Conroe, August 13 – As his four-year term has progressed, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal has come to shroud the County government in a great cloak of secrecy. The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has completed a careful study of 2014 agendas during the term of former County Judge Alan B. Sadler to compare them with 2017 agendas during the Doyal term.
How agendas come to be
In order for an agenda item to come onto the agenda, Doyal requires that County Department heads submit a proposed item in writing to his office by the Wednesday before a Tuesday Commissioners Court meeting at 10 a.m. Doyal actually rarely comes into his office, so his office staff, chief of staff jim fredricks, secretary Sylvia Olzsowy, and secretary Patricia Werner do the limited work they conduct in Doyal’s office, although fredricks takes many afternoons off as well.
One of the great inefficiencies in the agenda formation process is Olzsowy. The problem is not just her terrible attitude and rude treatment of County employees (and the public). Olzsowy’s behavior is quite bad. She has created a terrible waste of County resources and taxpayer money in the agenda formation process, however, with her requirement that County Department heads must submit agenda items with a physical submission to her.
Olzsowy’s attitude prohibits email or electronic submissions from County Department heads, even though the County spent substantial tax funds on agenda creation software which specifically permits electronic agenda item submissions. As a result many County Departments must waste a good portion of the day in order to submit agenda items, especially if they must travel from New Caney, Magnolia, or south Montgomery County to provide their physical submissions to the surly Olzsowy.
After County Departments submit their proposed agenda items, fredricks and Olzsowy prepare their draft agenda and ask for review of the agenda in the County Attorney’s Office. Usually, County Attorney J.D. Lambright and Assistant County Attorney Amy Dunham review their agenda, although fredricks and Doyal have begun to minimize the involvement of the County Attorney’s Office in the agenda preparation process.
On the Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. before the Tuesday Commissioners Court meeting, there is an informal meeting, which fredricks and Olzsowy lead, where County Departments heads often attend in order to know what agenda items pertain to them and what fredricks wants them to present during the actual Commissioners Court meeting. Not surprisingly, Doyal and fredricks have turned the Commissioners Court into a highly-staged affair. That’s why citizens often observe Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and County Judge Craig Doyal making what appear to be rehearsed remarks during the Commissioners Court meeting.
After the preparations, revisions, and rehearsals, fredricks and Olzsowy post the agenda at the Courthouse and file it with the County Clerk around 3 p.m. on the Friday afternoon before the Tuesday Commissioners Court meeting.
The agenda preparation process is far more closed than it was during the Sadler era. Sadler and his outstanding Chief of Staff Anne Carr ensured that preparation of the agenda was open, transparent, and efficient for County Departments and for the public. They involved the County Attorney’s Office at every step along the way in order to ensure legal compliance with the policy of the State of Texas in favor of “open meetings.”
Agendas have become a major problem
Agendas have become a major problem during Doyal’s term. First, Doyal and fredricks fail to provide backup material along with the Commissioners Court packets. That failure seems intentional quite frequently. For example, Paul Case, Director of the Building Maintenance Department, will almost never provide backup materials for his agenda items. If Case, Doyal, and fredricks seek to hide a major building asbestos problem in County buildings or a costly and unbid proposal to for an outside contractor to perform millions of dollars of services, obviously they’ll work hard to keep those materials out of the hands of the public or even the other members of the Commissioners Court prior to the Tuesday meeting.
Second, Doyal and fredricks have carefully turned the agendas into documents where they seek language that is as vague as humanly possible. They don’t want the public to know. That’s where agendas have dramatically changed since the Sadler era.
How Doyal and fredricks hide agenda items from the public
Doyal and fredricks carefully hide information about agenda items from the public.
Doyal’s “consent” agenda has grown dramatically in the past year in particular, as citizens have become more active. The “consent agenda” is now usually more than ten pages long of single-spaced type. That means that the vast majority of County business garners approval from the Commissioners Court without consideration, discussion, deliberation, debate, or even any form of conscious approval.
Under Sadler, the “consent” agenda for many years did not include any item which involved more than $1,000 of expenditures. Doyal and fredricks will include items involving millions of dollars of County tax dollar spending on the “consent” agenda if they believe they can get away with that.
Purchasing functions are a particular problem on the Doyal-fredricks agendas. The Commissioners Court now regularly approves agenda items – often on the “consent” agenda – that contain ineffable statements where they’ll approve millions of dollars of expenditures “for various departments” of which the members of Commissioners Court have no knowledge. Yes, they’re approving millions of dollars of expenditures about which they have no knowledge or understanding.
Tax abatements, which the County Tax Assessor-Collector endorses, have also become a problem on Commissioners Court agendas. Now, neither fredricks nor Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae disclose on the agenda the identity of companies which will receive County tax abatements. As a result, there have been a number of abatements given to companies that are not bringing new business to Montgomery County at all. Instead, many of these tax abatements now appear merely to constitute favored treatment for businesses that are already here in this community.
Another area where the County government has become very secretive is the payroll. Secrecy in the payroll has become very important to hide employees such as the numerous public relations employees who now receive tax dollars for compensation and the numerous employees who have nepotistic relationships with elected officials or who have no purpose whatsoever in their County jobs at all.
In order to hide payroll, Doyal and fredricks now include an agenda item “Approve Payroll Change Request Forms.” What is incredible about the agenda item is that the members of the Commissioners Court usually never see the County payroll changes they’re approving, because the Payroll Change Request Forms are never provided to them. Of course, they approve the payroll changes anyway.
Judge Sadler actually included the payroll changes on the agenda and included the employee name, title, and payroll change for the public to read. Those days of transparency are long gone.
There’s one other interesting difference between the Doyal and Sadler agendas. The Commissioners Court members are also members of a phony organization under the name of Montgomery County Toll Road Authority (MCTRA). That’s another story (running today). In order to hide what the MCTRA does and in order to perpetrate the sham that MCTRA is actually separate from the Commissioners Court, Doyal has removed MCTRA from the Commissioners Court agenda entirely and placed it on its own agenda.
There are many tricks to achieve secrecy. Doyal, fredricks, and Olzsowy are utilizing many of them.