Conroe, January 1 – A lot happened during the final third of 2017.
Pre-releases for Hurricane Irma
On September 6, only a few days after Tropical Storm Harvey hit Montgomery County and the San Jacinto River Authority failed to manage the event properly, it came to light that our Florida neighbors were handling the arrival of Hurricane Irma quite differently. The San Jacinto River Authority should learn some major lessons from the management of the Herbert Hoover Dike and Lake Okeechobee, near Miami, as the Lake Okeechobee Flood Control District and the United States Army Corps of Engineers are pre-releasing water from the Lake through the Dike and its locks downstream in order to manage the anticipated 12 to 18 inches of rain likely to come during the next few days as Hurricane Irma moves towards south Florida. The pre-releasing through the Lake Okeechobee Flood Control system is precisely the type of managed pre-releasing that SJRA, its Board of Directors, and its General Manager Jace Houston abjectly failed to do.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Flood Control District pre-released water from Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in preparation for Hurricane Irma’s expected arrival in the state. Spokesman John Campbell said the plan was to drain the lake for three days to drop its current level of almost 14 feet.
CISD thuggery led to rejection of re-appraisals for Harvey victims
Prior to the Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting on September 19, 2017, CISD Superintendent Don Stockton tried to dissuade Board President Melanie Pryor Bush from putting flood victim property tax reappraisals on the agenda for the Board meeting, while Board members Datren Williams and Skeeter Hubert, seemingly among others, hatched a “solution” for defeating Bush’s compassionate proposal well before the meeting began.
The Golden Hammer obtained secret documents from CISD as part of our investigation into the unusual practices of the CISD and some of its Board members. While CISD had no choice but to fork over some documents, it’s readily apparent that the school district has withheld important documents responsive to the leading daily newspaper in Montgomery County’s request for public information.
The CISD administration staff knew quite well that under section 23.02 of the Texas Tax Code, a local taxing entity such a CISD may reappraise properties subject to property taxation in its jurisdiction if they suffer natural disasters. The Woodlands Township and the Montgomery County government swiftly voted to reappraise in order to give taxpayer-victims some relief.
On September 14, 2017, Darrin Rice, CISD’s Chief Financial Officer provided a full written evaluation of the benefits to taxpayers of possible reappraisal. He conducted that evaluation in response to Board President Bush’s request that the Board include discussion of reappraisals at the September 19 Board meeting. Stockton provided Bush with the agenda, as she had requested, but told Bush in an email:
“I think the current [Montgomery Central Appraisal District Board members have represented cisd (sic) well. Nobody has let me know they are interested in being nominated.
“Just my thoughts, but I am still worried about the re-assessment board item. We are looking at a potential $13m deficit for next budget year. And, that is with the 5% AV growth! I just can’t support it without knowing the financial impact. I would argue that there already is a process in place for individuals impacted by the hurricane to be re-assessed.
“See you tomorrow at ORHS.”
Of course, Stockton’s email raises the question why he should even express such a concern to an elected Board member. Stockton, whose annual salary approaches $350,000 in monetary compensation alone, is not elected and simply should have no say in the matter. Stockton also attempted to raise his concerns with Bush by text messages as well.
By September 14, 2017, CISD knew quite well that it was within its direct authority to reappraise property, because Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae provided a detailed and thorough letter to CFO Rice explaining the process. Interestingly, Rice failed to share the letter with the Board of Trustees.
On September 18, 2017, CISD General Counsel Carrie Galatas shared with Board member Scott Kidd an article from The Galveston Daily News discussing how reappraisals work under the Texas Tax Code. Kidd had direct knowledge from CISD’s General Counsel prior to the September 19 Board meeting that CISD’s Board of Trustees had the authority to order the reappraisals of flood-damaged homes. Nevertheless, as later events showed, Kidd engaged in the Board’s deceitful anti-citizen action at the Board meeting the next day.
Bush ignored Stockton’s resistance. While the documents The Golden Hammer obtained reveal that Kidd, Stockton, Rice, and Galatas knew the specific statutory authority that would permit CISD to reappraise flood-damaged homes from the Harvey storm, nothing would suggest that Bush knew that they knew.
Secret deliberations prior to the Board meeting
The Board meeting clearly showed that Williams, Husbands, and Kidd had prepared to remove the reappraisal issue from the Board’s discussion well before the meeting had even begun.
In fact, their plans began four days prior to the Board meeting when, on September 15, 2017, at 7:34 p.m., Williams texted to Board member Skeeter Hubert, “You see Melanie added to of her political items for her campaign vote on the agenda for Tuesday. Item 6.A. and B.”
Hubert responded three days later, “Not yet.” Then he added, “Yea, pet project. Not sure how we get around this one.”
Williams indicated to Hubert one day before the Board meeting, “I have a solution.”
The actual text colloquy follows:
Amazing, CISD has failed to produce the text messages from Williams or from Kidd.
If readers want to watch a disgusting horror show of governmental arrogance and pugnacity, this newspaper highly recommends the video footage of the CISD’s Board of Trustees’ September 19, 2017, meeting. CISD Superintendent Don Stockton sits next to the Board’s dais. During the middle of the Board meeting, Stockton actually made the entire Board stop the meeting so that he could take a telephone call on his cellphone.
Worse yet was the misogynistic and discourteous manner in which Board members Williams, Kidd, and Husbands treated Board President Bush, the only female of the group.
When the Board reached Bush’s agenda item to reappraise flood-damaged homes from the Harvey storm, Williams interrupted the proceedings and, without Bush recognizing her in accordance with parliamentary law, interjected, “Madam President, I have a motion. I’d like to motion that we remove those [agenda items concerning reappraisal] from the agenda because I believe those two items are outside of the authority of this board and they’re more appropriate for a state authority to move on those items; I motion we have those two items moved from the agenda.”
Incredibly, even though Kidd had received direct written communications from CISD’s general counsel Galatas one day prior to the Board meeting, Kidd, who is also an attorney, seconded Williams’ motion, which grossly misstated Texas law.
Bush asked for discussion. Without Bush, as presiding officer, recognizing Williams, Williams again interrupted, Well, as I mentioned, these items are more for the state to make a determination. It’s not really for us to do here. Until we get guidance from the state on how they want us to address these items, it’s just not within our authority…”
Even more incredibly, CISD general counsel Galatas, Stockton, and Chief Financial Officer Rice just sat mute during the proceedings, apparently hoping the reappraisal proposal would die a swift death.
Bush asked, “Can I present arguments as to why we should vote against this motion. That would be what I’m doing in this discussion…We have two of our local tax authorities here with Montgomery Central Appraisal District and the Tax Assessor-Collector.”
Tammy McRae, Montgomery County’s Tax Assessor-Collector, sat in the Board of Trustees meeting for over an hour waiting for her turn to explain how reappraisal works under Texas law. The Board of Trustees never gave her the opportunity to speak.
Bush added, “Having heard from the State Comptroller myself, and he stated that it’s up to local entities whether or not we re-appraise, I’m asking if…”
At that point, Board member Kidd interrupted Bush after conducting a secret whispering discussion with Board member Husbands. Kidd interjected, “Is there a question?”
Before Bush could take control of the meeting as presiding officer, Williams interrupted her again and apparently thought the meeting was his to run, “I’d like to entertain a motion to end discussion and move directly to a vote.”
The CISD Board of Trustees never allowed Bush even to speak. The CISD Board of Trustees never allowed McRae to explain Texas tax law and the re-appraisal process. Stockton, Galatas, and Rice sat mute while the Board ran roughshod over the rights of flood victims, taxpayers, and Board President Melanie Pryor Bush.
A month later, the CISD Board reversed its position and adopted re-appraisals for Harvey storm victims, as the Montgomery County government had done in September.
Commissioners Precinct 2 abuse of government property scandal began
Thanks to some great investigatory work by conservative citizen activists Ginger Russell and Kelli Cook, The Golden Hammer broke the story about ho Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have abused County government power by using the Commissioner Precinct 2 gated barnyard as a storage facility for their personal property including their barbecue trailers. A Precinct 2 County employee, who has requested anonymity, told The Golden Hammer that “Riley and Doyal have stored those trailers there as long as I can remember” and at least since 2013 (when Doyal was the Precinct 2 County Commissioner and Riley his Operations Manager).
Three employees within the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office have confirmed that Riley and Doyal do not reimburse Montgomery County for use of the gated, locked, and barb-wired storage area for the trailers and barbecue cookers and related equipment, which the two elected officials own personally. Riley and Doyal use the trailers and cookers during elections to drive to voting areas to feed voters and poll workers. Riley has used his trailer and barbecue cooker for other events as well.
Magnolia area Republican Precinct Chair, Ginger Russell said, “I have 3 trailers I would love to store there. How do I get on that program? I think it is wrong and an abuse of power for elected officials to use county property for their benefit and personal use. I am well aware of the cost of storing trailers.” This newspaper conducted a survey of storage lots within five miles of the Precinct 2 barnyard and learned that the cost of storage of such vehicles is approximately $40 to $50 per month.
Section 39.02 of the Texas Penal Code provides “A public servant commits an offense if, with intent to obtain a benefit…he intentionally or knowingly misuses government property, services, personnel, or any thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.”
In addition to storage of the trailers and equipment, Doyal and Riley enjoy free maintenance services from Precinct 2 employees who maintain the trailers for the two elected officials. Additionally, three employees inside of Precinct 2 noted, under condition of anonymity, that Doyal’s daughter regularly receives automotive maintenance services on her motor vehicle inside of the Precinct 2 barn. Doyal’s daughter is an employee of Montgomery County whom County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport hired and sought, unsuccessfully, to promote to the position of Assistant County Treasurer earlier this year.
Use of government services in violation of the Penal Code constitutes an “abuse of official capacity” and “official misconduct” that would lead to removal from office if Doyal or Riley were convicted of such violations.
Activists Ginger Russell, who is a Magnolia area Republican Precinct Chair, and Kelli Cook also uncovered the corruption related to Riley’s October 14, 2017, “campaign kickoff” where he utilized MISD vehicles, equipment, storage facilities, and personnel.
Early in the afternoon on Saturday, October 14, 2017, Russell and Cook observed, photographed, and video-taped Riley, Magnolia ISD Superintendent Todd Stephens, and at least two Magnolia ISD maintenance workers loading a Magnolia ISD truck at the Magnolia ISD Administration Building with Riley’s personal band equipment stored at the Administration Building for free. The school district employees then transported the equipment to the site of Riley’s political campaign kickoff, unloaded the equipment, participated in Riley’s campaign presentation, loaded the equipment back onto the school district truck, transported it back to the Administration Building, and unloaded the equipment with Riley and Stephens there to help with the unloading and re-storage of the equipment.
On October 14, 2017, as he introduced members of the “Charlie Riley Band” standing among the band’s privately-owned equipment to the sparse crowd during Riley’s campaign kickoff, a political event, and standing in the Unity Park Pavilion, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley of Montgomery County announced,
“We ended up trying to get to places where we had to have some help, so Dr. Todd Stephens [Magnolia ISD Superintendent] gave us or let us borrow a couple guys from Magnolia ISD…maintenance guys who help us load this equipment, and move it around from place to place…and one of them’s missing, but we’ve got Mr. Louis Bennett. He’s our roady!”
Riley openly admitted that, for personal and political campaign purposes, Riley and Stephens use Magnolia Independent School District maintenance workers to help them load, unload, transport, and store their equipment.
During the October 14 Riley “campaign kickoff,” Riley also utilized some County-owned electrical carts as a “train” to carry passengers attending Riley’s campaign kickoff from where they parked to the site of the event. On October 15, 2017, the carts were back in the Commissioners Precinct 2 barnyard behind the locked and gated fence.
On October 16, 2017, Russell submitted a formal request under the Texas Open Records Act to the Magnolia ISD for any purchase orders for the use of the school district truck, equipment, and personnel and any invoices.
After waiting for eleven (11) days, the school district finally responded by October 27, 2017, letter to Russell (shown above). In the response the school district told Russell:
“Enclosed please find documents responsive to your request for public information dated October 16, 2017, a copy of the Accounts payable sent/or to be sent to the Charlie Riley campaign regarding the use of ISD equipment.” (Emphasis added.)
Unbelievably, the Magnolia ISD couldn’t even just provide the letter that was “sent.” Instead, they admitted that the invoice was “sent/to be sent”!!! Obviously, someone in the school district created the invoice after Russell sent the Open Records Act request!
Cook, who serves as the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Coordinator for the Campaign for Liberty and is a close associate of Dr. Ron Paul, the former Congressman and presidential candidate, said, “It appears Magnolia ISD has fabricated a truck rental invoice further implicating them in their gross display of political favoritism. Is this why we pay exorbitant school taxes, so they can funnel money to their favorite political candidate?”
Russell, who is a Republican Precinct Chair and a renowned expert in public education, told this newspaper:
“Magnolia Independent School Superintendent Dr. Todd Stephens should have been fired immediately by the school board for violating school policy and law for using district vehicles to assist Commissioner Riley with his campaign event. In my opinion the Magnolia ISD School Board is an epic failure and has definitely failed the taxpayer. At this time they are spending taxpayer money on an outside attorney to represent the Superintendent. Why? We now know that the invoice created to cover for Commissioner Riley is a fake. Its creation I am sure came at the request of Dr. Stephens. One wonders how long this collusion and deception has been in play. My hope is the District Attorney puts a stop to these activities once and for all.”
The details about the creation of that invoice have begun to surface. Around approximately October 18, MISD Superintendent Stephens approached Matej and told Matej, “We need an invoice to charge Charlie Riley for the vehicle we let him use this past weekend.” Matej told Stephens that the District does not invoice private individuals like that. Stephens instructed Matej to create an invoice and provide it to Denise Meyers, MISD’s Public Information Officer (who had already received Russell’s Open Records Act request).
Matej, just beginning his second month in his job as Director of Finance, was very uncomfortable with Stephens’ request but feared that there would be reprisal if Matej didn’t accede to it. Matej created an invoice, numbered 8101, in the amount of $100 and provided a copy of it to Meyers.
There are some interesting facts surrounding Matej’s creation of the phony invoice obviously created to make it appear as though the school district intended to charge Riley for the vehicle and services Riley received for his “campaign kickoff.”
First, Matej has told several people inside the school district that he greatly fears for his job and also has concerns that Stephens forced him to commit an unethical or illegal act. In response to a request to interview him for this article, Matej very politely responded, “Mr. Yollick, Good evening. Hope this email finds you well. While I am flattered that you would reach out to me. I must decline as we have no comment at this point in time. Thank you. Garrett Matej.”
Second, in response to an Open Records Request from conservative activist Kelli Cook, MISD’s Meyers has confirmed that there are no invoices with numbers surrounding the infamous “Invoice 8101” shown above. In correspondence on November 8, Meyers noted, “There are no documents responding to your request” for invoices 8096, 8097, 8098, 8099, 8100, 8102, 8103, 8104, or 8015.”
Third, Matej has admitted to several close associates that there are not invoices similar to the one he created for Riley upon Stephens’ request.
Fourth, Louis Bennett, the MISD Maintenance worker whom Riley recognized as the “roady” for the October 14 “campaign kickoff” event for Riley’s Precinct 2 County Commissioner re-election campaign received 5.27 hours of overtime compensation for working for the school district that weekend. It’s unclear whether the 5.27 hours of overtime would exceed the $100 invoice amount.
It’s genuinely sad that Riley and Stephens would place a young employee in a new position in such a precarious spot. An important question is why Stephens chose not to do his own “dirty work” and create the invoice in his office at MISD since he has administrative staff available to him.
The Montgomery County Grand Jury heard hear from Matej, Stephens, and others with respect to Riley’s and Stephen’s use of MISD government property for private and political uses.
The Grand Jury investigated the following abuses among others:
- Under Doyal’s personal direction, a County employee regularly prepared his campaign reports at the Precinct 2 office.
- Under Doyal’s personal direction, a County employee prepared political program ads during work hours at the Precinct 2 office.
- Under Doyal’s personal direction, a County employee prepared and mailed political checks during work hours and worked on political fundraisers during for Doyal during work hours.
- Other county employees in Precinct 2 worked on campaign activities and fundraisers for Doyal during work hours.
- The Precinct 2 mechanics shop built platforms during work hours for Doyal’s political fundraisers.
- Operations Manager Charlie Riley purchased food for Doyal’s political fundraisers during county business hours.
- Doyal approved of the use of County materials, equipment, and time to work on his campaign.
- Riley instructed a County employee to “do what you need to do to get it [Doyal’s political campaign reports] finished” including taking a county printer to the County employee’s home.
- For the past several years, Riley and Doyal have stored their barbecue trailers they use during political campaigns on County property in the Precinct 2 Commissioners barnyard in Magnolia behind a locked and gated fence. Riley and Doyal have not paid the County anything for the use of that storage space.
- Precinct 2 employees have confirmed that Riley and Doyal have had County employees provide automotive repairs and vehicle maintenance to members of Riley’s and Doyal’s families at no charge to them.
- Riley and Doyal had the Building Maintenance Department install plumbing and electrical connections at the Precinct 2 barnyard so they could cook there for their political campaigns.
- On September 14, 2017, Riley admitted in writing, “As far as the County yard storing my personal cooking trailer, that is correct.”
- On October 13, 2017, Riley, his wife Deanne who is a County employee in the position Riley established for her, and several County employees spent a large portion of the County work day making preparations for his political campaign kickoff the next day.
- On October 14, 2017, Riley, Stephens, and at least two Magnolia ISD maintenance workers loaded a Magnolia ISD truck at the Magnolia ISD Administration Building with Riley’s personal band equipment stored at the Administration Building for free. The school district employees then transported the equipment to the site of Riley’s political campaign kickoff, unloaded the equipment, participated in Riley’s campaign presentation, loaded the equipment back onto the school district truck, transported it back to the Administration Building, and unloaded the equipment with Riley and Stephens there to help with the unloading and re-storage of the equipment.
- On October 14, 2017, Riley utilized some County-owned electrical carts as a “train” to carry passengers attending Riley’s campaign kickoff from where they parked to the site of the event. On October 15, 2017, the carts were back in the Commissioners Precinct 2 barnyard behind the locked and gated fence.
This story is a great example of how a free press, concerned citizens, and the rule of law may work together to move towards justice.
Decimation of Hope Highway lying by Doyal, Riley; Doyal’s affront to Harvey victims
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal delivered a speech to the Commercial Real Estate Association of Montgomery County on Wednesday, November 8, 2017, which made many of the realtors and businesspeople in attendance wonder if Doyal has spent any time at all in Montgomery County during the past 25 years. Doyal told the group that he’s “a fourth generation resident with deep roots.”
The attendees were appalled at Doyal’s insensitivity to more than 4,000 families in Montgomery County who lost their homes due to the San Jacinto River Authority-induced flooding during Tropical Storm Harvey in late August and early September. When Doyal spoke about the Harvey flooding to the group of approximately one hundred people, there was a hushed silence as he made light of the terrible disaster which befell the people of this community.
“We had a little rainstorm here recently,” Doyal began. The county judge then claimed that “we’re getting better about trying to identify good construction practices” and bragged that only three percent (3%) 0f Montgomery County homes flooded in 2017 during Harvey, while 5% of County homes flooded during the October, 1994, flooding. Doyal didn’t mention that thousands of homes were destroyed, thousands of families lost everything they owned, and the losses during Harvey are staggering compared to those during 1994.
Doyal tried to claim that the San Jacinto River Authority is working with the County government and other entities to enhance flood warnings and “be more proactive about flooding.” Doyal failed to tell the realtors that SJRA has a statutory duty under its Enabling Act “to provide flood control” which it has abjectly failed to do during the entirety of SJRA’s 88-year history. Doyal also failed to identify that his closest friends and political and financial supporters are engineering firms with strong economic relationships with SJRA, such as Halff Associates, the firm of Doyal’s best friend and business partner Bobby Jack Adams.
Doyal sounded as though Montgomery County families live in this community for no reason other than to support the commercial development upon which Doyal’s engineering cohorts thrive. “We do have to have rooftops to have commercial development so if you’re in residential, hats off to you,” Doyal callously told the audience. “Commercial development is what pays the bills, so I’m aggressive with tax abatements.”
Doyal then openly lied to the audience and told them “I’m not a big tollroad fan, but Texas Department of Transportation tells us if we wait for them to build the [249 Tollway] toll road, it will be ten years…The people in Magnolia are really excited…There is no other funding mechanism so we have to find ways to meet the needs…”
Doyal did not tell the audience the truth:
- Tx-DOT has told State Representative Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands) and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack that it would build the Tx-249 Extension without Montgomery County’s participation.
- If Montgomery County withdrew from the Tx-249 Tollway project, it would cause no more than an 18 month delay, according to Tx-DOT.
- Tx-DOT has funding available for the Tx-249 Extension from federal highway grants.
- The people of Magnolia overwhelmingly oppose the Tx-249 Tollway. They don’t want a tollroad. They don’t want that tollroad in particular because it will cause additional traffic congestion problems.
- The Tx-249 Tollway is a road to nowhere, through vacant pastureland, that will only benefit a few real estate developers who have made large contributions to Doyal’s criminal legal defense fund and to his political campaign. The other primary beneficiaries of the Tx-249 Tollway are engineering firms who are managing Doyal’s criminal legal defense fund.
Doyal should work on trying to control the factual content of the noises emanating from his mouth.
At the December 12, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, during discussion of the $95 million, 4.5-mile, Tx-249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway, during the December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley tried to manipulate the discussion to sound as though citizens supported tollroads and taxes. Their efforts backfired and, not surprisingly, Doyal, Riley, their supporters, who were mostly Riley’s closest political followers including members of the “Charlie Riley Band,” and Texas Transportation Commission member Victor Vandergriff whom Doyal invited to speak at the meeting, all looked like a group of money-grubbing fools.
Recent weeks had been quite tough for Doyal and Riley. They want the Decimation of Hope Highway project to be a tollroad, so that they have a mechanism to funnel the $82.8 million of currently estimated construction costs for the 4.5 mile road to their closest political campaign contributors and criminal legal defense fund contributors. The 4.5 mile road from Spring Creek to Pinehurst is sandwiched between the Harris County Toll Road Authority’s extension of Tx-249, which HCTRA intends to toll, and the 15 mile Texas Department of Transportation (Tx-DOT) portion of the road which will go from Pinehurst, west of Magnolia, and then out through vacant pasturelands – owned by Doyal and Riley campaign contributors who are San Antonio real estate developer and land speculator Rick Sheldon and Minnesota-based Varde Partners – to end in Todd Mission in Grimes County.
Since the Grimes County Commissioners Court and their state legislators fought against tolling the Grimes County portion of the Tx-249 extension, TxDOT backed off of tolling that portion of the road. At the end of June, 2017, Doyal appeared before TxDOT’s policy commission and lied to them that “Montgomery County is unified in support” behind tolling the Tx-249 extension. Doyal wanted TxDOT to build the road as a tollroad so the County could finance the 4.5 mile portion, which Doyal wanted to use to funnel money to his vendor supporters, through the issuance of revenue bonds supported by tolls, which would not require a voter referendum.
Rich Muller, Doyal’s and Riley’s tollroad lawyer from Sugar Land, acknowledged during an April 13, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting that voters would never support a referendum for the Tx-249 extension. Doyal and Muller both stated during the December 19 meeting that Montgomery County voters would never vote in favor of Tx-249 as a tollroad.
Republican Primary Election Statewide Proposition 2: “No governmental entity should ever construct or fund the construction of tollroads without voter approval.”
To Davenport, it’s clearly all about politics. Her office policies are little more than screen shots concerning how to use the County’s computer system. While Davenport recently began to claim that her withholding the office procedure manual from Bush and the general public is to prevent some sort of fraud against the County government, it’s pretty clear that Davenport is really hiding a meaningless set of 700 pages which reveal Davenport knows quite little about her own job. Davenport’s efforts are all about delay. She wants Paxton to delay a decision requiring her to release the information until after the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election. Davenport has already told attorneys in the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office that she will file suit against Paxton after he, as expected, will order Davenport to release the information.
Bush accused Davenport of changing her position on the procedures manual on December 27. Bush, who is President of the Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees, wrote:
“Over time, though, Davenport’s position on the procedure manual has changed. She first said the manual could be disclosed, but within a day or two, she said that account numbers and login credentials would need to be redacted. Then, she decided there were too many redactions to disclose it. Davenport’s 10-day letter [to Bush] cited every single PIA [Public Information Act] exemption and common law privacy…Finally, in open Commissioners Court, Davenport announced she was really concerned about the anti-fraud procedures in the manual. Never before had this come up.”
On December 1, 2017, Bush made an Open Records Act request to Davenport for her procedures manual and accounting procedures as well as some other government records. Bush is running against Davenport for County Treasurer as a reformer in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election.
Almost immediately, Davenport contacted the County Attorney’s Office to seek help in keeping her County Treasurer procedures manual and accounting procedures secret.
Assistant County Attorney John McKinney contacted Bush and told her verbally that Davenport would only allow Bush to view the procedures manual at the Sadler Administration Building but would not allow Bush to have copies of the open records. Bush told McKinney that she would agree to the procedure initially but reserved the right to receive copies.
Meanwhile, McKinney informed the Texas Attorney General’s Open Records Division of the proposed procedure. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office immediately informed McKinney that the procedure of only allowing viewing of the documents but not copying, was not compliant with the Texas Open Records Act. McKinney told Davenport on Wednesday, December 13, 2017, who then instructed the County Attorney’s Office to withhold the procedures manual and accounting procedures entirely.
On Thursday, December 14, 2017, McKinney sent Bush a letter on behalf of Davenport formally to respond to Bush’s Open Records Act request. Davenport, through McKinney, told Bush that the County Treasurer’s Office accounting procedures and procedures manual would not be disclosed. Davenport has instructed McKinney to seek a formal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether she must withhold the documents. Davenport has also already instructed McKinney and the County Attorney’s Office to sue Paxton in the likely event that Paxton will rule that Davenport must turn over the documents!
Clearly, Davenport knows that Texas Attorney General Paxton will rule against her, but she doesn’t want the public or Bush to see her accounting procedures (or lack thereof) or her procedures manual (or lack thereof) prior to the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election.
The Golden Hammer broke the story concerning Davenport’s efforts to hide her office policies from Bush and the public on December 16. 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.
During the December 19 Commissioners Court meeting, Davenport asked the Commissioners Court to declare office procedures confidential, but the Court refused. Davenport told the Commissioners Court that this situation is “the Melanie and Eric show,” referring to Bush and to the Publisher of Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper. In reality, Davenport wanted the Commissioners Court of Montgomery County somehow to overrule Texas law by superseding the Texas Public Information Act/Open Records Act. Davenport’s attempt to get the Commissioners Court to override Texas law to protect her politically would seem more to constitute “the Stephanne and Marc show,” referring, of course, to Davenport and her husband corrupt political boss Marc Davenport who attended the Commissioners Court with her to cheer for his wife’s bizarre actions.
Davenport’s attempt to get the Commissioners Court to override Texas law to protect her politically would seem more to constitute “the Stephanne and Marc show,” referring, of course, to Davenport and her husband corrupt political boss Marc Davenport who attended the Commissioners Court with her to cheer for his wife’s bizarre actions.
During the Commissioners Court meeting, Lambright, who has reviewed the County Treasurer’s office procedures manual himself, made clear that he would not condone Davenport’s wrongful withholding of the documents from Bush and the general public. Lambright also said that neither he nor his assistant county attorneys would help Davenport hide the documents or try to convince the Attorney General that she should do so.
On December 22, Davenport sent a poorly written letter to Attorney General Paxton on her own behalf in which she begged the Attorney General to rule that her office procedures somehow constituted “credit card, debit card, charge card, and access device numbers.” (Emphasis added.) An office procedures manual is just that: a manual of office procedures, not account numbers. Bush has made clear she didn’t request any account numbers.
In fact, it’s highly questionable why Davenport would include credit card, debit card, charge card, or access device numbers in an office procedure manual. Perhaps, what Davenport also seeks to hide is her willingness to subject the Montgomery County government to a security breach by including account numbers in an operating procedure manual.
Desperately, Davenport also claimed that Attorney General Paxton should find that her Treasurer’s Office procedure manual somehow “constitutes security or infrastructure issues for computers.” Once again, Davenport clearly suffers from confusion. While her husband, corrupt political boss Marc Davenport, has attempted to take charge of the County’s Information Technology Department – please see, for example, “Montgomery County Government ‘For Sale’ (Part 11): Marc Davenport’s In Charge,” The Golden Hammer, December 5, 2017 – there is no indication whatsoever that County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport has either competence or has in actuality prepared procedures for security or infrastructure issues for computers. That’s what the Information Technology Department of the County government should and, mostly, does do.
In her December 22, 2017, letter to Attorney General Paxton, Davenport tried to argue that her Treasurer’s Office procedure manual should be confidential, because other documents that have nothing whatsoever with the information Bush requested should be confidential.
Bush responded to Davenport’s December 22 letter to Attorney General Paxton with a letter of her own.
Bush noted that neither she nor the general public have requested any account numbers nor have she or the public sought information technology network security information.
Instead, Bush made clear,
“The reason for Bush’s open records request is simple – to examine the adequacy and efficiency of how the Treasurer’s Office accounts for taxpayer funds. The procedure manual should explain the Treasurer’s accounting procedures. Evaluating those procedures goes straight to the merits of election the best candidate.”
Bush concluded her detailed discussion of the Texas Public Information Act (“PIA”)/Open Records Act with the following:
“In her letter’s conclusion, Davenport recites a list of the frauds she believes could be perpetrated against Montgomery County should her accounting procedures manual fall into the wrong hands. But the Texas Legislature has already weighed her concerns – against our state’s overriding public policy of open government. Any concerns that outweigh the policy of governing in the daylight are reflected in the PIA’s exemptions. But none apply here.”
Bush requested that Attorney General Paxton render “a reasonably prompt opinion” well before the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election. Of course, Davenport will likely file suit to make sure the document doesn’t see the light of day prior to the election.
In her desperation to hide her accounting procedures and procedures manual, County Treasurer Davenport submitted one of the strangest agenda items ever proffered for a Commissioners Court meeting. Amazingly, Davenport sought to have the Montgomery County Commissioners Court try to supersede Texas law, which the Texas Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law long ago during the December 19 Commissioners Court meeting.
Davenport’s requested agenda item originally, as submitted, read, “Consider and Discuss the Adoption of a Policy That Deems Procedures As Proprietary.” She submitted that agenda item for the Tuesday, December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting. Davenport made the submission on the same day when McKinney reported to Davenport that Paxton would not permit a mere viewing of the requested public information.
There are numerous problems with Davenport’s initial request:
- Government documents are “proprietary” usually because that term describes something in the form of a trade secret that gives a business enterprise a competitive advantage. Proprietary information can sometimes come into the hands of a government entity if, for example, a private company has provided the information within a bid package. Phonoscope, the fiber optic cable company, that the Davenport Ring is seeking to foist on the Montgomery County government, claimed that all of its proposals and communications were proprietary under the Texas Open Records Act. The Texas Attorney General disagreed and required the production of documents to this newspaper.
- Davenport wanted to draw a cloak of secrecy basically on every document that set forth internal procedures for the entire County government. That’s contrary to the policy of “open government” and “open records” that the Texas Legislature made clear is a fundamental public policy of the State of Texas.
- Davenport had no specific proposal for what the “policy” would be, which violated the requirement that the notice be “sufficiently specific to alert the general public to the topic to be considered,” as the Supreme Court of Texas has made clear.
- The Commissioners Court cannot overrule Texas law put on the books by the Legislature and the Governor. That’s a violation of the “separation of powers” doctrine in the Texas Constitution.
County Judge Craig Doyal, whose daughter works for Davenport in the Treasurer’s Office as a nepotistic hire, seems to go along with whatever Davenport wants, as protecting his daughter’s salary and position is Doyal’s top priority. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Doyal’s “chief of staff” jim fredricks happily placed Davenport’s bizarre agenda item on the draft agenda on Wednesday, December 13.
Unfortunately for Davenport, there are some people inside the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office who have some integrity. Both McKinney and Assistant County Attorney Amy Dunham objected to the proposed agenda item and made their concerns known to fredricks.
Unfortunately, fredricks and Doyal operate outside of the law. Therefore, they merely changed Davenport’s proposed agenda item to make it even more bizarre without further review from the County Attorney’s Office.
Therefore, the County Treasurer’s actual agenda item in the posted December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting agenda reads, “CONSIDER AND DISCUSS OFFICE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES AND POTENTIAL DISCLOSURE OF SAME.”
Mighty burst of fresh air begins to blow into Montgomery County by the name of Mark Keough
Reform County Judge candidate Mark Keough announced he is running to clean up Montgomery County’s government and seeking the Republican Nomination in the March 6, 2018, Primary Election. Keough signed his “Contract with Montgomery County” during a packed event in downtown Conroe on November 14. Keough announced the terms of the “Contract with Montgomery County” to thunderous applause reminiscent of the enormous support the Republican “Contract with America” enjoyed during the bellwether 1994 national elections.
Keough, who is currently serving in his second term as Montgomery County’s State Representative, District 15, has enjoyed wonderful ratings from conservative organizations which rate the hundreds of votes each member of the Texas Legislature takes during each Legislative Session. Keough received an “A” rating from West Texas Right to Life and an 88%, the highest conservative score for any legislator from Montgomery County, from Empower Texans, a grassroots statewide conservative organization.
Keough decided he wanted to spend his considerable energy to bring reform to the Montgomery County government. Therefore, he decided to run for County Judge to try to clean up the corrupt mess that the citizens of this community face in the County government. Under the incumbent County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, who vote as a liberal pro-government spending growth bloc, Montgomery County’s government has:
- Suffered the indictments of the County Judge, Doyal, and Precinct 2 County Commissioner, Riley, as well as of corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport, who has worked very closely with Doyal and Riley, for alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
- Suffered government spending growth at a faster rate than ever before in history.
- Suffered an enormous increase in taxes as a result of the failure of the County government to reduce spending while they’ve worked closely with the Montgomery Central Appraisal District to increase property tax appraisals at a record-setting pace.
- Experienced nepotism and cronyism throughout almost every department of the County government.
- Fallen under a cloak of secrecy and “closed government” that Doyal, Riley, Meador, and “chief of staff” jim fredricks have imposed so that citizens cannot obtain information about the workings of the government.
- Suffered from intense conflicts of interest with members of the Commissioners Court entering into business arrangements with prospective and current County vendors.
Keough has repeatedly explained that he wants “to clean up our County government.”
Therefore, his “Contract with Montgomery County” begins with the recognition that “Elected officials are servants of the people. They do not rule, they serve.” Keough’s recognition of this important principle is precisely opposite to Doyal’s, Riley’s, and Meador’s attitude that they are in an elite class over and above the rest of us and have the right to use public facilities, property, equipment, and employees for their personal and political enjoyment.
Keough has rejected the secrecy and clandestine actitivites of Doyal in the second term of the “Contract with Montgomery County” which provides “The actions of elected officials are transparent and beyond reproach.” Keough specifically noted that he “will end the practice of granting preferential treatment to elected officials and their employees that does not apply to the citizens of this County.” Unlike Doyal who has instituted a toothless “code of ethics” solely in order to placate the Texas Department of Transportation’s minimum state funding ethics requirements, Keough has contracted that “I will ensure current County ethics policies have a mechanism of enforcement that deters current and future ethics violations.”
Like a breath of fresh air for the citizens of Montgomery County who have long suffered the stench of Doyal’s, Riley’s, and Meador’s spending increases, Keough has included in his “Contract with Montgomery County”:
- “County Governance will always function as fiscally responsible and accountable to the citizens of Montgomery County.”
- “I will work to reduce the tax rate of the County to account for increases in total property values throughout the County. Appraisal goes up, rate should come down!”
- “I will eliminate wasteful spending in our budget…”
That final point is particularly remarkable, because Doyal and Riley refuse even to acknowledge that there is any wasteful spending in the County government even though hundreds of County employees have suggested cost savings.
Keough has assured Montgomery County citizens that the era of “slush funds” has come to an end: “I will return any funds that are non-contingency related or are not carried over for unfinished projects to the taxpayers via reduction in tax rates.”
Obviously, Countywide mobility and infrastructure are major issues, because Doyal and his allies Riley and Meador have done such a terrible job in those areas while they focused on moving large amounts of funds into the hands of their favored political and criminal legal defense fund contributors. Keough, on the other hand, has promised in his “Contract” that he’ll “eliminate toll roads as a means of transportation infrastructure,” eliminate the use of “certificates of obligation” as a means to circumvent the will of the people of Montgomery County, and will work to develop a County-wide mobility plan. The elimination of the wrongful use of certificates of obligation has been a sore point for Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, both of whom have objected to the use of COs for long-term infrastructure obligations.
Finally, Keough has recognized that outside special interests – engineers, developers, and other County vendors – have taken control of the heart and mind of Doyal, Riley, and Meador, so that they have become the real constituents of those three officials. Keough has included his “Contract with Montgomery County”:
“I will immediately end the influence that outside interests have upon the decision-making ability of those who govern and will replace this practice with what is the will of the people of Montgomery County.”
The 2018 Republican Primary Election will certainly be interesting to watch. Keogh’s complete “Contract with Montgomery County” follows.
Other candidates challenge the political establishment
Numerous other candidates are challenging the political establishment, as they’ve announced, in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election in races for County Treasurer, Commissioners for Precincts 2 and 4, Precincts 3 and 4 Justice of the Peace, and District Clerk.