Image: Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough rushed through the secretive consent agenda, on July 13, 2021, which included blindly approving the Annual Audit for the sex-scandal-betrodden Emergency Services District #10 and a massive spending program to provide for spaying and neutering of privately-owned dogs.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, July 21 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court and County Judge Mark Keough, on Tuesday, July 13, 2021, rushed through secretive consent agenda items, which may cost Montgomery County taxpayers millions of dollars, even over the objection of a citizen, who spoke to the Commissioners Court about the two matters before they took the action. Keough asked for approval of the secretive consent agenda, while Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack granted Keough and Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley the gift of secrecy and closed government when he made the motion to approve the consent agenda in its entirety.
The two items were (1) approval of the Annual Audit Report of Emergency Services District #10, the district which a sex and financial scandal has overwhelmed involving the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department and (2) Keough’s proposal to spend massive County government tax dollars on a program to spay and neuter privately-owned dogs.
The Commissioners Court wholly ignored the following comment from a local citizen, who spoke before the Commissioners Court voted to approve the two offensive items:
“Good morning, Judge and Commissioners…I live in Commissioner Precinct 1, Commissioner Walker’s Precinct.
“You don’t get rid of corruption by hiding it.
“Three years ago I was at a political event which was hosted by you, Judge Keough, where you talked about how Montgomery County can get rid of its nomenclature as the most corrupt county government in the State of Texas.
“There are two items which are on today’s consent agenda which should not be on the consent agenda at all. They should be on the open agenda.
“One is 10K1, which is reviewing the Annual Audit Report of Emergency Services District #10. In that audit report, I wish the Commissioners Court would look at it closely, I counted last night seventeen (17) violations of Generally Accepted Audit Standards and one violation of a major Advisory Opinion of the Government Accounting Standards Board. They did not do an examination audit; they only did a test audit.
“The risk management of the audit report fails to address a major problem with an Assistant Fire Chief who is currently employed by the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department. There are numerous other problems with that report. I wish the Commissioners Court would discuss that matter in your open discussion.
“With respect to item 10K3, which is a proposal which looks like it’s from the County Judge to provide spay and neuter services to privately-owned or private dogs in Montgomery County. I’m glad the County got a $50,000 grant from PETCO, but it’s very obvious from the resolution that it does not address all of the costs for personnel, equipment, facilities, and other county government resources.
“You are about to go into budget hearing and into your budget period. I wish that this Commissioners Court, before you go into a spay and neuter like that, would get exact numbers from the Animal Shelter and other sources, perhaps even private veterinarians, on how much money local taxpayers will have to pay before you enter into something like that. Once again, I hope you will take that off the agenda, consider that as an open item. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do private spay and neuter, but you need to know how much money we’re in for before we go into something like that.”
Keough swept the sex scandal, diamonds, and other ethics lapses of Montgomery County Emergency Services District #10 (ESD #10), which operates and controls the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD), under the rug of the super-secretive “consent agenda. ” Keough and the other members of the Commissioners Court have a duty to review and approve ESD #10’s annual audit, which, under Generally Accepted Audit Principles requires a close examination of ethical practices and legal compliance, as well as a financial audit.
Instead, Keough placed the ESD #10 annual audit under the “consent agenda” where he hoped no one would bring the matter to public attention. The audit report failed to address the ethics lapses of ESD #10 and MVFD, particularly the fact that Assistant Fire Chief Elise Noriega continues to draw an enormous salary of $142,000 per year, plus benefits, as an Assistant Fire Chief, who has never had any fire training, and has repeatedly failed her firefighter certification examination.
Hidden under “Risk Management” deep inside the audit report, which Keough so obviously attempted to hide from public view, the outside audit firm did mention that “The District’s former fire chief, Gary Vincent, pled guilty to abuse of official capacity, a Class A misdemeanor on May 26, 2021. Mr. Vincent was sentenced to a $4,000 fine, and restitution to the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department of $3,000. The District initiated an independent investigation into the conduct of Mr. Vincent while employed at the District. That investigation is ongoing at the time of this report, and the District is unaware of any further issues related to this matter at this time.”
Furthermore, the audit report revealed ESD #10’s agreement to reinstate former Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Grant, whom Vincent had terminated after Grant agreed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the criminal investigation of Vincent. The audit report recites, “The District agreed to settlement with the employee which included reinstatement of employment for the employee, and payment of $47,484. The District’s insurance paid $37,484 of the settlement amount, and the remaining $10,000 was accrued to be paid by the District as of December 31, 2020.”
Neither Keough, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley who is also responsible for oversight of ESD #10 in his Precinct, nor ESD #10 ever disclosed to the public the settlement with Grant prior to posting of the super-secretive “consent agenda” for the July 13 meeting. Grant, whom Vincent terminated, brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the Department claiming that Vincent terminated him in retaliation for Grant’s cooperation with law enforcement authorities.
Conservative political activist Billy Graff commented, “I’m stunned that the Commissioners Court didn’t pull those two items off the ‘consent’ agenda after a citizen called upon them to discuss those matters in the open. Either they’re scared to discuss serious issues in public or they’re just tone deaf. It’s very disappointing.”