The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, October 14 – Jason Millsaps, Chief of Staff to Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, asked the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to spend almost $1 million on document scanning of old genealogy records in the possession of District Clerk Melisa Miller using tax dollars from CARES Act funds at the Tuesday, October 13, 2020, Commissioners Court meeting. Fortunately, at the urging of Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador and Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, as well as an assist from Montgomery County Attorney B.D. Griffin, the Commissioners Court chose to defer the massive spending item.
Without any notice to the public other than an obtuse “Consider, discuss and take appropriate action, including immediate action, due to the imminent threat to public health and safety as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.” Texas law, as enunciated from the Supreme Court of Texas, is very clear that agenda items in Texas government meetings must be very specific about the action, which the entity will discuss. Neither Millsaps nor Miller explained how spending one million dollars on records made the subject of genealogy research could possible have anything to do with an “imminent threat to public health and safety.” Furthermore, nothing in the agenda published prior to the meeting gave the public or any member of the Commissioners Court notice that Millsaps would propose spending over $1.3 million on three specific spending items.
Sadly, Keough, who won election as County Judge in 2018 claiming that he wanted to bring an end to the corruption in Montgomery County, has both literally and figuratively lost his wind. The County Judge, returning from a month-long convalescence after the major car accident in which he slammed his Lexus SUV into a parked law enforcement vehicle, was slurring his speech and clearly out of breath during much of the meeting. Keough made clear, however, that he would support the spending proposals, even though the Commissioners Court agenda didn’t give proper notice under the Texas Open Meetings Act and even though the record scanning proposal would only support genealogy research.
Meador expressed surprise at the hefty bill for the scanning, $990,000, which amounts to two dollars per page. He and Commissioner Noack both questioned how such an expenditure could fall under CARES Act regulations.
Noack said, “I’m concerning about blowing through CARES Act funds.”
Meador agreed and added, “If it’s not been approved [by the local CARES Act Committee], maybe we should wait and see if the Federal Treasury approves the funds.”
Budget Director Amanda Carter, who serves on the CARES Act Oversight Committee, explained to the Commissioners Court, “There was not a consensus on this particular item on the CARES Act Committee.”
County Attorney Griffin noted that attorney Amy Dunham of his Office, who also serves on the CARES Act Oversight Committee, is not “comfortable” with the proposal.
It became clear to the Commissioners Court that the County Attorney’s Office didn’t approve of the proposal and compliance with federal regulations. Noack clearly opposed the proposal altogether. Keough, however, slurred “I’m personally in favor of it.”
The Commissioners Court deferred the item by unanimous consent eventually.