Conroe, April 15 – At this past Tuesday, April 11’s Commissioners Court meeting, Montgomery County Attorney J.D. Lambright attempted to raise an ethics concern about the appearance of a conflict of interest of one of the members of the County’s new Ethics Committee, Dale Inman, of Montgomery. The Commissioners Court brushed Lambright off hardly without any discussion, making the Ethics Committee appear more as a political front than as anything about which Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have any real concern.
The purpose of the five-member Ethics Committee is to hear ethics complaints under the toothless Ethics Code, which the Commissioners Court adopted in order to ensure that the County would continue to receive grants from the Texas Department of Transportation, which had threatened to stop funding Montgomery County roads, unless the County adopted a minimal ethics policy by February 7, 2017. Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon had urged the Commissioners Court to adopt an “aspirational” ethics code which would set high ethical standards with actual enforcement power. The Commissioners Court ignored Ligon and adopted a largely unenforceable Code of Ethics without addressing nepotism and without any enforcement mechanism other than possible reprimands from the politically-tainted Ethics Committee.
Lambright tried very hard on April 11 to urge the Commissioners Court to avoid any “appearance of impropriety” in the appointment of the Ethics Committee in his discussion of Dale Inman, a retired Nationwide Insurance agent and part-time church pastor, who is also the next door neighbor and close friend of political consultant Marc Davenport and County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport. Inman also happens to be the son-in-law of Judge Olen Underwood, the Presiding Judge of the Second Administrative Judicial Region, which makes Underwood a state, not a County, employee.
Lambright told the Commissioners Court, “I came before you at last session when you named 5 members of Ethics Committee. My office is 6th member as advisory member…We put a lot of time and effort to draft that ethics policy.” He further explained, “We’re trying to avoid any appearance of impropriety because, after all, it’s an ethics committee. We’re trying to avoid relationships and certainly no county employees are on the committee.”
The Commissioners Court on March 28, 2017, appointed five members to the Ethics Committee including Inman. County Auditor Phyllis Martin, a highly-conflicted County employee herself, who regularly violates Generally Accepted Accounting Principles in her supposed “audit” work, nominated Inman to the Committee.
Lambright said, “Almost immediately after the last meeting, I started to get texts and phone calls with concerns about one of your appointments. This has nothing to do personally with Mr. Inman. Dale Inman’s father-in-law is Judge Underwood who is the Administrative Judge for the 2nd Judicial Region and oversees the judges throughout the region. He’s involved in a long-term dating relationship with one of our elected officials.” Of course, Lambright referred to District Clerk Barbara Gladden Adamick.
The County Attorney expressed concern that, if an ethics complaint were filed against “one of the sixty-five people in the District Clerk’s office, there might be a problem.”
Lambright concluded, “There might be better place for Mr. Inman to serve the county and this committee might not be that place.”
Quite rapidly, the Commissioners Court revealed no concern whatsoever for any appearance of impropriety.
Without being recognized, Meador jumped in and said, “I think that’s an overreach and I move we leave it like it is.” Riley, known for his focus on funneling County funds into the $100 million Tx-249 Decimation of Hope Highway so that his political contributors may receive that money even though it would otherwise be built by the Texas Department of Transportation without the County funding it, and also known for secretly creating a County job for his wife Deanne in what is called the “Riley 2-Step” of nepotism, quickly seconded the motion.
Doyal jumped in to call for a quick vote without further discussion. The vote occurred so swiftly that Noack and Clark never even had the opportunity to say a word or vote one way or the other.
Hopefully, Inman will recuse himself from any ethics matters involving the Montgomery County District Clerk’s Office in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
With a County Judge, Precinct 1 Commissioner, and Precinct 2 Commissioner that won’t follow rules of ethics, County appointees and employees must follow their own ethical direction. Without leadership from the top, leadership from the bottom has become a necessity for this terribly burdened community.