Commissioner Noack’s public frustration erupts from secret meeting between Montgomery County Commissioners Court, Treasurer

Commissioner Noack’s public frustration erupts from secret meeting between Montgomery County Commissioners Court, Treasurer

Image: Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, sporting an interesting hair arrangement, on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, spoke with County Attorney J.D. Lambright before the members of the Commissioners Court went into an executive session concerning County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport’s improper release of 79 County employee names, dates of birth, and social security numbers in response to an Open Records Act request after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered her to release her office procedures manual but redact the employee names, dates of birth, and social security numbers from the document when released.

Conroe, March 21 – It clearly got quite ugly in the executive session on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, concerning Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport’s improper release of personal County employee information to a family of convicted felons and then the entire public on Thursday, March 8, 2018, after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ordered Davenport to release her office procedures manual but redact the employee names, dates of birth, and social security numbers from the document when released. Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, whose daughter works for Davenport and is a close friend of the County Treasurer, put the discussion of that issue on the Commissioners Court agenda under an executive session to “Consult with County Attorney About Release of Employee Information in Relation to Open Records Requests.”

Before the Commissioners Court adjourned to go into the executive session, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack stated, “I think we need to discuss why the release occurred in public.” At that point, County Attorney J.D. Lambright told the Commissioners Court that he agreed with Doyal that the consultation between the Commissioners Court and Lambright should occur in executive session, because the County faces potential liability problems from Davenport’s improper information release. Lambright did make clear, however, that he also believed that the Commissioners Court should have met in public after the executive session, because “I believe the public as well as the effected employees have a right to know what happened with the circumstances involving the County Treasurer’s release of private County government employee information when she released her procedures manual.”

After two other secretive executive sessions, Doyal’s “chief of staff” jim fredricks came out of the secret meeting and told Davenport and her Deputy Treasurer “we’re ready for you.” At that point Davenport and her assistant went into the meeting behind closed doors. The meeting became somewhat heated, according to sources who were in the room, particularly after Davenport tried to blame the improper information release on the Attorney General and on Lambright and his staff in the County Attorney’s Office.

As the argument ensued, Noack stormed out of the executive session in Doyal’s conference room and came back into the Commissioners Courtroom and sat in his chair. “I left because I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to have the County Treasurer in there during the conversation with the attorney,” Noack explained with apparent frustration to the public waiting in the Commissioners Courtroom during the executive session.

Six minutes later, Davenport and her deputy came back into the Courtroom and Noack returned to the executive session.

Noack later told The Golden Hammer, “The discussion of how this all happened is a discussion that should be in front of the public. The meeting wasn’t properly noticed to have an executive session with the treasurer and her assistant. I wasn’t going to be a part of that.”

When the Commissioners Court returned from its executive session about 20 minutes later, Lambright had a look of grave concern on his face. Doyal announced “No action is required out of the executive session.”

Lambright had advised Davenport to release her policy and procedures manual with redactions of employee names, dates of birth, social security numbers, and other private information back in early December, 2017, after two citizens – Conroe ISD Board President Melanie Pryor Bush and Justin Pulliam – had requested the document. Davenport refused to release the document and even ordered Assistant County Attorney John McKinney to file suit against the Texas Attorney General to keep the document hidden from public view.

On December 19, 2017, Davenport also requested the Commissioners Court to come to her aid by declaring her policy manual a “trade secret” and “proprietary information.” In fact, after the Attorney General ordered Davenport to release the document, it turns out that a majority of the approximately 700 pages of Davenport’s manual are actually just pages from public documents that were backup material published as part of earlier Commissioners Court agendas. For example, Davenport claimed that a County Investment Policy was a “trade secret” even though it had been published on the Internet as part of the backup material in 2016 when the County Commissioners Court voted to adopt the policy.

Davenport had earlier claimed that the procedure and policy manual “contained step by step instructions on how to manipulate  the county finance system.” Former County Treasurer Martha Gustavsen responded that manipulation of the county finance system is not a job duty of the County Treasurer.

In reality, the procedures manual was a bunch of junk. A supermajority of the pages were copies of policies the Commissioners Court had previously passed in open Commissioners Court meetings. It’s very clear that the real reason Davenport held the manual back so that voters could not see it before the March 6 Republican Primary Election was that there is nothing of substance contained within her entire 800 page manual.

On Thursday, March 1, 2018, Paxton ordered Davenport to release the procedures manual to the public under the Texas Open Records Act but he also made clear that Davenport should redact personal information, including names, dates of birth, and social security numbers from the document. Of course, it remains unclear why Davenport even included such information in a procedures manual of the County Treasurer’s Office. Davenport waited to release the procedures manual for one week until March 8, 2018.

One of the names of a person (now deceased) whose name, date of birth, and social security number Davenport released along with the procedures manual was former County employee Marie Moore, a political opponent of Davenport and her husband, corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport. Moore never worked for the County Treasurer but was an employee of Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark. Therefore, there’s no reason Moore’s name or identifying information should have been in a procedures manual.

On the other hand, among the pages that Davenport claimed were top secret and should not be subject to public view were pages discussing how to recognize United States currency, including the following super secret information:

  • The $1 bill has a portrait of George Washington on it.
  • The $5 bill has a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on it.
  • “The value amount of each bill is numerically posted in all four corners on both sides.”
  • “The signature of the Treasurer of the United States appears on the bottom left of the face of the bill.”

Davenport also provided guidance to her County government employee staff, which includes County Judge Craig Doyal’s daughter, with respect to the method of “counting coins.” Davenport divulged the following information when she released her procedures manual: “Seven kinds of U.S. coins are issued,” Davenport secretly confided in her office staff. A coin with a $0.01 value is named a “penny.” A coin with a $0.05 value is named a “nickel.” A coin with a $0.25 value is named a “Quarter.”

Lambright told this newspaper, “I hope we’ll discuss where does this situation leave us and the issues and concerns among the affected County employees. The County Commissioners Court needs to know the countless hours we’ve spent in the County Attorney’s Office going through the more than 700 page document, because the County Treasurer failed to redact names and other personal information in numerous places throughout the document.”

Lambright explained on Friday, March 16, that he was about to send notices to people whom the release of information has affected. The County Attorney told The Golden Hammer that there are seventy-nine (79) County employees whose full names, full dates of birth, and either full or partial social security numbers Davenport released to the world at large last week. Lambright acknowledged that at least one of those employees is deceased.

Davenport lost her re-election bid in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election to Bush. Davenport has not been back in her office for work since her Primary Election loss, other than approximately two hours on March 8 to release her procedures manual to the family of convicted felons who are her political supporters first and then to the general public.

 

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