Image: The Inspection/Violation Notice City of Conroe inspector Jeff McCaffrey issued to Montgomery County for “Doing work without proper permits, Demo[lition] without Asbestos Survey” along with a $500 fine to the County.
Conroe, April 12 – The City of Conroe shut down a Montgomery County Building Maintenance Department job inside the Lee G. Alworth Courthouse Building, at 207 West Phillips Street in Conroe, on Wednesday, for “doing work without proper permits” and for doing a demolition of the Drug Courtroom on the 3rd floor of the building without the City-required and State of Texas-mandated Asbestos Survey. City inspector Jeff McCaffrey issued a $500 fine to the Montgomery County government and ordered that the demolition job “get proper permits before doing any further work.”
McCaffrey issued the fine, the Violation Notice, and the stop-work order at 9:15 a.m. At approximately 2:25 p.m., a lone Building Maintenance employee, Miguel Macareno (salary $50,966.66 per year, plus benefits), continued to demolish the floors and insulation inside the locked door of the Drug Courtroom. After a staff reporter of The Golden Hammer knocked on the door, Macareno opened the door and explained that “the city did order us to stop work but they’ve issued a new permit today according to my boss Paul Case.” Both the staff reporter and the Publisher of The Golden Hammer then visited the City of Conroe Commercial Permits Department which confirmed that no building permit had issued, but the City had, indeed, issued an Inspection/Violation Notice to the County government. The Building Maintenance Department illegally removed the Inspection/Violation Notice from the Courtroom door.
Macareno was tearing out a mountain of insulation in the Drug Court and flooring that had insulation as well with a large scraper he was using to remove the tiles from the floor. He was wearing no protective clothing or gear at the time he opened the door to a very dusty Drug Courtroom Wednesday afternoon. At the other end of the hall, there were large dusty footprints coming away from the other locked door of the Drug Courtroom.
Once again, under the supervision of County Judge Craig Doyal and Building Maintenance Department Director, a major construction project proceeded without an asbestos survey, which constitutes a violation of federal and state laws as well as City of Conroe ordinances. Joseph Hultman, a 30-year experienced professional inspector licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission, told The Golden Hammer, “No work should have occurred in the Courthouse without an asbestos survey.” The City of Conroe’s Ordinances require an asbestos survey before any demolition work may occur in a commercial or government building within the City of Conroe.
Even if Case had been truthful when he allegedly told Macareno that the County received a building permit, Conroe City Ordinances require that a permittee must display the building permit at the location of the job in a place where the public may inspect the permit. Therefore, Macareno’s admission that the permit was not at the job site was another violation of Conroe Ordinances.
The City of Conroe has complained to the County’s Building Maintenance Department on numerous occasions that the County must obtain City permits before doing any construction or demolition work inside the City, according to nine different confidential sources inside the County government and three sources inside the City’s Commercial Permits Department.
The Building Maintenance Department, under Doyal’s and Case’s poor management, is racked with major problems. The Department is known for housing some of the biggest nepotism problems in the County government: Case’s son works directly for him; Rob Wright, the Assistant Director, and his immediate family (wife and son) all work directly together; Bill Meador, Mike Meador’s brother, works in some capacity that several of the Building Maintenance Department employees cannot ascertain; Angela Ford, the daughter of Jule Puckett, Mike Meador’s secretary renowned for his $130,000 per year of compensation and massive overtime pay (even though she should be an exempt employee under federal wage and hour laws) works there as some sort of light bulb “consultant”; the Department regularly does jobs without proper permitting and licensure.
In the Tuesday, April 11, 2017, County Commissioners Court meeting, Case admitted that his large department of people never go on the roofs of Montgomery County buildings to inspect them or to maintain them.
In December, 2016, several Building Maintenance Department employees suffered major exposures to friable asbestos, chrysotile, a known carcinogen. To make matters worse, the poor supervision by Doyal and Case on the demolition job inside the Main Courthouse building resulted in sucking up large quantities of friable asbestos into the HVAC-intake duct that fed a large public hallway adjacent to what is now the 410th District Courtroom. That scandal is known as “Asbesto-Gate.”
Case and Doyal worked together to hide a serious asbestos “Health Risk to County employee and the public,” as a secret January 30, 2017, environmental report delineated. Doyal’s and Case’s efforts at secrecy continued prior to the February 14, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting. Doyal and “chief of staff” jim fredricks (who supervises 2 secretaries) carefully controlled the drafting of the Agenda for that meeting which included the following cryptic item:
“21. Building Maintenance. A. Consider and Discuss Options Regarding Abandoned Heaters in the Courthouse and, if appropriate, name a funding source.”
Doyal, fredricks, and Case failed to specify what the issue was concerning the heaters, why there might be a need for funding, or what the problem could be that required an examination of “options.” Furthermore, there was no backup provided to the public or even to the members of the Commissioners Court prior to the actual Commissioners Court meeting on February 14.
At the actual Court meeting, the secrecy and sneakiness continued. Neither Case nor Doyal mentioned the word “asbestos.” Instead, Case handed a black folder with a secret letter to each of the five members of the Commissioners Court. Only Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack dared mention the word “asbestos” during the discussion. The Golden Hammer has obtained the secret letter of Stephen R. “Randy” Wev, President and Director of Operations of Bay Environmental, Inc.
The secret environmental letter contained the following finding of fact:
“There is a concern that the asbestos identified associated with these [heater] units is a potential health risk to County employees and the public.”
The letter also contained a smoking cannon! Wev stated,
”Recent inspections and air monitoring within the courthouse have found no elevated levels of asbestos in the air (excluding the recent event in the 221st)”!
In other words, even Wev has acknowledged that there were elevated levels of asbestos in the air as a result of the “recent event in the 221st.”
Meanwhile, in order to try to keep him quiet, Case and Doyal suspended one of the three workers who came into harm’s way and filed a workers compensation claim against Montgomery County from the asbestos exposure. The Golden Hammer has obtained the paperwork relating to the worker’s suspension, which have revealed that, without any warning for any sort of wrongdoing, Case and Doyal have punished this employee for reporting this grave safety concern to one of the County government’s safety officers, Curtis Fitzgerald.
Since Doyal has consolidated all County government management under his direct control, he tried to fend off an attempt to remove that control from him by assuring the members of the County Commissioners Court that he would notify them of major occurrences within the County government’s operations. As of 5:30 p.m. on April 12, Doyal had failed to notify Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack or Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark of the major violation for which the City of Conroe has cited and fined Montgomery County.
Noack said, “I would expect the County to follow all laws and all city ordinances, just as I would expect cities within the County to respect any County rules.”