Conroe, January 9 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and the four County Commissioners of Montgomery County intend to move $10,886,083.98 of unspent road and bridge funds from their Fiscal Year 2017 budgets into their Montgomery County Departments for Fiscal Year 2018 in unaccountable “slush funds” on which they’ll spend a fortune.
Doyal has hidden the “slush funds” on his secretive consent agenda for the January 9, 2018, 9:30 a.m., Commissioners Court meeting, which such agenda the Commissioners Court will not discuss and rarely even reviews. The secretive County Judge tucked away the hidden transfers of massive taxpayer funds under a “budget amendment” agenda item.
By including the “slush funds” in a secretive budget amendment, Doyal and his colleagues removed the funds from public scrutiny during the formal budget process.
How the budget process should work
The purpose of county budget processes, under the Texas Local Government Code and the Texas Constitution, is to provide full public disclosure and understanding of the County Budget during the Commissioners Court deliberation and upon passage. There are lengthy and detailed requirements for what must happen for a County to adopt a budget.
The process includes public hearings, which the Montgomery County Commissioners Court skipped for the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, a vote to adopt a proposed budget and tax rate at the conclusion of those hearings, and two other public hearings along with certain statutory disclosures. The initial public hearings must permit the public to participate and provide comments. Under the direction of County Judge Doyal, the Commissioners Court excluded the public from participation during the so-called “public hearings” in July of 2017 in violation of the provisions requiring “public hearings” within a certain time period under Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code.
After the Commissioners Court finally approves a budget, they may not amend the budget other than for certain statutory exceptions. The statute, Section 111.010 of the Texas Local Government Code, permits two methods – and only two methods – of amending the approved Budget. First, the Commissioners Court may move funds around from one approved account to another. Second, they may amend the budget by spending extra funds outside of the budget only in the case of “emergencies” which constitute a “grave public necessity” that reasonable diligence and thought could not have foreseen.
In other words, the Commissioners Court can’t spend money they haven’t budgeted, unless it’s an emergency. But with the “slush funds,” the Commissioners Court intends to spend money they didn’t budget for Fiscal Year 2018 and purpose for spending which clearly don’t constitute “emergencies.”
What the four County Commissioners do in Montgomery County
With the assistance of County Judge Craig Doyal, who has approved every “slush fund” expenditure, the County Commissioners hold huge amounts of money off-budget from previous budget years when they didn’t spend the funds within their Departments. Rather than lowering taxes to reflect the unspent funds that were not necessary in previous year’s budgets, the County Commissioners carry over those funds into “slush fund” accounts. Their method of extracting the “slush funds” is through secretive “budget amendments” that they make during the “consent” agenda in each Commissioners Court. The “slush funds” are over and above the $358 million Fiscal Year 2018 Budget.
Before Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, here’s how much each Commissioner moved from his “slush fund” so that he could spend the money:
Mike Meador, Precinct 1 Commissioner = $3,769,766.10
Charlie Riley, Precinct 2 Commissioner = $587,777.46
James Noack, Precinct 3 Commissioner = $5,382,547.37
Jim Clark, Precinct 4 Commissioner = $1,145,933.05.
Total “Slush Funds” = $10,886,083.98.
It’s important to note that Clark voted against the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget and protested some of the procedural irregularities when he explained his vote. Therefore, it would be unfair to criticize Clark for this year’s “slush fund” transfers.
Doyal and the entire Commissioners Court have trampled upon the due process for budgeting under the Texas Local Government Code and spent more than $10.8 million of funds for which they never accounted to the citizens within the budget process.