Image: An red-faced angry Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley and former Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker, who are running for Precinct 2 Commissioner in the May 22 Republican Runoff Election, waited to begin their debate at Ellisor Elementary School in Magnolia on Thursday, April 26, 2018.
Magnolia, April 27 – Charlie Riley, the embattled and red-faced Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner, had a rough time at a candidate forum last night at Ellisor Elementary School, while his challenger, former renowned conservative author and former Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker appeared very relaxed and willing to challenge Riley’s contradictory statements at every turn. The Montgomery Trace, Montgomery Place, Sendera Ranch, and Westwood subdivisions hosted the event which included questions submitted from members of those homeowners associations in attendance.
After Parker criticized the incumbent Commissioner for failing to update County subdivision rules and regulations and drainage criteria, an openly-frustrated Riley, who worked for 12 years as the Precinct 2 Operations Manager before he became County Commissioner during the past 3 years, admitted, “We know they’re outdated. They’re a little bit behind.”
“We know they’re outdated. They’re a little behind.” – – Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley speaking of his work on subdivision rules and regulations and drainage criteria, April 26, 2018.
“The infrastructure is way behind.” – – Former Sheriff Tommy Gage speaking about Riley’s work on mobility, especially in the F.M. 2978 area, April 10, 2018.
That point in the candidate forum became a lot more like a true debate when Parker pounced on his electoral opponent, “The current Commissioner said ‘we did update but we’re updating it now.’ It’s apparent that it needs to be done and that’s clear and obvious!”
A member of one of the host associations asked a very piercing question about why the Montgomery County government spends taxpayer funds on membership dues in the Texas Association of Counties, which is a pro-government spending trade organization that has lobbied against statewide property tax reform and other reforms pertaining to local government spending.
Parker said of the County government’s membership in the Texas Association of Counties, “I wouldn’t have any issue to not pay to lobby against ourselves.”
Riley, who served on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District which set major policies to raise appraisal tax rates and who went to Austin during the 85th Texas Legislature specifically to lobby against property tax reform, answered about the Texas Association of Counties, “I think they do a lot of good.”
Another citizen asked both candidates, “Are you currently under investigation?” Riley, who is under criminal indictment currently for official misconduct, a guilty finding of which would result in his removal from office, answered, “No!” Parker also answered, “No.” Perhaps, Riley doesn’t understand what a criminal indictment means.
$95 million, 3 mile, TX 249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway
The most hotly debated question was on the $95 million, 3 mile, TX 249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway. The moderator asked whether the candidates would support the road being a free road and whether the candidates would support a citizen referendum on the road before it’s built.
Riley responded first by lying, “It’s never been a debate whether it’s been a free road or tollroad. It’s always been going to be a tollroad.” (Riley didn’t mention that he attended a hearing on June 27, 2017, where Riley and County Judge Craig Doyal asked the Texas Department of Transportation to build the TX 249 extension as a tollroad, because, they falsely told the commissioners in Austin, Montgomery County citizens are “unified in support” for TX 249 to be a tollroad.)
Riley then further explained that he does not support a citizen referendum for the road, because it’s going to be paid from tolls which will go towards the massive $95 million debt he intends to issue for the road.
Parker responded, “I am not for any tollroad whatsoever. I disagree that it was always going to be a tollroad.” Parker also complained that the SH 242 flyover tolls have not yet been removed, even though the bond debt on those roads is now paid off.
Riley then further lied to the audience and told them “The flyovers are not paid for. We still have pass-through tolls that aren’t complete. We have to put $56 million to be put in escrow.”
(Unfortunately, Riley doesn’t understand how the flyovers for SH 242 were financed. Montgomery County loaned the money to the state for the construction of the flyovers and for State Highway 242 itself (as well as certain other road improvements). Montgomery County obtained those funds by issuing general obligation bonds. As traffic went on those roads, the state accumulated funds to reimburse the County, which is the reason the program is called “pass through tolls,” because the tolls are paid by the state to the County to reimburse for actual road use. The County government received a substantial payment from pass-through tolls in 2017, so Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack recommended paying off the County’s debt on several bonds, including the bonds which financed construction of the flyovers. Therefore, the flyover debt actually is paid. Whether the County government takes the tolls off of the flyovers has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the County receives “pass-through tolls” in the future.)
Parker criticized Riley for pushing a tollroad on the people of Precinct 2 who would likely use the TX 249 tollroad. “Why wasn’t pass-through financing looked at?” Parker asked. “When 91% of the people in Precinct 2 say they’d like a chance to vote whether or not to approve the tollroad [as they did in the March 6 Republican Primary Election referendum for Proposition 2], that’s dangerous and egregious…that you aren’t allowing the citizens of Montgomery County to vote.” (By the way, the reason that pass-through financing is not an option for TX 249, as far as Riley and his crony Craig Doyal are concerned, is that the funding for the initial construction would still require issuance of general obligation bonds first, which would require a referendum. Nevertheless, there simply is no way that Riley and Doyal would allow a referendum to occur. They don’t want the voters to have any say in their elite decision-making.)
Parker added, “I will tell you now that if elected, I will do what I can to stop the tolling on that road, because it should be free to let people drive on it.”
Riley responded, “It’s never going to be free.”
Riley then turned “stop sign red” and added, “I can’t believe Precinct 3 Commissioner Noack is trying to stop a road in Precinct 2. It’s going to be a tollroad no matter what.” Parker answered, “I will do everything in my power to stop the tolls on that road. You [pointing to Riley] said it was always going to be a tollroad.”
Riley then jumped up, angrily, and muttered something that was incomprehensible. He added to his muttering, “I’ve been working with folks on this road for 7 years. It’s going to be a tollroad. Somebody’s going to pay for the road.”
Parker asked, “Why wasn’t pass-through financing looked at?” Riley then angrily contradicted his earlier comments that the County is still involved in the state’s “pass-through toll system”: “Pass-through financing is a thing of the past,” Riley shouted.
Parks and roads
Parker explained that he is a huge supporter of public parks. Riley then challenged Parker, “Why did you support the Citizens Budget Committee that wanted to zero out the salary for my parks person?” (Of course, Riley didn’t explain that the Citizens Budget Committee proposal was to merge the parks operations into Riley’s already highly-bloated staff budget.) Parker answered Riley, “I endorsed the Citizens Budget Committee report as a good first start. I didn’t endorse every single line in their lengthy proposal.”
The moderator asked each candidate to name his three highest priorities for his next four years in office.
Parker’s top three priorities are:
- #1 “Mobility planning…and making sure large developments were on road sufficiently large.”
- #2 “Flood mitigation and making sure developers are held accountable.”
- #3 “Reducing spending and lowering taxes.”
Riley’s top three priorities are:
- #1 “Finish up road bond projects we’ve got started.” Riley explained that he’s only done 4 of 16 road bond projects but he hopes to complete five more in the near future. “We promised we would get all of the road bond projects done,” Riley lamented as he realized he’d just admitted that he broke that promise.
- #2 “Get state roads, especially 2978, under construction, 1488, finish the 149 overpass, and 1774.” Riley had promised in 2014 that he would finish the widening of F.M. 2978 by the end of his first term. That project hasn’t yet begun.
- #3 “Flood mitigation. We’re in the process of working on inter-local agreements with Harris County with their flood control district to get flood mitigation projects. We’re going to let them look at our drainage since all of our drainage goes there.”
As to the Woodlands Parkway Extension, each candidate answered as follows:
- Parker: “I am not for the Woodlands Parkway Extension.”
- Riley: “I put the Woodlands Parkway Extension on the ballot because of requests from the west side. I ain’t building the Woodlands Parkway Extension. I’m going to build a road from Dobbin Huffsmith to Mansions Way on 2978. We’ve moved south. I don’t care if people get in The Woodlands or not. I want them to get from F.M. 2978 to Dobbin Huffsmith quicker.”
Riley slammed Precinct 3 County Commissioner Noack further. “His people are all sitting behind computers,” Riley said of his colleague. “When you call our office, you get a real live person answering the phone,” the angry man told the crowd.