The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
The Woodlands, December 28 – Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch and Vice Chairman Bruce Rieser are seeking to “scapegoat” General Manager Jeff Jones for using tax dollars to support the illegal pro-incorporation campaign leading up to the November 2, 2021, referendum, wherein Woodlands residents rejected the Board’s attempt to consolidate its power by forming a city government by an almost 70% to 30% vote. The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed with two Township employees and one Board member, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, that Rieser and Bunch are trying to blame Jones for the expenditure of more than $100,000 of Woodlands tax dollars on their campaign to identify pro-incorporation voters, write campaign literature, and distribute that campaign literature in their attempt to win the referendum campaign.
The Board will hold a special Township Board meeting at 6 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, December 29, 2021, to hold a secret executive session to discuss Jones’ termination and then to terminate him and name a likely interim replacement, who will be Assistant General Manager Karen Dempsey. Bunch and Rieser had pushed for the hiring of Jones to replace longtime President and General Manager Don Norrell.
As this newspaper first reported on October 21, 2021, The Woodlands Township Board of Directors and staff abused their office, possibly even to the degree of constituting a third degree felony under Chapter 39 of the Texas Penal Code, for squandering $79,925.98 of tax dollars on their pro-incorporation campaign. The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed that the Board of Directors of the Township never approved any of those expenditures or the contracts with a political consulting firm, Cooksey Communications, to provide political strategy and voter identification to assist in the pro-incorporation campaign.
The use of public tax dollars for a political campaign is a violation of numerous provisions of the Texas Election Code and likely bleeds over into “abuse of office” under the Texas Penal Code. While Woodlands Township General Manager Jeff Jones signed or approved most of the contracts, this newspaper has confirmed through three confidential sources inside the Township, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, that Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch personally authorized the expenditures. Furthermore this newspaper has confirmed that longtime Township Attorney Robin Cross resigned over her disapproval of the legality of the expenditures.
This newspaper obtained the secret expenditure documents on October 11, 2021. The documents revealed the following expenditures:
- $4,525.00 to do a video shoot on a green screen set of Board members urging Woodlands residents to vote for incorporation, including $950.00 for the video shoot, $200.00 for a teleprompter, and 15 hours (at $225.00 per hour) for video editing, paid to Silver Rock Productions;
- $9,703.30 for room rental of $4,192.05, coffee in the amount of $2,550.00, and service charges of $2,961.25, paid to the Woodlands Waterway Marriott, for the pro-incorporation “information” session on September 23, 2021, at which the canned presenters did not permit questions from the floor of the event;
- $35,000.00 to Cooksey Strategic Communications for providing voter list development, build a comprehensive “campaign timeline with print deadlines,” designing a campaign theme along with three direct mail pieces, banners, signage, power point presentations, a one-page informational handout for meetings, and advertisements, and “monitoring social media platforms day-to-day and provide pre-approved responses”;
- $7,604.00 to Community Impact Newspaper for pro-incorporation advertising twice during the month of October;
- $35.00 to the Woodlands Courier Service to have 12 signs picked up and delivered to the Woodlands Waterway Marriott loading dock on September 23;
- $2,025.00 to Signsational Signs for pro-incorporation signs including “steps to incorporation” and “American Rescue Plan” among others;
- $1,833.00 for 5 versions of pro-incorporation flyers;
- $2,792.68 to Champions Printing for postage and mailing services;
- $4,075.00 for a video shoot of Gordy Bunch ($950.00), teleprompter ($200.00), and 13 hours of video editing ($2,925.00);
- $5,844.00 to Community Impact Newspaper for pro-incorporation advertising two more times during the month of October;
- $6,489.00 to Community Impact Newspaper for pro-incorporation advertising once during the month of September.
The total expenditures are $79,925.98 of Woodlands residents’ tax dollars paid through taxation to the Woodlands Township.
Dr. Ann Snyder, a Woodlands Township Director, told The Golden Hammer that the Board did not authorize any of the foregoing expenditures with the exception of the Woodlands Waterway Marriott expenditure, which the Board had always contemplated would occur in pre-incorporation planning and discussions.
Now, of course, Bunch and Rieser are seeking to distance themselves from these expenditures, which they directed Jones, without Board approval, to undertake.
In addition to violating the Texas Election Code, the December 29 meeting appears to come close to, if not totally crossing the line of, violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. At a minimum, it would seem that Bunch and Rieser should recuse themselves from participation in the executive sessions to determine the appropriate course of action with respect to Jones’ employment.
The two Silver Rock invoices and the Woodlands Waterway Marriott invoice appear below:
Neither Bunch nor Rieser responded to requests for comment.