Conroe, August 13 – The members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court clearly have great difficulty keeping track of conflicts of interest. Interestingly, at least two of the five Court members seem to understand the basic concept of the need to avoid conflicts of interest and they even seem to understand a basic means of accomplishing the avoidance.
What we’re talking about here is not Texas law in the Local Government Code, which has very weak conflict of interest provisions. In the lingo of Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, the state anti-conflicts of interest statute is hardly “aspiration.” Instead, the idea here is to avoid circumstances where a Commissioners Court member votes for or against something where the Judge or Commissioner has a personal interest or has an interest on behalf of some other organization which benefits from the Commissioners Court member’s vote.
While the Commissioners Court seems not to understand this concept, the basic idea is to do the right thing rather than merely doing what avoids a criminal legal problem.
Which two members of the Commissioners Court revealed their understanding of conflicts of interest rules?
Two members of the Commissioners Court sought to avoid a major political problem but inadvertently revealed their basic understanding of how to avoid unethical conflicts of interest.
At the June 27, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador informed County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark that they would have to recuse themselves from a vote on whether or not to approve the proposed 17% budget increase for the Montgomery Central Appraisal District (MCAD). During the discussion, Clark had made it clear that he would oppose the Commissioners Court approve the crazed MCAD budget increase.
The problem arose because Riley and Meador are Board members of MCAD and were on the very governing body which sought the budget increase! Riley and Meador got it. They understood they’d have a conflict of interest, because the Commissioners Court approval would confer a benefit on MCAD. They also understood that recusing themselves was the appropriate method of solving the conflict of interest.
Since Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack was absent from the meeting, Doyal knew the proposed MCAD budget would fail on a 1 to 1 vote (Doyal for more spending always, Clark already having announced against it). Therefore, Doyal declared that he would defer the vote until the Commissioners Court had a quorum. Actually, they already had one, because Meador and Riley didn’t excuse themselves from the meeting but rather just made clear they’d abstain from the vote.
Other conflicts of interest: testing Charlie’s and Mike’s ethics
Since Riley and Meador clearly understand (1) what conflicts of interest are and (2) how to avoid them by recusing themselves from the vote, let’s now examine whether they showed any sort of anti-conflicts of interest leadership in other conflict of interest situations that have come before the Commissioners Court.
Riley 2-Step: Riley created a County job for his wife!
In November of 2016, after it became apparent that his wife Deanne Riley wouldn’t retain her job at the Sheriff’s Office as the personal secretary of the Sheriff with the impending retirement of Sheriff Tommy Gage, Riley’s best friend, Riley made a motion to create a new position in Constable David Hill’s office, which the Commissioners Court passed on November 22, 2016.
Riley voted for his own motion. The following month, on December 13, 2016, Riley placed on the agenda to fill the new position with his wife Deanne, so she’d still have a County job in 2017. Riley recused himself from the second vote. It was all a big fat sham. Riley created the position in the first of the two meetings.
Meador observed the whole set of proceedings and didn’t suggest to Riley that Riley should’ve recused himself from both votes, not just the second one.
Both Riley and Meador knew better but they ignored ethics.
Halff Associates, Bobby Jack Adams, and Craig Doyal
Craig Doyal and his old college friend Bobby Jack Adams are best friends. They are also 50-50 business partners in an engineering service firm by the name of WS&G.
Meanwhile, Doyal has voted for awarding millions and millions of dollars of engineering contracts to Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm at which Adams is both a regional director and an officer. Still worse, Halff and Adams are widely known to have helped to set up Doyal’s legal defense fund for the criminal case in which Doyal and Riley are co-indictees for alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Doyal has never recused himself from any of the Halff votes, even though every single member of the Commissioners Court is well aware of the conflict of interest problem.
Meador and Riley have never suggested to Doyal that Doyal recuse himself. They’ve never objected to the ethics of Doyal’s actions. Both Riley and Meador knew better but they ignored ethics.
Every single vote in favor of the Tx-249 Tollway project is a conflict of interest
Every single vote and every penny which all five members of the Commissioners Court have passed is a conflict of interest. Yes, that’s Doyal, Riley, Meador, Clark, and Noack.
The Commissioners Court set up a separate entity by the name of the Montgomery County Toll Road Authority (MCTRA) whose five members of its board of directors are Doyal, Riley, Meador, Clark, and Noack. MCTRA and the Commissioners Court have identical members.
The Commissioners Court has spent $13.4 million of general revenue funds, less happily known as “tax dollars on the backs of Montgomery County taxpayers,” for the Tx-249 Tollway project, even though the community overwhelmingly opposes the proposal.
When the Commissioners Court spend the money on the Tx-249 Tollway, they’re actually loaning the money to MCTRA, interest-free, with no specific repayment date. As a result, the Commissioners Court members sit on the board of directors of the lender, Montgomery County, and on the board of directors of the borrower, MCTRA.
That’s an obvious conflict of interest which suggests that all five members of the Commissioners Court have a serious conflict of interest every time they vote to spend money on the Tx-249 Tollway.
Riley and Meador, in particular, should have recused themselves from every one of those votes, because the conflict of interest is almost identical to the MCAD conflict of interest from which they recused themselves in June, 2017.
Riley and Meador know well that they should have recused themselves from every vote where Montgomery County loaned MCTRA the money to construct the Tx-249 Tollway debacle.