Dark meetings, dark operations, Part 5 of 6: Shutting the public out of County government

Dark meetings, dark operations, Part 5 of 6: Shutting the public out of County government

Image: When Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts came into office on January 1, 2019, one of his first priorities was to lock the public out of his office in New Caney.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe, Magnolia, New Caney, The Woodlands, February 17 – During the past four years, the Montgomery County government has spent more than nine-and-a-quarter million dollars ($9,250,000.00) providing security for itself from the prying eyes of the public. The Golden Hammer‘s staff reviewed minutes from Commissioners Court meetings since January 1, 2017, and has tabulated the extraordinary amount of tax dollars the five members of the Commissioners Court and other County Departments have expended of taxpayers money for the primary purpose of keeping taxpayers out.

The County Attorney’s Office does not do anything particularly controversial. Nevertheless, they’re protected behind locked and opaque walls with only two bullet-proof glass windows behind which a staff person may greet the public who must communicate through a glass-mounted speaker. Most of the County government departments in the Sadler Administration Building operate behind locked and closed doors. Bulletproof windows protect the receptionists. In some departments, it is impossible for the public to see any of the employees actually at work (or whatever it is they do behind closed, locked, and windowless doors).

After Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley began to suffer criticism from the local media, especially from this newspaper, Riley instructed his staff not to allow the public into the Precinct 2 offices. After scandals broke involving Riley’s appointment of his own wife to a lucrative County position and his use of County equipment and property for private and campaign purposes, the County Commissioner spent more than $400,000 “remodeling” his office, so that his work office and the office of his Chief of Staff Bruce Berger are actually behind two locked doors guarding the hallway where are their office suites.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack works behind two closed and locked doors, as members of the public cannot even enter the public building where he works without a button-push from a receptionist.

When Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts came into office on January 1, 2019, right after he gave his girlfriend a high-paying job and appointed terminated County Auditor Phyllis Martin as his Chief of Staff, Metts locked the public out of his office entirely, a far cry from the open office practice of his predecessor Commissioner Jim Clark.

The District Judges, County Court at Law Judges, Justices of the Peace, and even Associate Judges have spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars erected bulletproof barriers and walls between their staffs and the public.

If a member of the public merely wanted to observe what actually happens in the County Treasurer’s Office or the County Purchasing Department, he or she would find it impossible. Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull’s Office remains one of the few offices actually open to public view. Even District Clerk Melisa Miller’s Office has set itself behind locked doors, so that the public’s business is as far away from the view of the public as possible.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough keeps his office suite locked at all times. His secretary must buzz someone through the locked doors before they’re able to enter.

It’s significant to note that, outside of the law courts, there have been almost no security risks in County offices during the lengthy existence of the Montgomery County government. Security is not an issue.

Keeping the public out clearly is the purpose of the locked doors, security cameras, and millions of dollars the County government has forced the public to close any semblance of open government.

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