Image: Could there be some light in the darkness of Montgomery County’s very secretive, closed government?
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, February 19 – Montgomery County’s government has earned its reputation as “the most corrupt county government in Texas?” Mark Keough, now the County Judge, made a point of the County government’s terrible reputation statewide in Texas, when he ran for County Judge in February, 2018, at a fundraiser in The Woodlands.
Sadly, under Keough’s more than two years as County Judge, conditions haven’t improved. Rather, the County government has fallen deeper into the depths of corruption, secrecy, darkness, and avoiding public scrutiny.
In this six-part series, this newspaper has uncovered:
- A major Commissioners Court meeting purposefully held in a manner to avoid public participation or scrutiny on November 30, 2020, in which the Commissioners Court voted to move forward in constructing an $11.05 million Forensics Facility, far beyond anything the County government or its citizens need.
- At the same meeting on November 30, the five members of the Commissioners Court discussed, along with Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Bush, the disastrous implementation of the $16 million Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which will also cost local taxpayers over $55,000 per month. The ERP has been a “debacle,” as Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack described it at the meeting. By scheduling the meeting the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday and not posting the notice of the meeting until a few hours before the County government closed for that four-day holiday weekend, as a special meeting outside of the regular calendar of the Commissioners Court, the elected “representatives” managed to keep the public away from the discussion of the disaster.
- The China Virus panic, particularly by Montgomery County’s leadership within the Sadler Administration Building in downtown Conroe and in the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, has been little more than a series of major decisions by mandate rather than through the open meetings process, which Texas law requires.
- The County government has spent over $9 million since early 2017 shutting the public out of Commissioners Precinct offices and other County offices through construction of physical barriers and other impediments, so that public cannot interact with the public employees who work for the citizens and so that the public cannot see what they’re doing.
- Through use of the super secretive “consent” agenda, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, his Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps, and the four Commissioners who sit on the Commissioners Court are able to make major decisions – and spent hundreds of millions of dollars – each year without open deliberation, public notice, or public input.
In order to create perfect conditions to foster corruption, one simply couldn’t find a better environment than the Montgomery County government’s dark meetings and dark operations purposefully crafted to keep public eyes away from what they do.
Section 552.001 of the Texas Government Code establishes the clear legislative policy of the State of Texas:
Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
Obviously, that’s not the policy the Montgomery County government follows.
Nevertheless, there may be some solutions:
- Local citizens, rather than County government bureaucrats, should have control over and access to the $16 million ERP system. When the County government began the implementation of that software both disgraced and terminated former County Auditor Phyllis Martin and her successor, Rakesh Pandey, promised publicly that the ERP’s purchase would result in vastly greater “transparency” and an “open window” into the interior of the County government. To date, the ERP has served the opposite. Through the ERP mess, it is now impossible for citizens to make sense out of the spending proposals on the Commissioners Court agenda. Nevertheless, the ERP system does have the capability of providing a complete and open book to every document created within the County government, other than sensitive law enforcement materials. The County government should make every document in its possession, custody, or control open to the public through the ERP system without the cumbersome necessity of submitted a formal “public information request.”
- Take down the walls blockading public view. Outside of the Sheriff’s Office, the Constables, and the District Attorney, no County Department conducts secret business, or, at least, shouldn’t. All County offices should be entirely open to the public. With all of the “security” cameras installed throughout County government buildings, at enormous taxpayer expense, there is another wonderful means to create openness. The County government should turn all of those cameras, which now face outward, upon themselves. Each of the County Commissioners, the County Judge, their staffs, and all County employees should have a cam on their office, so that public may watch their activities every day.
- Abolish the “consent agenda.” The consent agenda has become nothing but a means to circumvent the requirement that each citizen is entitled “at all times to complete information about the affairs of government.” No decision of the County government should occur without open discussion. For example, when County Auditor Rakesh Pandey provides his internal audit reports, he should make a public presentation of those reports on every occasion, so that public may hear his report and discuss it.
When Mark Keough ran for County Judge in 2018, he entered into a “Contract with Montgomery County.” As he faces the prospect of re-election, and a likely electoral challenge from Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack and possibly others in 2022, it’s time for Judge Keough to bring the corruption tumbling down and give light to the County government and the citizens.