Montgomery County, March 4 – As Montgomery County voters go to the polls on March 6 to elect their next County government leaders, no issue represents the reform needed in the County government more than the salaries of the Montgomery County Judge and the four County Commissioners. That issue sets the candidates starkly apart.
Mark Keough, the State Representative who is running for Montgomery County Judge, and Gregory Parker, the former Comal County Commissioner who is running for Precinct 2 County Commissioner, have taken the lead on the salaries issue. Parker was the first candidate running for the Commissioners Court to address the issue head-on when he mentioned during his initial announcement that Montgomery County Commissioners should not receive more than $120,000 per year. Keough presented a very specific proposal during a candidate debate which the candidate made clear would be his first action after he’s sworn into the office of County Judge.
If the County Judge and County Commissioners are unable to address the salaries issue, that’s a pretty good indication that they’d fail to address the bloated spending in the Montgomery County government overall. By reducing their own salaries, the County Judge and Commissioners would then have the moral authority to begin spending reform broadly across the entire County government.
The Montgomery County Judge, currently Craig Doyal, receives the third highest salary for a county judge in Texas, only behind Harris and Dallas counties. Montgomery County Commissioners are the highest paid County Commissioners in Texas, according to data from the Texas Association of Counties, as shown above.
Montgomery County Commissioners make the highest salaries in Texas and more than $57,000 per year above the average of County Commissioner salaries for the top 15 counties in Texas. County Judge Craig Doyal’s salary is less than only the Harris County Judge and the Dallas County Judge. The County Judges in Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, Collin, Hidalgo, El Paso, Denton, and Fort Bend counties all make substantially less than Doyal, even though those counties are quite a bit larger than Montgomery County. The counties to which Montgomery County is usually compared – Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, and Williamson – all have county judges and county commissioners who make a lot less in salaries than the out-of-control Montgomery County government.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income in Montgomery County is $71,123. That means that the County Judge and County Commissioners make more than twice what the typical entire families earn, which, of course, might explain why they’re so out of touch with the concerns of the citizens.
County Judge Doyal and the four Montgomery County Commissioners claim a higher salary than the Governor of Texas ($150,000 per year) and the Texas Attorney General ($150,000 per year). In contrast, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton supervises over 4,000 employees, in eighteen divisions. Doyal supervises a staff of three while the County Commissioners each supervise approximately 20 people in their departments.
All of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court salary increases appear to constitute little more than “money grabs,” because there is no reason to them whatsoever. Even when a Salary Study Committee, which former County Human Resources Director Diane Bass chaired, recommended no salary increases in August, 2016, because the salaries were already way too high, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to give themselves a 3.00% pay raise.
County Judge candidates
On January 18, 2018, during a candidate forum, a citizen asked the two candidates for the Republican nomination for Montgomery County Judge, “If you win the Republican Primary in March and the General Election in November of 2018, what reform leadership can the citizens expect of you with respect to your salary?”
Keough answered, “When I become the Montgomery County Judge on January 1, 2019, my first action will be to place on the Commissioners Court meeting agenda a resolution to cut the salary of the Montgomery County Judge by twelve percent (12%) and then freeze the salary. We must lead by example. I will lower my salary and then freeze it.”
Doyal then answered, “I would leave it where it is. You get what you pay for. I work hard every day. I wouldn’t consider lowering my salary. No, I would not lower my salary.”
County Commissioner candidates
Some of the candidates for Montgomery County Commissioner have addressed the salary issue as well. There are two County Commissioner seats up for election in the March Primary Election for Precincts 2 (incumbent Charlie Riley) and 4 (incumbent Jim Clark).
In the Precinct 2 race, Riley has not responded to telephone calls from The Golden Hammer. Local businessman and long time Republican activist Brian Dawson of Conroe has told this newspaper that he does not support a reduction in the salaries. Dawson reiterated that position in a candidate forum. Former Comal County Commissioner and conservative author Gregory Parker has said that he would not accept a County Commissioner salary higher than $120,000 per year.
In the Precinct 4 race, Commissioner Jim Clark has told The Golden Hammer that he would not oppose a reduction in the salaries of Montgomery County Commissioners.
Challenger Bob Bagley, who serves as a Director of the Montgomery County Hospital District, told this newspaper, “I’ll put my money where my mouth is and lead by example. I pledge to donate, from my own pocket, $100,000 of my salary to various community projects benefiting Precinct 4.” Bagley has explained that he meant he’d give away $25,000 per year of his earnings to community projects, not from campaign funds but from his actual salary. Bagley further told The Golden Hammer on Thursday, March 1, “I also agree with Mark Keough that there should be a 12% reduction in salaries of the County Judge and the County Commissioners right off.”
JP James Metts, who refuses to discuss any issues, will not return telephone calls. Metts did, however, argue for higher salaries for County elected officials in general in a long-winded speech on June 28, 2016, to the Commissioners Court.
Doyal’s observation that “You get what you pay for” is actually precisely wrong with respect to the salaries of public servants. The great Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote almost 2,500 years ago,
“Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy.”
The high salaries of the County Judge and County Commissioners in Montgomery County seem to attract poor candidates, because, by political manipulation, individuals can garner salaries on the public dole far higher than they’d ever earn in the private sector.
Look at the example of Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who has few skills, no education beyond high school, and a record of personal bankruptcy, business failures, and tax liens. Riley didn’t start to enjoy personal wealth until Doyal hired Riley as Precinct 2 Operations Manager in 2002. Doyal himself is a similar example. Doyal struggled in the roofing business for a few years after college. Only after then Precinct 2 County Commissioner Malcolm Purvis, a staunch democrat, hired Doyal, also a democrat, as a Precinct 2 employee, did Doyal begin to accumulate wealth.
Clearly, the high salaries of the Montgomery County Judge and Commissioners do not attract quality. Rather, they are the driving force behind corruption and poor candidates.
There’s a more important reason, however, that high salaries represent a moral blight on the Montgomery County government. Individuals should seek the County Judge or County Commissioner positions as a public sacrifice so that they may act as servants to the public. High salaries attract people for precisely the wrong reasons to be public servants.
If someone has made a lot of money in the private sector, then the attraction of public service should be the opportunity to make a sacrifice and provide public service for a brief period of time to make a change in one’s community for the better. With bloated public salaries, the incentive is precisely the opposite: they attract people who want to make careers of government jobs rather than bringing about positive change for their community.