Conroe, December 17 – Thanks to the fair-mindedness of an employee in the Montgomery County Treasurer’s Office and two similar individuals in the County Attorney’s Office, The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper has had an opportunity to ascertain – late last night – what County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport is actually hiding by so fiercely resisting disclosing her “accounting procedures” and “procedures manual” in response to a request under the Texas Open Meetings Act. Those three individuals have requested confidentiality with respect to their identities.
What Davenport is hiding is that her office really has no “accounting procedures” at all and that the “procedures manual” is just a set of screen shots of the computer program that all County Departments use for financial tracking. That’s not surprising. First, Davenport is no financial sophisticate but rather a high school graduate who clawed her way into the County Treasurer position by appointment after she became a close political friend of then-County Commissioner Craig Doyal and his daughter.
Second, because of Davenport’s limited financial ability, other County Departments handle accounting matters. Budgeting, bookkeeping, and accounting occurs in the County Auditor’s Office. Investment and financial projections of the County’s fund balances (both operational and employee benefits plans) are in the hands of outside professionals who work primarily with the County Auditor and the Risk Management Department. The County Auditor keeps a close watch on the payroll function as does the County Human Resources Department, although Davenport’s Office operates an expensive payroll procedure that an outside service could provide for much less cost (as Davenport’s political opponent in the County Treasurer’s race, Melanie Bush, explained during the County’s Budget Hearings in July).
Davenport has not only refused to disclose the government records, but also she’s ordered the Montgomery County Attorney to file suit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after, as everyone expects, Paxton rules that Davenport must turn over the documents which clearly fall within “open records” under Texas law. Davenport has gone even farther, however. She’s also placed an item on the Commissioners Court meeting agenda for December 19, 2017, at 9:30 a.m. that requests that the Commissioners Court somehow override Texas law by declaring that all “office policies” in the Montgomery County government are not subject to disclosure as “open records.” Please see “Montgomery County Treasurer Davenport To Violate Texas Open Records Act, Texas Open Meetings Act In Attempt At Government Secrecy,” The Golden Hammer, December 16, 2017.
Davenport has either forgotten or has ignored the fundamental policy of the State of Texas in Section 552.001 of the Texas Government Code:
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
Therefore, the basic principle under the Texas Open Records Act/Public Information Act is:
“Public information is available to the public…”
Davenport inherited payroll procedures from longtime County Treasurer Martha Gustavsen. Those procedures largely remain what Davenport and her Payroll Coordinator (Craig Doyal’s daughter) try to follow now.
Fundamentally, what Davenport is hiding by withholding her “accounting procedures” and “procedures manual” is that she just doesn’t have much in the way of either. The County Treasurer doesn’t do much of any sort of accounting nor should she, given her inability to do so. The functions of the Treasurer’s Office are rather simple, so the “procedures manual” doesn’t involve any complexity whatsoever. That’s what she’s trying to hide.
If readers have wondered how Davenport has so much time to attend social functions during the County business day, it’s because she doesn’t have that much to do, especially since the County Auditor, Human Resources, and Risk Management Departments must handle many tasks that an experienced County Treasurer might do. Perhaps, it’s time to reconsider Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack’s proposal to abolish the County Treasurer’s Office, as many other counties have done.
Gustavsen, the longtime Montgomery County Treasurer who retired in 2013, explained in a post on Facebook yesterday, “All of the accounting procedure records of the County Treasurer ‘s office should be open to the public. This office of county treasurer belongs to the citizens of Montgomery County and not to Stephanie Davenport. All Open Records Requests should be honored.”
For Davenport, it’s critical to her political future that the public doesn’t see the truth: her office operations are quite simple and unsophisticated. She’s not some financial wheeler-dealer. Rather, Davenport is an inexperienced clerk who doesn’t have the accounting and bookkeeping background of people such as Melanie Bush or Martha Gustavsen who really could operate a County Treasurer’s Office that adds genuine financial value to the Montgomery County government’s assets, in accordance with state law.