Darkness and secrecy envelope Montgomery County government: Secretive “Consent Agenda” again dominates Commissioners Court agenda for April 25 meeting, executive session agenda items (21A and 21B) clearly violate Texas Open Meetings Act

Darkness and secrecy envelope Montgomery County government: Secretive “Consent Agenda” again dominates Commissioners Court agenda for April 25 meeting, executive session agenda items (21A and 21B) clearly violate Texas Open Meetings Act

Image: The appearance of the upcoming Commissioners Court meeting.

Conroe, April 22 – A massive and secretive “Consent Agenda” again dominates the agenda for the April 25, 2017, Montgomery Commissioners Court meeting. Without communicating with each other, County Judge Craig Doyal and the four County Commissioners will approve millions of dollars of spending, budget amendments, and new policies.

Doyal, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 3 County Commisioner James Noack, and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark are like the dysfunctional family in the Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland movie “Ordinary People” who can’t and won’t talk with each other. In this instance, Texas law requires them to deliberate in the open meeting, but Doyal and his colleagues have resorted to every possible contrivance to avoid any public observation or scrutiny of the County government.

The ultra-secretive “Consent Agenda” will begin the serious business of the meeting after some proclamations, including “Employee of the Month” and recognition of correctional officers. Even though several department heads have nominated Dodi Shaw, the Director the Human Resources Department, to be “Employee of the Month,” don’t hold your breath waiting for her to receive that honor. Remember, she’s a member of Doyal’s “Hit List” of employees who dared not support his election as County Judge in 2014. Those people don’t get honors; they get fired in Doyal’s hyper political County.

Here’s what the “Consent Agenda” includes:

  • Thousands of dollars of credit card charges which no one has reviewed.
  • Computer and computer accessory purchases which no one has reviewed.
  • Tens of thousands of dollars of retail-priced purchases from Lowe’s, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Staples, and other retailers, without negotiation of government discounts.
  • Payments of over $4.1 million out of the County’s general fund with essentially no review. Since many of these payments are credit card charges, the excuse that “we’ve already reviewed and approved these purchases under contracts” is completely phony and irrational. These expenditures are just unreviewed, unaudited, and without oversight.
  • A $5,143 expenditure out of the County Engineer’s road and bridge fund for Gullo Cars.
  • Tens of thousands of dollars of payments to Smith & Company, a paving contractor, without oversight.
  • Payment by Commissioner Meador in the amount of $2,784.15 to Halff Associates, Inc., the company of Bobby Adams, Doyal’s best friend and business partner, without explanation.
  • Payment by Meador to the Texas Department of Transportation in the amount of $355,619.67 without any explanation.
  • Payment for the $73 million (allegedly) 3.6 mile Tx-249 Decimation of Hope Highway project to Muller Law firm in the amount of $3,625.00.
  • Payments of $10.4 million without oversight or discussion.
  • Budget amendments, without public hearing or open discussion, for the current Fiscal Year 2017. Except for the fact that millions of dollars are at stake, it’s almost comical that, without discussion, the Commissioners Court will approve these amendments based upon “emergency expenditure is necessary,” “due to grave public necessity,” “to meet unusual and unforeseen conditions which could not by reasonable and diligent thought and attention have been included in the original budget for 2016/17 adopted on September 6, 2016.” Could these public officials be any more irresponsible than to pass upon these major amendments without any discussion, thought, or attention?
  • The budget amendments include:
  • $55,000 for the Veterans Memorial Park; hundreds of thousands of dollars of state criminal court fees; moving $25,000 from Meador’s road and bridge fund for the memorial park, moving $15,000 from Riley’s road and bridge fund for the memorial park, and moving $15,000 from Clark’s road and bridge fund for the memorial park. Unlike Commissioner Noack who contributed $5,000 of his own money and raised another $10,000 from private contributions, Meador, Riley, and Clark are merely taking money away from much-needed road allocations and pretending to show some “charity.”
  • $3,600 extra for janitorial supplies from carryover funds for the Civic Center.
  • $29,817.00 removed from the Commissioner Precinct 1 asphalt fund and placed into the purchase of vehicles. (New truck for Gerald, perhaps?!)
  • $18,677 removed from a nonexistent account in Commissioner Meador’s budget into so-called “professional services” which is actually a payment to the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Transfer of several hundred thousand dollars from the Precinct 2 road and bridge funds into unexplained “professional services” and payments for new books for the library.
  • $150,000 of payments for “professional services” from the Precinct 2 carryover “slush fund.”
  • Expenditure of $219,000 from the Precinct 3 road and bridge carryover funds on roads and bridges. This novel expenditure of budgeted funds for matters on which they were budgeted is an example that the other members of Commissioners Court may want to follow.
  • $90,000 moved from the Commissioners Precinct 4 carryover funds for roads and bridges to “fund a generator repayment.”
  • $72,000 of funds for “contract services” from “professional services” for the “emergency management” department.
  • An $8,000 transfer from road and bridge funds to spend on telephone bills without explanation.
  • $210,000 of civil asset forfeiture expenses.

There’s a certain frugality in the law enforcement departments – Sheriff and five Constables – that their budget amendments reflect.

The Consent Agenda continues:

  • The Commissioners Court will accept the Auditor’s time sheet audits of the five Constables.
  • The Commissioners Court will accept a completely insufficient audit of Commissioner Meador’s Lake Conroe Park operations. The County Auditor admitted in her report that the audit was “for informational purposes only” and that no one should rely upon its accuracy, because Meador should audit himself. The auditor did make some amazing recommendations, however:
  • Meador should acquire a cash register for entrance fees;
  • Meador should refuse refunds of entrance fees;
  • Meador should deposit entrance fees daily;
  • Follow the Montgomery County Cash Handling Policy.

Oops. It appears that the Auditors observations reveal that there’s really no audit or accounting whatsoever of the cash which Meador takes in at Lake Conroe Park.

It’s like an out-of-control classroom of children where the teacher has been absent and has just returned to impose some order and enlightment. In this instance, the children are the County Commissioners Court members and the “teacher” happens to be all Montgomery County citizens.

The audits of the Sheriff’s Department and Constable’s Departments almost follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

The Consent Agenda continues:

  • The Auditor has presented unaudited financial statements through February, 2017. The unaudited February, 2017, financial statement reveals that the actual total expenditures of governmental funds for Montgomery County “budgeted” in Fiscal Year 2017 is:

$439,606,519 

$6,047,216 of County governmental funds are secretly “budgeted” for the $73 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 Decimation of Hope Highway project.

The reason these funds are much higher that the $377 million budget the reader might have thought Montgomery County’s out-of-control government had adopted is because these amounts include some of the hidden funds which the County Judge and Commissioners normally don’t report to the public.

Montgomery County’s government currently has $50,750,000 in outstanding certificates of obligation. There are $376,370,000 of outstanding general obligation bond debts. The County has also $16,420,000 of toll road revenue bond debt.

That’s a lot of debt.

The Consent Agenda also includes:

  • The following agenda item, “APPROVE THE CORRECTION OF THE USING DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTING SERVICES WITH BAY ENVIRONMENTAL, INC. FROM BUILDING MAINTENANCE TO VARIOUS DEPARTMENTS.”

Of course, there’s no backup documentation for whatever that means. Of course, the Commissioners Court is likely to approve this item even though it’s completely incomprehensible, at least in the English language.

What is this new “Using Department”?

What is the “correction”?

Doesn’t this correction require some correction?

What are the services?

How much?

Which are the “various departments”?

Is this agenda item an example of how Craig Doyal speaks in private?!

  • Approve the advertising for residential water wells for various departments? What in the world does that mean? There no backup documentation. Why? Which departments?
  • “VEHICLE AND EQUIPMENT REPAIRS AS AN ITEM THAT CAN ONLY BE OBTAINED FROM ONE SOURCE FROM EACH OF THE FOLLOWING VENDORS: BUCKALEW CHEVROLET, LP, DEMONTROND AUTOCOUNTRY, INC. AND GULLO CARS OF CONROE, ILC dba GULLO FORD OF CONROE FOR VARIOUS DEPARTMENTS. LOCAL GOV’T CODE §262.024(a)(11).

What’s amazing about this agenda item is that the cryptic backup documentation makes clear that these repairs could occur at any of the manufacturer’s car dealerships. They’re not “one source” at all. Therefore, the item begs the question: why isn’t the County government seeking bids for these repairs?

  • “CONSIDER AND ACCEPT PAYROLL CHANGE REQUEST FORMS.”

Of course, there’s no backup. For all the Commissioners Court members might know, they’ve just hired Marc Davenport with a $200,000 salary as a full-time County employee.

  • Authorization to defend some lawsuits against County employees. There’s no reason that the Commissioners Court or the County Attorney shouldn’t disclose to the citizens the general nature of the lawsuits, even if the County’s strategy may be privileged.
  • The Commissioners Court approved the Advisory Board Meeting Minutes for the Montgomery County Mental Health Treatment Facility. As an example of the incestuous nature (“circling the wagons”) of the County government under the leadership of Doyal, Meador, and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Ed Chance and Mike Meador are two of the five advisory board members.

After the Consent Agenda, the secrecy and non-disclosure of information continues.

Item 11A of the Agenda is “CONSIDER, DISCUSS AND TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION ON FY 2018 BUDGET PACKET AND FY 2018 BUDGET PROJECTIONS.” Of course, since Doyal, Meador, and County Auditor Phyllis Martin don’t want any news reporting or public discussion about the Budget Packet and Budget Projections, nothing is attached to the Commissioners Court Agenda.

Item 11B of the Agenda is another presentation of former County Judge Jimmy Edwards concerning the multimillion Veterans Memorial Park proposal, which will be on City of Conroe property.

Item 14A: “CONSIDER AND APPROVE FUNDS FOR SURFACE CLEANING OF APPROXIMATELY 772,500 S.F. OF RUNWAY 14-32, 340,000 S.F. OF RUNWAY 01-19, AND REPAINTING OF RUNWAY MARKINGS, AT AN ESTIMATED COST OF $183,975.00.  FUNDS ARE AVAILABLE FROM 2012 CERTIFICATES OF OBLIGATION.”

Somehow, miraculously, the Airport Director and County Judge Doyal have saved $25,176 off this estimate since The Golden Hammer exposed the massive waste in this proposal. Please see “Airport Runway Agenda Item for Tuesday Commissioners Court Meeting Great Example of Doyal’s, Meador’s, Riley’s Tax Dollars Spending Addiction” (April 9, 2017, The Golden Hammer).

The maximum cost of this unnecessary proposal should $97,900. But the bigger question is why in the world is the County government wasting money on this tiny airport anyhow? This airport contributes nothing to Montgomery County other than massaging Meador’s ego.

As several airport users have also noted, the airport runways do not require this maintenance at this time anyway.

In Agenda Item 15, the Tax Assessor-Collector is transferring two positions and $164,000 of salaries, plus the massive benefits that go along with the positions, to the Information Technology Department. That item should wait until the budget hearings. The Information Technology Department is already a total mess. We don’t need to give them more money and responsibility.

Similarly, Agenda Item 16 consists of moving budgeted funds from salaried positions around to create a new reference librarian position. Those changes should wait until the budget hearings when the Library Department has to justify its entire budget in addition to the details contained within that budget.

Agenda Item 17B includes a new contract for engineer John Holzwarth to receive $200 per hour to perform the same services which County Engineer Mark Mooney should already perform for the salary County taxpayers provide to him. There’s no limit to the amount of funds the citizens will pay Holzwarth for duplicating Mooney’s job responsibilities.

Agenda Item 17B is also an engineering contract for Cobb Fendley engineers for $683,443 to provide design services for the Keenan Cutoff Road project. There’s no indication of any sort of review of the pricing of this contract.

Agenda Items 21A and 21B are a problem and also a clear violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Of course, in Montgomery County, compliance with the Open Meetings Act falls under the subjective rule “We’ll do whatever we feel like and follow the basic policy of ‘Secrecy First!’”)

Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, the agenda of a governmental body must provide sufficient information for the public to understand what the meeting concerns. The Commissioners Court, thanks to Judge Doyal, will have two executive session items under Agenda Items 21A and 21B. Here’s their description.

“A . Discuss and deliberate the employment and duties of selected public employees (Section 551.074).”

“B. Consider and Discuss Claim No. C-16-0146 (Section 551.071).”

Item B is the overtime claim of the three ladies who work for the County at the East Montgomery County Senior Center. Is it so secretive that our County government can’t even tell us that they’re going to meet in secret to discuss this secretive set of overtime claims?

In Cox Enterprises, Inc., versus Board of Trustees Austin Independent School District, the Supreme Court of Texas held that mere reference to one of the statutory exceptions to open meetings (i.e., executive sessions) in a meeting notice is not sufficient advance notice of the subject matter of the meeting. 706 S.W.2d 956, 958 (Tex. 1986).

Neither of the two Agenda Items comply with the advance notice requirements of the Texas Open Meetings Act. 21A provides no information whatsoever regarding what public employees or public positions are the subject of the agenda item. Similarly, 21B provides no notice, because the “Claim No. C-16-0146” provides no reference to any particular court or administrative agency.

If any member of the Commissioners Court participates in the executive sessions under these items, they’ll violate the Texas Open Meetings Act. Of course, why should they care?!

 

 

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