Conroe, February 4 – In response to a citizen question about the massive salaries of the Montgomery County Judge and Commissioners Court in comparison to other counties in Texas and in relation to common sense, Precinct 2 County Commissioner candidate Brian Dawson answered, “I don’t think salaries have a dramatic effect on taxpayers.” Dawson focused on the monetary aspect of the issue, but, in reality, high salaries for officials who should instead be public servants – with a servant’s attitude – are one of the major reasons “why the worst get on top” to quote Nobel laureate Frederick Hayek’s phrase from his landmark work The Road to Serfdom.
In The Road to Serfdom, which numerous establishment liberal publishers refused to consider for publication but which eventually became a giant bestseller after the University of Chicago Press published it in 1944, Hayek devoted an entire chapter to “why the worst get on top” in both dictatorships and republics when the citizens are not vigilant and allow the worst to rise to the top.
In Montgomery County, with the highest County Commissioner salaries in Texas and the second highest County Judge salary in the state, the citizens have seen anti-citizen, anti-public service individuals, such as Craig Doyal, Charlie Riley, and James Metts seek those jobs largely because they would never be able to earn comparable salaries in the private sector. The high salaries of Montgomery County’s Commissioners Court members attract the worst, not the best.
Rather than attracting individuals who want to “make the sacrifice of public service,” the high salaries attract corruption, because the Commissioners Court salaries symbolize all of the “other people’s money” the officeholders have at their disposal. High salaries also tend to cause staleness in governmental organizations, because they incentivize people to remain in those jobs long after their innovation and fresh perspectives have worn out.
Therefore, while halving the Commissioners Court salaries would save the County around $589,620 per year, which actually is a significant sum of taxpayer money, salary reductions would likely cause the Commissioners Court to attract true public servants who wanted to make public sacrifice for their community rather than corrupt individuals who couldn’t make due in private business careers. It’s an example of a circumstance where, unlike in private free markets, the public as a whole would attract better candidates if the salaries were lower.
…while halving the Commissioners Court salaries would save the County around $589,620 per year, which actually is a significant sum of taxpayer money, salary reductions would likely cause the Commissioners Court to attract true public servants who wanted to make public sacrifice for their community rather than corrupt individuals who couldn’t make due in private business careers.
There are exceptions to these general rules. Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack has done outstanding work as a road and bridge Commissioner and operations manager within his Precinct. That doesn’t mean, however, that it would behoove the citizens for Noack to serve in that same position for seven terms rather than a shorter amount of time. Seven terms clearly ossify an officeholder such as Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador who has become little more than his own skeleton in the taxpayers’ closet.
How the candidates have responded
The eight candidates for County Judge and County Commissioner in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election have made their positions on the salaries issue very clear. Since salaries are both a fiscal issue and an issue which reflects the candidates’ attitudes towards public service, it’s important to survey their positions on Montgomery County salary reform.
County Judge candidates
On January 18 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?”
State Representative Mark 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.”
County Judge Craig 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.” (No doubt that some members of the PGA Tour make a higher wage than the Montgomery County Judge.)
Precinct 2 County Commissioner candidates
Not surprisingly, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley hasn’t addressed the salaries issue in candidate forums, which Riley has tried to avoid. Riley and Doyal have consistently voted in favor of raising their own salaries, including in 2017 when they gave themselves 3% raises despite the recommendation of Diane Bass’ Salary Study Committee against any raises.
In response to a question from the audience about Montgomery County Commissioners Court salaries reform, former two-term Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker, who is running against Riley, answered,
“I want to listen to the will of the people. I am firmly committed to reducing salaries of the Commissioners and the County Department heads. I will align myself with County Judge candidate Mark Keough who said he wants a 12% salary reduction. Commissioners don’t need to be paid more than the Governor. I’ll give you a lot more Commissioner for a lot less money.”
Local businessman Brian Dawson made clear that he would not vote to reduce County Commissioner salaries:
“That’s treating the symptom, not the cause. I support spending reductions. I don’t think salaries have a dramatic effect on taxpayers. No, I won’t agree to reduce the salary, but I’ll work really hard and I’ll be worth more than the salary you pay.”
Precinct 4 County Commissioner candidates
None of the three candidates for Precinct 4 County Commissioner have addressed the salaries issue directly, although all three of them have made statements that suggest what their positions probably are.
Incumbent Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark has told The Golden Hammer, “I wouldn’t oppose Commissioners Court salary reductions. I support Mark Keough’s 12% reduction proposal.”
Montgomery County Hospital District Board member Bob Bagley has said he doesn’t need the high salary of County Commissioners and would contribute $25,000 per year of his salary to community organizations. Bagley clarified that his reference to $100,000 was for the entire 4-year term of office of a County Commissioner.
On June 28, 2016, JP James Metts, who is now running against Clark and Bagley, said “I want my salary…I won’t reduce salaries one bit.”