Conroe, January 22 – There is one really important item on the agenda for the January 23, 2018, Montgomery County Commissioners Court plus three really bad items on the agenda as well.
The critical need: OmniBase renewal
While Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts has falsely claimed that his use of the Graves Humphries Stahl (GHS)/NetData collection system improved his court’s collections, which remain very bad, in actuality the only real improvement Metts has implemented was the one which the Texas Legislature created through amendment of the Texas Local Government Code. Now, Justice of the Peace courts participate in the state’s Failure to Appear program, a statewide program which the Texas Department of Public Safety established.
Hidden on the “consent agenda” is the Montgomery County government’s renewal of its OmniBase Services of Texas, L.L.P., contract so that the County may participate in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Failure to Appear (FTA) program. The FTA program allows local governments to report traffic violator’s failure to pay fees and fines to a central Texas database, so that both DPS, at the time of driver’s license renewals, and law enforcement officers, at the time of traffic stops, may bring the failure to pay those fees and fines to the attention of violators. Of course, during traffic stops a peace officer may arrest someone with an outstanding warrant.
OmniBase is the only company to administer the FTA program in Texas under its contract with DPS as well as contracts with several hundred local governments, including Montgomery County.
The Montgomery County Purchasing Department failed to provide the contract, the contract price, or the contract terms to the members of the Commissioners Court or to the public as backup material for consideration during the January 23 meeting. Under the direction of Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, secrecy is the policy, so the Commissioners Court’s approval of contracts the terms of which they don’t know has become a regular practice.
Therefore, the approval which will the Commissioners Court will provide will come as they are blind to the amount of County tax dollars they’re spending.
OmniBase, however, is an important tool for collection of fees and fines. While the Davenport Ring foisted the GHS/NetData collection system on the County government, which has actually harmed collections, OmniBase had a profound and positive impact.
From the time that Metts became a JP in 2003 until 2014 when the County finally implemented the OmniBase FTA program, Metts’ collection rate for his court-imposed fees and fines was around a horrible 45%, according to two County employees who have access to the data and confirmed those terrible collections under condition of confidentiality for fear of backlash from Metts. Metts’ court collections rose to the lower to mid-seventy percent range after the implementation of the OmniBase FTA program.
Metts does nothing to manage collections in his court. This newspaper will report on that problem in an upcoming story. The state-driven OmniBase system, however, has improved Metts’ and his JP colleagues’ collections as well, as they all, with the exception of Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Edie Connelly, rely heavily on warrants and the FTA program to collect their fees and fines.
Needless to say, the OmniBase program is vitally important to the collections of four of the five JP courts in Montgomery County. It’s an example of an instance where the Commissioners Court will do the right thing, even though they’re clueless as to the cost or terms of the software license purchase.
Three bad items on the Commissioners Court’s spending agenda
There are three bad items in general on the Commissioners Court’s spending agenda. First, and foremost, the “payment of accounts” is totally out of control. Doyal’s office failed to work with the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office to provide a readable report. The backup to the Court agenda is 94 pages completely out of order for a written document that contains $10,823,509.74 of spending items.
Within the “payment of accounts” listing there are many problems. The County government continues to approve credit card expenditures without backup documentation. The Commissioners have no oversight for their road and bridge fund spending. Engineering services contracts have no management outside of the contracts from Commissioners Precinct 3 (Noack). The Commissioners and and several other Departments have spending items that go for pages and pages without explanation or correlation to the budget.
There are two smaller spending items of which citizens should take note.
The Montgomery County Commissioners Court will pay $30,859.90 to Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm whose regional Vice President is Bobby Jack Adams, the best friend and business partner of Doyal. Since Doyal had a serious conflict of interest, the County Commissioners Court should never have approved any of those contracts with Doyal voting for them.
There’s a much smaller spending item of only $150 that still requires note. County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport wants the Commissioners Court to pay her annual dues to the Texas Association of County Treasurers. That payment is an affront to the taxpayers.
When Davenport claimed that she should not make her County Treasurer’s Office procedures manual available for review by the public, when Conroe ISD Board President Melanie Pryor Bush requested it, one of the groups Davenport claimed supported her pro-secrecy, anti-transparency decision was the Texas Association of County Treasurers.
In other words, Montgomery County taxpayers are paying money to support Davenport’s anti-citizen position directly against the taxpayers. Forcing Montgomery County citizens to pay Davenport’s annual dues to the Texas Association of County Treasurers is as bad as the Commissioners Court’s and County Judge’s forcing taxpayers to pay for their dues in the Texas Association of Counties, the lobbying group that has fought against state property tax reform.