll approve in the blink of an eye on Tuesday, May 9.
So let’s take a walk through the “consent agenda” for the upcoming May 9 meeting.
May 9, 2017, “Consent Agenda”
The first item is Agenda Item 9A1: “Consider and approve payment of accounts.” Gosh, how simple! How obvious! What could be a problem with that?!
It’s a serious problem, and, perhaps, the second most serious problem in our County government.
This single item is 78 pages of single-spaced expenditures that total $7,993,374.13 of expenditures. In reality, no one reviews those expenditures. There is no person on the Commissioners Court who checks:
- Are the charges reasonable?
- Are the charges ethical?
- Are the charges consistent with County contracts with vendors?
- Do the charges fall within approved County Budget accounts?
No one knows. No one questions. No one examines. It’s sick. One of the proposed payments in the amount of $42,352.35 is to Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm whom its Regional Vice President Bobby Adams, the business partner and best friend of County Judge Doyal, represents.
Don’t hold your breath to see if Doyal recuses himself from this vote. You’ll turn blue and fall down dead.
There’s a proposed payment of $140,000 to Old Republic Title Company for title insurance. That’s a lot of title insurance! Nothing in that proposed expenditure would seem to fall under any approved item the Commissioners Court previously discussed in an open meeting. Even if they did approve it some time in the distant past, no one would know it, because there will be no one questioning the item, or even noticing it.
Charlie Riley is paying $25,000 even to his pal Heng Tec Taing. What’s that about? I assure you, you’ll never know, because the Commissioners Court will approve the expenditure without discussion. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark has some expenditures which the other Commissioners Court members ought to question: $10,000 paid to Dannenbaum Engineering, under a federal investigation right now; $7400 paid to John Holzwarth, the man who is duplicating what our highly-salaried County Engineer should be doing; $20,400 to Land Tech surveyors, the firm that’s running Craig Doyal’s upcoming June 20 fundraiser.
There are hundreds of thousands of dollars of other payments to regular political contributors to the Commissioners Court members, and there’s no explanation for those payments: Jones & Carter engineers, Brown & Gay engineers, Triple B Services.
There’s $70,400 is retail payments to Lowes, Sherwin Williams, and other retailers. Why isn’t the County getting better prices? (Answer: laziness.)
What is the County purchasing dozens of times from Amazon.com, LLC?!
There are dozens of payments to Citibank, N.A., a credit card issuer. Has any member of the Commissioners Court reviewed those expenditures? Couldn’t Craig Doyal take one afternoon rest from playing golf in order to review the credit card bills and the backup for them? We know jim fredricks, Doyal’s “chief of staff” (who oversees 2 secretaries), isn’t reviewing those bills, because he’s usually at home asleep in the afternoon. Really.
Why is the County paying a pest control company out of its road and bridge fund? Are we trying to keep those nasty critters away from roads? We’ll spend a lot of money spraying to keep those water bugs off our roadways? Or, perhaps, as Dr. Wilkerson once expressed a worry about “a troll under the bridge,” maybe we’re spraying to keep that fat troll away from the bridge?
Why is Commissioner Mike Meador, usually mostly sound asleep in Commissioners Court meetings, spending tens of thousands of dollars on auto parts and repairs out of his road and bridge fund?
Why is the County paying for CIVIL indigent defense at all?
Why does the County pay Hearst Newspapers for the County Airport out of the Airport Maintenance budget?
Why is Building Maintenance paying United Refrigerator $3,531? New ice machine?
What are all the Entergy payments out of the Building Maintenance Department? We already have a separate account for utilities under the Non-Departmental budget.
Why is the Custodial Maintenance Department paying $11,193 to Staples?
Why is the County Treasurer paying John Q. Hammons, a hotel owner, $350.30? Does anyone look at those bills? (The County Treasurer also paid John Q. Hammons $700.60. What the heck?) WHAT ARE THESE HOTEL BILLS FOR?! (Isn’t it cool how the County Treasurer and the County Auditor mask these payments? It’s sort of like the neighborhood bars named, “My Office,” so that spouses on the way home from work can call their other spouse and lie and say “I’m at My Office.”
The County Attorney paid Dittert Rubber $4.80? What does that have to do with providing legal advice?
The County Judge paid $424.10 to Citibank NA? Has anyone looked at his credit card expenditures? Please don’t answer that the County Auditor has done so, because County Auditor Phyllis Martin is clearly in the back pocket of County Judge Craig Doyal.
Budget Amendments: the biggest problem in the County government; illegality at its best.
Item 9A2 is “Consider and approve the budget amendments for the current fiscal year.” This item is far from benign. It’s the single biggest problem in the County government. Here’s why. The County Budget must go through a public hearing and public notice process under the Texas Local Government Code. Of course, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court dispenses with that requirement, because it doesn’t permit the public to participate in the budget process before the Commissioners Court adopts the Budget. But it gets a lot worse. There are tens of millions of dollars purposefully left out of the formal Budget. Then during the Fiscal Year, the Commissioners Court moves around those funds from the “slush funds” and claims that there are “emergencies” and “grave public necessities” requiring that they do so. The so-called “Budget Amendments” up for consideration on Tuesday, May 9, are no exception.
It’s 129 pages of so-called Budget Amendments. The Commissioners Court will pass a resolution in the blink of an eye declaring that all of the Budget Amendments are a “grave public necessity” arising from an “emergency” to “meeting unusual and unforeseen conditions which could not by reasonable and diligent thought and attention have been included in the budget for 2016/17.”
After you see what some of these emergencies are that the Commissioners Court could not have foreseen by “reasonably and diligent thought,” you’ll see that the the resolution should be reworded to say, “WE HEREBY DECLARE THAT WE ARE FIVE MORONS!”
One of the grave public necessities and emergencies facing Montgomery County is that Meador, Commissioner of Precinct 1, must immediately pay $29,250 for a “wash pad.” Aren’t you wiping the sweat off your brow as you consider the gravity of the situation?!
There is a TOTALLY UNEXPLAINED EMERGENCY EXPENDITURE THAT MEADOR IS REQUESTING THAT THE COMMISSIONERS COURT WILL APPROVE ONCE AGAIN WITH THE BLINK OF ANY EYE. Here’s the entire explanation from Sleeping Mike: “Please transfer $2,194,457.57 out of 612-7997 to 612-7598.” Doesn’t that give you a lot of information? Does that tell Doyal, Riley, Clark, or Noack what’s going on? That’s a transfer of more than $2.1 million from a “slush fund” not included in the Budget to a fund that has no budget amounts for Fiscal Year 2017 entitled “Major Projects.” Is Meador buying a truck for his daughter? Is Meador building a giant sign at the Airport to name it the “Mike Meador Memorial Airport”? Is Meador buying an “RV for Gerald”?!
The County Auditor is spending $4,000.00 on two laptop computers. Why? Why are those funds coming from her “Professional Services” account? Is Phyllis Martin, who is officially the Chief Budget Officer, so bad at budgeting that she could not have foreseen the need for two laptop computers to the point that it’s now become a “grave public necessity” facing the poor citizens of Montgomery County who are facing so many “grave public necessities” that it requires 129 pages of Budget Amendments to meet them?
One of the “emergencies” facing the County government is that they need $3,000 to pay for covered parking. Let’s be fair; it might rain!
The Commissioners Court will create new Budget Accounts that didn’t exist previously. Will any of them even know that when they vote on Tuesday?
The Tax Assessor-Collector wants $26,299 for purchase of a passenger van. What is the purpose of that one?! Are we taking taxpayers to Six Flags as a bonus after they pay the MASSIVE taxes levied by the County government and Charlie Riley’s and Mike Meador’s Appraisal District?
The “consent agenda” includes:
- dozens of new contracts and contract extensions totaling several hundred thousand dollars
- settlement of two claims
- review and approval of an audit of the expenditures of Emergency Service District #1 (that no one has review or approved)
- CONSIDER AND ACCEPT PAYROLL CHANGES. NONE OF THE CHANGES ARE ATTACHED TO THE AGENDA. The Golden Hammer had to obtain the proposed changes from a confidential source inside the County government. The changes are 6 pages long, involve hiring at least one Department Director, giving raises to several employees mid-year, and hiring a number of employees. The Commissioners Court will never know what they’re doing because the County Judge doesn’t provide this information to them.
- The County is approving lease agreements for wireless towers
- The County is defending a lawsuit the Commissioners Court members could never have legally discussed
- The County is approving subleases at the Airport without discussion
- Dozens of other items.