Conroe, February 14 – Although the Commissioners Court Agenda for 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, February 14, 2017, contains many issues involving millions of dollars to the taxpayers, no issue may be of more vital concern to the fiscal condition of Montgomery County than the resolution, which Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark and Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack have co-authored, to return the County’s administrative and management structure back to the entire Commissioners Court.
Since January 15, 2015, County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” Jim Fredricks have been responsible for the management of the vast majority of County Departments. Other than the judiciary, law enforcement, and other departments under the direction of elected officials (such as the County Clerk and District Clerk), County Department heads report to Doyal and Fredricks. Previously, all County Departments reported to the entire County Commissioners Court. On January 15, however, by a 3 to 1 vote (Noack voted against, Clark was absent), Doyal and Commissioners Charlie Riley and Mike Meador reorganized the County management structure.
There are at least three major problems with the current County administrative structure.
First, it runs afoul of the vision of how counties should run under the Texas Constitution, Article V, Section 18, which provides, “The [County Commissioners] court shall exercise powers over county business” rather than one member of the Commissioners Court. Commissioner Noack has said, “Though the opportunity to delegate authority may be permitted, it is not wise. The people elected me as commissioner to be able to make these types of decisions pursuant to the Texas Constitution and statutes and when the court approved this egregious resolution they robbed the power from the people of Montgomery County…Delegating these responsibilities to just one sole authority has created a dictator on our court.”
Second, the centralized management of Montgomery County just doesn’t work. Doyal is largely absent from the office. His golf obligations and hectic social life keep him busy. His assistant Fredricks has little management background or experience. In addition to his County job, Fredricks operates a solo public relations firm. Previously, he was the Editor of the Conroe Courier newspaper until Houston Community Newspapers terminated his employment. Fredricks’ tenure as a manager of business operations at the Courier was brief and largely unsuccessful.
Commissioner Clark said, “I believe this [proposal to move the departments back under the entire Commissioners Court] is a positive move and one that is necessary to keep the integrity of the court’s actions intact. With the increased and intense scrutiny the court is receiving at this time, my belief is that my vote is a voice for the people that elected me to make the best decisions for Montgomery County. We may not always agree and that’s okay. These important decisions need to be made by the entire court.”
Third, and perhaps most important, Montgomery County’s government has gained a reputation for its lack of ethics during the management tenure of Doyal and Fredricks. Just recently, on January 24, the Commissioners Court reluctantly adopted a Code of Ethics in response to a requirement of the Texas Department of Transportation that if the Court failed to adopt such a Code, all state road and bridge grants would cease. The Code of Ethics has very little enforcement mechanisms. Nevertheless, the one enforcement method that exists is oversight from a five-person Ethics Committee, two of whom the County Commissioners Court will appoint and the other three nominated from the Human Resources Department, the Purchasing Department, and the County Auditor. Under the current organization, the Human Resources and Purchasing departments report directly to Doyal. Therefore, Doyal would likely control two Ethics Committee appointments out of five and might control as many as four out of five, if he held the influence over the two Commissioners Court appointments as well.
The Commissioners Court should return the management structure of the County government back to direct supervision under the Court, the precise manner in which the Founding Fathers of Texas had intended.