County Judge Keough, Commissioners Court add new method to secretive goverment: “special sessions”

County Judge Keough, Commissioners Court add new method to secretive goverment: “special sessions”

Image: Montgomery County Auditor spoke to an empty Commissioners Courtroom on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, during the “special meeting” of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court. The “special meetings” have become Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough’s and the Commissioners Court’s latest method of conducting government in secret.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe, April 6 – In their effort to exclude citizen participation and citizen oversight from the decision process, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and the Commissioners Court have developed a new method: “special sessions” outside of the regular meeting calendar so that the public will remain largely unaware the Commissioners Court is meeting at all.

Since late November, 2020, the Commissioners Court has held four “special session” meetings outside of the regular meeting schedule, one on November 30, 2020, one on February 12, 2021, and two on March 30, 2021. What has been very “pleasant” (to use the term of a source inside the County Judge’s office) has been the complete absence of citizens to cast a watchful eye on the Judge’s and Commissioner’s actions, other than at the February 12 meeting which was for the specific purpose of discussing the towing monopoly, the “towopoly,” which the Commissioners Court created to favor certain politically-connected towing companies over those who do not receive such special favor.

Normally, Commissioners Court meetings occur on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 9:30 a.m. The entire calendar of those meetings is the subject of a display on the Commissioners Court website, as shown directly below.

Calendar of regular Commissioners Court meeting. For the first time in more than a decade, the Commissioners Court has failed to show the schedule for the annual “budget workshop” on this calendar. Will that occur in secret?

What has been particularly unique about three of the four special meetings outside of the regular Commissioners Court Meeting Schedule is the significance of the subjects on which the Commissioners met. The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed with one confidential source inside the County Judge’s office and one such source inside a Commissioner’s office that the purpose of these special sessions is “to meet without bother from the public.” The sources requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

The November 30 meeting was posted over the Thanksgiving holiday and held the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend at the unusual time of 9 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than the usual time when the Commissioners Court regularly meets. During that meeting, the Commissioners Court:

  • Held a major and frank discussion about the disastrous Enterprise Resource Planning software. Please see “Dark Meetings, Dark Operation, Part 4 of 6, Charlie Riley’s $16 million ERP meltdown,” The Golden Hammer, February 9, 2021. https://thegoldenhammer.net/dark-meetings-dark-operations-part-4-of-6-charlie-rileys-16-million-erp-meltdown/During the meeting, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack admitted, “Infor has not done a good job. Everybody knows it. We’re not anywhere where we need to be. Most people don’t even know how to use the dang thing. This is a $16 million debacle!” Despite the “debacle,” the Commissioners Court blindly voted to spend more money on the meltdown.
  • The Commissioners Court secretly voted to establish a 4-zone rotation system to give politically-favored towing companies monopolistic rights, the first formal approval of a “towopoly.”
  • The Commissioners Court voted to approve massive carryovers, which they failed to spend in the previous year, after they had overtaxed taxpayers, so they could accumulate slush funds in each of their accounts. Of course, the agenda failed to have written backup, so that the members of the Commissioners Court and the County Judge could hide the amounts of the slush funds from the citizens.
  • The Commissioners Court voted to spend $11.04 on an unnecessary Forensics Center and to award the contract to begin construction, even though they had failed to budget for the contract in the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget.
  • The Commissioners Court voted to approve $42.7 million in payments, the highest “payment of accounts” in the history of the Commissioners Court.

In total, the Commissioners Court voted to spend more than $65 million in one “special session,” more than 20% of the annual budget!

The March 30 first meeting was posted on Friday, March 26, 2021. During that meeting, the Commissioners Court:

  • Approved the audited financial statement for Fiscal Year 2020, a cursory review which failed to meeting Generally Accepted Audit Standards and involved the expenditure of over $400 million.
  • The Commissioners Court voted how to spend $10 million on housing assistance resulting from the China Virus shutdowns the County Judge caused.
  • The Court revised the tax abatement policy to liberalize the standards and allow giant corporate scofflaws more leniency in avoiding the payment of property taxes, so that families may bear most of the burden to pay property taxes.

The March 30 second meeting included:

  • A financial report for the money-losing Montgomery County Tollroad Authority, which lost more than $3.9 million during Fiscal Year 2020.
  • A discussion that the County Auditor, Rakesh Pandey, rendered an opinion that the audited financial report, for which Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley’s Tollroad Authority paid $20,000 to an outside audit firm, failed to comply with Generally Accepted Audit Standards.

None of those discussion needed to occur outside of regular meetings of the Commissioners Court. There were no emergencies. Rather, it was apparent that the County Judge, Mark Keough, and the County Commissioners, Riley, Noack, Precinct 4’s James Metts, and Precinct 1’s Robert Walker simply wanted to avoid public scrutiny for their terrible decisions.

 

 

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