Conroe, October 23 – The Tuesday, October 24, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting ought to be a mundane affair with discussions of road contracts, renaming streets, and proclamations. While those unexciting matters are at the forefront of the agenda in an attempt to put the citizens to sleep, County Judge Craig Doyal buried three very ugly issues inside of the meeting agenda: the corruption of the Davenport Ring, government secrecy, and the Decimation of Hope Highway, the $73 million, 3.6 mile Tx-249 Extension Tollway, the financial burden of which looms greater and greater over Montgomery County tax payers.
Paying thousands for the Davenport Ring’s favored vendor so County government can lose millions
Tucked away in 76 pages of $6.948,352.77 of bills, for which Doyal and County Auditor Phyllis Martin are seeking the Commissioners Court’s approval is an $18,435.32 expenditure to Graves Humphries Stahl law firm, an outside collection firm. Corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport, Precinct 4 JP James Metts (East Montgomery County), and Precinct 1 JP Wayne Mack (north Montgomery County) have insisted that the County’s Justice of the Peace Court utilize GravesHumphries law firm and their NetData database software for their JP cases and for fee and fine collections. The County is paying Graves Humphrey enormous fees for the collections but the rate of collections has been very poor. At the same time, by failing to utilize the County’s Odyssey database, citizens cannot access court files in JP courts in Precincts 1, 2, 4, and 5.
Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Edie Connelly has refused to utilize the NetData database due to her concerns that citizens will not enjoy due process as a result of the lack of access to their court records. Her efficiency, in comparison to the JPs who utilize the Davenport Ring’s Graves Humphries collection system, in markedly greater, as the following table reveals.
Rather than examining the stark difference in collections between the Precinct 3 JP Court as opposed to the others, the Commissioners Court, whose members seem to fear Davenport’s corruption, continue to condone the inefficient mess by paying the outside collection law firm meeting after meeting with a care for the millions of dollars the taxpayers are losing each year.
Secrecy reigns: budget amendments, tax abatement
If the County government under Doyal’s leadership stands for any policy, it’s secrecy of government operations in order to hide from the citizens. There are at least two major examples of the secrecy in the Montgomery County government that should surface during the Commissioners Court meeting on October 24.
The Texas Local Government Code requires strict procedures, including public disclosure and public hearings, for a county’s budget process. Rather than following those procedures, Doyal, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have opted to conduct their budget sessions without public hearings or full public disclosure. On September 5, 2017, the Commissioners Court hastily adopted an annual Fiscal Year 2018 Budget without the proper public procedures.
As one might expect, a hastily-adopted budget is a total mess. Montgomery County’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget is a mess.
A result of the terrible budgeting methods the Commissioners Court follows is that the Court must amend the budget throughout the year, which Doyal, Riley, Meador, and Noack are happy to do without following proper public notice and public hearing procedures for the amended budgets.
On October 24, Doyal and colleagues plan to adopt seven major budget amendments without public disclosure or a public hearing in violation of the Texas Local Government Code’s strict provision in Chapter 115. The proposed seven budget amendments total $1,032,327.60, a lot of money, and will require that the Commissioners Court declared a “grave public necessity” and an “emergency” so that Doyal, Riley, Meador, and Noack can get around the citizen public notice and public hearing requirements under Texas law. The “emergency” includes hiring a part-time park attendant and transferring some funds from Riley’s budget to the Precinct 5 Constable so Constable David Hill can take a canine off the hands of the Magnolia Independent School District.
There’s a second example of secrecy which does, however, reveal a bit of progress towards public transparency. Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae is asking for approval of a tax abatement Indianapolis-based land speculator and hedge fund manager Scannell Properties. Previously, McRae wouldn’t even disclose the name of intended tax abatement recipients on the Commissioners Court agenda. At least now the public can ascertain who the intended recipient of the County’s favor is prior to the meeting.
Since McRae failed to include any information about the proposed Scannell Properties project, it will be impossible for the public – or the Commissioners Court – actually to ascertain whether the proposed tax abatement meets the requisite criteria for tax abatements, which the Commissioners Court previously adopted. Most worrisome is that it’s unclear whether the Scannell project falls within the Abatement Criteria paragraph 3(e) which explicitly prohibits projects of the sort for which Scannell Properties is well known around the United States.
Decimation of Hope Highway, also known as the Tx-249 Tollway, also known as the $73 million, 3.6 mile, Tx-249 Extension Tollway
Even though Riley has repeatedly assured citizens that he favors allowing the voters to decide whether to build this proposed tollway project by a referendum, it’s clear that Riley has no intention whatsoever of keeping his word. As far as Riley is concerned, citizens can go to Hades before he’ll allow them to vote up or down on his beloved Tollway project at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County.
Riley and Doyal have already cost Montgomery County citizens more than $10 million spent out of the County’s general revenue funds. With the revelation learned at the October 10 Commissioners Court that Montgomery County taxpayers will like be responsible for construction of the frontage roads, it’s apparent that the Tx-249 Tollway will cost Montgomery County citizens countless tens of millions of dollars in their hard earned treasure.
While the Commissioners Court, for once, is only intending to spend $257.75 on this crazed Tollway project on Tuesday, Noack and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark should either vote against the entire “consent agenda” or remove that one item from it, so that they can continue to take a stand and vote against the Tollway.