Commissioners Court ethics commission selections raise issue whether Lambright Law about to go down in flames

Commissioners Court ethics commission selections raise issue whether Lambright Law about to go down in flames

Image: Precinct 1 Montgomery County Commissioner Mike Meador has nominated City of Conroe Director of Community Development Nancy Mikeska to serve on the Montgomery County Ethics Commissioner for the 2020-2021 term. Mikeska appears with Conroe City Councilmen Raymond McDonald, Jody Czajkoski, and Duane Ham (left to right).

Conroe, November 11 – At the Tuesday, November 12, 2019, meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, the Montgomery County Ethics Commission may actually come to life with the nomination of eleven (11) individuals to serve in the ten (10) Commission positions. Under the legislation, the Commissioners Court nominates and chooses five (5) of the ten (10) members, while the Court will also choose the other five (5) from nominations from the Montgomery County Government’s Civil Service Commission, the Dispute Resolution Center (DRC), and the Montgomery County Bar Association (MCBA).

The Civil Service Commissioner, DRC, and MCBA nominated some outstanding individuals to fill the positions, but the nominees of some of the members of the Commissioners Court are troubling political hacks who seem as though they’ve received the nods more for their political connections to the nominating Court members than for their merit on ethics issues.

On October 8, 2019, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted unanimously, 4 to 0, to opt into the ethics commission provisions of the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act. Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley was absent from the meeting. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” drafted the Resolution and Order, which the Court adopted with little discussion. A full copy of the Resolution and Order appear at the bottom of this article.

Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright, after whom the 86th Legislature named the statute, was one of the most popular and highly-respected elected servants in the history of Montgomery County. He fought for government ethics at every turn and dreamed of enactment of an enforceable ethics code in the Montgomery County government. On Friday, June 14, 2019, Governor Greg Abbott, thanks to the hard work of State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of Conroe), State Senator Brandon Creighton (Republican of Conroe), Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, Montgomery County Attorney B.D. Griffin, and conservative activists including, among many, Montgomery County Republican Party (MCRP) Vice Chairman Reagan Reed, MCRP Treasurer John Hill Wertz, MCRP Finance Chair Kelli Cook, and MCRP Steering Committee member Jon Bouche, signed the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act into law. The statute, effectively immediately, brought profound changes to every local government entity in Texas with some additional benefits for Montgomery County and Chambers County.

The Lambright Act, which was House Bill 1495, during the 86th Texas Legislature started as a bill allowing Montgomery County to establish an ethics commission with an enforceable Code of Ethics but, thanks to the work of its brilliant author, State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of Conroe), and its sponsoring Senator, State Senator Brandon Creighton (Republican of Conroe), the legislation contained important statewide government disclosure provisions which are mandatory for all political subdivisions of the State of Texas other than junior college districts.

Passage of the Lambright Act was truly a community effort. Lambright, who was the extraordinarily popular and highly-respected County Attorney of Montgomery County until his death on March 9, 2019, after a very brief battle with cancer, inspired the legislation, after he had written a code of ethics for the County government which had minimal import due to the lack of any enforcement mechanism with respect to violations. Local conservative activists, including Montgomery County Republican Party (MCRP) Vice Chairman Reagan Reed, MCRP Treasurer John Hill Wertz, MCRP Finance Chair Kelli Cook, and others, were instrumental in the broad outline of the bill.

There is no question, however, that Toth, his outstanding staff, Creighton, and his outstanding staff were instrumental in turning the Lambright bill into the Lambright Act. They worked closely with Representative Giovanni Capriglione (Republican of Keller) on the brilliant idea to add to the legislation mandatory statewide provisions which require every governmental entity to make public disclosures about their direct and indirect expenditures on taxpayer-funded lobbying. The one group of legislators, who had opposed the Lambright bill when it merely created ethics commissions for Montgomery County and Chambers County, quickly came to support final passage of the bill after Toth, Creighton, and Capriglione added the taxpayer-funded lobbying disclosure language in the final version of the legislation which came out of a House-Senate Conference Committee on Sunday, May 27, one day before the end of the 86th Legislative Session.

The Conference Committee report easily passed the Texas Senate on a 27 to 4 vote, thanks to the enormous influence and respect of Senator Creighton.

On the evening of Sunday, May 27, Toth went to the front podium in the House to move passage of the final Lambright bill. Yvonne Davis, a liberal democrat, raised a point of order. During the discussions in the well of the House, Davis accused the Republicans of trying to “shame” liberals for their use of taxpayer-funded lobbying. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen overruled the point of order, after State Representatives Briscoe Cain (Republican of Deer Park), Will Metcalf (Republican of Conroe), Toth, and Capriglione argued that the proposed legislation comported with the Texas Constitution and the Rules of the Texas House.

Toth moved for passage and Speaker Bonnen swiftly put the bill to a vote before the liberals were able to raise another point of order. The Lambright bill passed the Texas House on a 116 to 11 vote.

It was very apparent that Toth had put his full blood, sweat, and mind into passage of the Lambright Ethics Bill. Toth and Creighton came upstairs to the House Gallery on the Third Floor of the State Capitol to pass hugs around with some Montgomery County citizens who went to Austin to support Toth and Creighton.

Toth told The Golden Hammer on June 14, after Governor Abbott signed the bill into law, “The JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act that Governor Abbott signed into law this afternoon was truly a community achievement. JD and Belinda’s charity and decency inspired the legislation while the hard work of [Montgomery County Attorney] B.D. Griffin…helped Senator Creighton and me get it over the goal line.  Honestly, there is a little sadness in my heart that JD isn’t here to celebrate with us. We know his legacy will continue to inspire Texas towards future greatness.”

Griffin, who went to Austin to testify in favor of the Lambright bill in a hearing before the Texas House County Affairs Committee, said, “”It was truly my honor to work with and for JD for six plus years.  He was a man and an attorney of great integrity.  The legislation is a fitting memorial to him and his legacy and impact upon Montgomery County will not be forgotten or diminished.”

The Montgomery County Republican Party’s Executive Committee, comprised of the elected Precinct Chairs, passed a resolution in favor of the Lambright bill. MCRP’s elected Treasurer John Hill Wertz said, “JD Lambright was the consummate professional, treating everyone with respect.  He made time for anyone he came into contact with. He was truly a servant of God and his constituents. He’s missed by all that knew him.”

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough also went to Austin to testify in favor of the Lambright bill before the House County Affairs Committee. Numerous political activists, such as MCRP Finance Chair Kelli Cook, expressed their support for the legislation.

In its final form, which Governor Abbott signed, the Lambright Act:

  • Requires all local governmental entities, other than junior college districts, to disclose publicly all contracts and expenditures for the purpose of “directly or indirectly influencing or attempting to influence the outcome of legislation or administrative action.”
  • Permits Montgomery County and Chambers County to establish ethics commissions with enforceable codes of ethics applicable to County government employees.

The Lambright Act was JD Lambright’s dream legislation. The statewide component concerned an issue – taxpayer funded lobbying – about which Lambright frequently to this newspaper. It is certainly fitting for this important statute to have Lambright’s name on it.

Commissioners Court nominees

The five members of the Commissioners Court each nominated one person to serve on the Ethics Commission. Strangely, Judge Keough placed those nominees on the super-secret “consent agenda” without slating such important nominees for open discussion. The Commissioners Court will likely need to move the nominations from the consent agenda, because there is a major problem with one of the nominees, Brian Stanley, who should be treated as though he is ineligible to serve (even if he’s not by the drab letter of the law).

County Judge Mark Keough nominated Amanda Whittington, his former administrative assistant, to serve on the Commission. Whittington is a former Republican Precinct Chair and Election Judge. She was the longtime Court Coordinator for the 284th District Court under District Judge Olen Underwood and his successor, District Judge Cara Wood. Whittington is even-tempered and conscientious.

Commissioner, Precinct 1, Mike Meador nominated attorney Nancy Mikeska, the Community Development Director for the City of Conroe. Mikeska is a strong personality who will likely seek to dominate the Ethics Commission. She is also intensely political. Mikeska is an extremely intelligent former Assistant District Attorney. She is entirely capable of showing strong ethical leadership, but she needs to avoid politics and not create an appearance of impropriety in her potential loyalty to Meador.

Charlie Riley, the Precinct 2 Commissioner, nominated Anne Sundquist. Sundquist is a former Magnolia Chamber of Commerce and Magnolia Parkway Chamber of Commerce President. She currently serves on the City of Magnolia Planning and Zoning Commission as its Vice Chair. She previously served on the Magnolia Economic Development Corporation. Sundquist is closely tied to Riley politically. She is, however, an intelligent and very able civic leader.

Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack nominated Conroe criminal defense lawyer Casey Loring. Loring has his own law practice in Conroe and is a 2006 graduate of the University of Houston Law Center. Loring seems like a solid choice to serve on the Ethics Commission.

There is a serious problem with Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts’ nominee for the Commission. Metts has nominated Brian Stanley, the recently retired Chief of Staff for the Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace. Stanley had served in that position for Metts when Metts was the Justice of the Peace. Stanley is competent in his job and seems a straight shooter. The problem with the nomination, however, is that County employees may not serve on the Ethics Commission under Section 161.056(b)(2) of the Texas Local Government Code. Stanley retired in August but that really does seem like far too much of a connection with current County employees and certainly goes beyond the spirit of the law, if not the letter. Metts should nominate someone else who is more distant from recent County employ but who is of Stanley’s caliber.

Each of the Civil Service Commission, the DRC, and the MCBA nominated two individuals for the Ethics Commission. The Civil Service Commission nominated Bill Dornbos and Tony Fuller.

Dornbos is a retired Human Resources professional who holds an Masters in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering. He’s a Vietnam veteran and retired Captain in the United States Army Signal Corps.

Fuller has been a Professor at Lone Star College-Montgomery since 1999, and also taught at the University of Houston, and Florida State University. Dr. Fuller holds a Ph.D. in Political Science with a minor in Public Policy and an M.A. in Communication, both from the University of Houston, and a B.S. in RTV from The University of Texas at Austin. Fuller’s award-winning, first career includes 20+ years of business management and creative leadership roles for such entities as ABC Network, Walt Disney, CNN, and Hanna-Barbera. Fuller served on the City of Conroe Arts and Culture Grant Review Committee for 7 years, and has given a number of educational presentations to city and county departments/organizations. Fuller lives in April Sound. He ran unsuccessfully for the Conroe City Council in 2016.

The Montgomery County DRC nominated Francis Bourgeois and Charles John McBridge.

Bourgeois is a Mathematics Professor, part-time, at Lone Star College and holds a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Mathematics from Michigan Tech University. He worked as a geophysicist for over 30 years. Bourgeois is undoubtedly best known as one of the reform conservatives who helped to clean up the Montgomery County Hospital District from 2002 to 2010. He served as Board Chairman of MCHD and worked closely with the other leading reformers who included Bill Leigh, David Witt, and Eric Yollick to clean up the Hospital District. The highly-intelligent Bourgeois has strong conservative credentials from his public service.

McBride holds a B.A. and Master of Theology Degree from St. Thomas University in Houston. He worked in the Human Resources profession before he retired from full-time employment in 2012. McBride served in the United States Army Reserve and the Texas Army National Guard.

The Montgomery County Bar Association nominated two highly respected attorneys to serve on the Ethics Commission.

Janet Spielvogel is one of the premiere family law attorneys in Montgomery County. She is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She has been a licensed attorney since 1983 and received her J.D. from South Texas College of Law and her undergraduate degree form Western Illinois University.

Adam Looney has in own law practice in The Woodlands where he does family law, probate, business, and real estate law. Looney is a graduate of Pepperdine University School of Law and holds an undergraduate degree from Abilene Christian University. He became a licensed attorney in Texas in 2009 and serves as a Board member of the Bar Association. Looney’s father, Paul Looney, M.D., is a local psychiatrist.

To be eligible for appointment to the commission, under Chapter 161 of the Texas Local Government Code, a person must:

(1) be at least 18 years old;

(2) be a property taxpayer in the county; and

(3) have resided in the county for the two years immediately preceding the date on which the person’s term will begin.




(b) A person is not eligible for appointment to the commission if the person is:

(1) an elected officer;

(2) a county employee;

(3) a county affiliate;

(4) a person employed as a lobbyist;

(5) a person convicted of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or a felony; or

(6) a person who is delinquent in payment of local, state, or federal taxes.

 

 

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