Conroe, October 17 – The Montgomery County Grand Jury will hear testimony from several County employees on Thursday, October 19, 2017, regarding the alleged use of County property and services for personal and campaign purposes by Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and County Judge Craig Doyal. At least seven current or former County employees who have worked in or around the Precinct 2 Commissioner’s Office have been subpoenaed to appear.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has broken several stories about Doyal’s and Riley’s use of vehicles, employees, County computers, and even custom-installed plumbing and electrical systems for their personal and campaign purposes over several months. Several of those stories arose from the observations and photographs of Ginger Russell, a Republican Precinct Chair and conservative activist from the Magnolia area, and from information which confidential sources inside several different County Departments have provided to this newspaper.
District Attorney Brett Ligon is well known for his tough stance on violent crimes. In the past, Ligon has directly admonished the Commissioners Court for ethics lapses and urged them to “reach for the stars” in adopting a Code of Ethics.
In some ways, Ligon, who seems as straight as an arrow, is almost like the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, who lived in Athens during the height of the Athenian Empire, and eventually became an ascetic as he searched for an honest man. Could it be that Montgomery County citizens are witnessing a modern-day Diogenes in our very own community?
Here’s a summary of what is now known about Riley’s and Doyal’s activities:
- On March 12, 2012, Riley terminated Commissioners Precinct 2 employee Melissa Goetz for taking County computers, printers, equipment, and supplies home with her to work on then County Commissioner Craig Doyal’s political campaign. Riley was the Precinct 2 Operations Manager at the time.
- 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.
- 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.
The Courier blog did a post earlier this evening in which it attempted to defend Riley for his use of public property. The post included the following: “He [Riley] added that Magnolia ISD Superintendant Todd Stephens provided the truck and would be submitting an invoice to him for its use.”
While it was nice of Riley to blame Magnolia ISD Superintendent Stephens, it also raises the question where are the invoices for the previous occasions when Stephens provided the truck for Riley’s band, including numerous campaign events at which Riley and the band performed. Riley’s comment was also inconsistent with a colloquy between a gentleman named Tony Swonke, who was the drummer for the Riley band for a long time, and the Publisher of this newspaper earlier today on Facebook:
TONY SWONKE: “I was Charlie Riley’s drummer for several years. I don’t think the article mentioned that Todd Stephens is also in the band. During my time with them, all our gigs were free, and we played for civic events. Can public property be used for community outreach? I think so.”
ERIC YOLLICK: “Mr. Swonke, that’s really great news! I have a warehouse of stuff that I use for cancer research fundraisers. I pay a lot of money for the storage each month. Which Magnolia ISD building should I bring it all to for storage for free? Please let me know as soon as possible, because I need to save the money.”
TONY SWONKE: “The events we played at were: 1) Programs at various MISD schools (Christmas, Halloween, etc), 2) Chamber of Commerce events, 3) 4th of July lunch for senior citizens at the Community Center on Friendship Drive, 4) Senior Citizen Day at Montgomery County Fair, 5) Depot Days in downtown Magnolia. I think my point is; no one in the band personally benefitted from these gigs. I understand the points made by Eric and Linda, and I’m sure the policy will be looked at a lot closer from now on, and the days of various entiities helping the voluteers may be over. It’s still sad in a way. And yes I understancd, ‘Volunteering for WHAT?’. But the five events I listed were typical of the band’s unwritten mission statement.”
There are some problems with the Riley-Stephens approach. First, they’re using public property for a private use. Riley’s band performed at many campaign functions of Riley’s as well as community organizations. Second, why is the Magnolia ISD allowed the Riley band to store at its facilities and use its trucks when private citizens who donate enormous amounts of time and money for charitable causes, such as raising money for cancer research, for child welfare, or for the animal shelter, don’t receive those same benefits. Third, Riley’s event on Saturday, October 14, 2017, was a political campaign event. Stephens provided publicly-funded storage, publicly-funded transport, publicly-funded loading and unloading, and even publicly-funded setup of the equipment at Riley’s campaign event.
When does the “Oh, c’mon now” rule kick in?!