Conroe, February 21 – Over the past four days, The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has reported two countervailing stories, each from the perspective of a protagonist, Dodi Shaw, the Montgomery County Human Resources Department (“HR”) Director, and Stephanne Davenport, the countywide elected Treasurer, who, of course, heads the County Treasurer’s Department. (“Breaking News: HR Director Dodi Shaw Fears for Her Job, Pledges Loyalty in Complaint Letter to County Judge Craig Doyal” (February 18, 2017); “Breaking News: County Treasurer Davenport Announces $31,505.59 Proposed Department Budget Reduction in Reorganization, Pushes Back Against HR Director Shaw’s ‘Posturing'” (February 19, 2017).)
Before County Judge Craig Doyal interrogates and then terminates another person, Dodi Shaw, on his “Hit List,” hopefully he’ll take a bit of time to reflect upon how nepotism, his own poor management, and the askew organizational chart he’s created have caused the problems.
In many respects both ladies, Shaw and Davenport, have made some excellent points. In many respects, their disagreements and the volatility that arose during the proposed “reorganization” of the County Treasurer’s Department reveals (1) how much of an abuse of power nepotism is and (2) how badly Montgomery County’s government needs to put all County Departments back under the supervision and management of the entire Commissioners Court rather than maintaining the departments under the mismanagement of County Judge Craig Doyal and his so-called “chief of staff” Jim Fredricks (who supervises a “staff” of two administrative assistants.)
Davenport made the best point of all: “By definition, nepotism is an abuse of power.” Davenport’s payroll coordinator is the daughter of County Judge Craig Doyal. While Davenport didn’t originally hire Lindsey Doyal, she employs her and sought to promote her. As a matter of ethics, and arguably the Texas Local Government Code, Doyal and Fredricks should have nothing to do with any decisions involving Doyal’s daughter. They interfered and they abused power.
The original Position Description Questionnaire (“PDQ”), which Davenport’s Department prepared on September 6, 2016, for Shaw’s HR Department, contained a promotion of Lindsey Doyal to the position of Assistant County Treasurer. The PDQ indicated that Stephanne Davenport prepared the document. Shaw contends that Davenport handed Shaw and Assistant HR Director Kathy Flowers the PDQ with the promotion for Lindsey Doyal at a meeting on September 26. A series of meetings involving the HR Department, Davenport, and Craig Doyal’s office occurred and raise a number of troubling issues.
September 26, 2016 – Shaw admitted that she and Flowers agreed to keep their meeting with Davenport confidential. There is no reason, under the policy of the State of Texas supporting open government, such a meeting should have remained confidential. While human resources decisions involving the status of one particular employee might have some expectation of privacy, this decision concerned the reorganization of an entire County Department, although Davenport had included Lindsey Doyal’s promotion among the reorganization paperwork. Since Lindsey Doyal, Craig’s daughter, was the subject of the proposed promotion, her attendance at the meeting and at a subsequent meeting on October 31 was entirely inappropriate.
October 31, 2016 – Flowers and Shaw directly raised concerns about nepotism during this meeting with Davenport and Lindsey Doyal. If Shaw’s letter is correct, that Davenport took issue with those comments, once again, we’re seeing a problem with nepotism: it creates mistrust among co-workers regardless of whether the employed family member is a sincere and qualified employee.
Where this process completely broke down and became entirely inappropriate was in early January 2017. On January 27, 2017, Fredricks met with Shaw and Davenport to discuss the “Treasurer’s Office restructure.” Fredricks works directly for Craig Doyal. Fredricks should have nothing whatsoever to do with reorganization of a department where Craig Doyal’s daughter’s position or responsibilities might change as a result of the reorganization. Furthermore, the issues between Davenport and Shaw were human resources issues for which Shaw, not Fredricks and certainly not Craig Doyal, should have been the final arbiter.
If Davenport had a problem with a decision of Shaw’s, then Craig Doyal’s office simply should not have been the place where Davenport and Shaw needed to go for an appeal or a resolution of their disagreement. By putting the County Judge – one member of the Commissioners Court – over the Human Resources Department, two negative results arose. First, the appeal process concerning the reorganization of an entire County Department should not have been one of secrecy. Instead, it should have occurred openly in the Commissioners Court in front of the eyes and ears of the public. That’s what open government is all about. Second, human resources departments, by their very nature, should be independent of and not beholden to the chief executive of an organization, especially where issues involving nepotism have arisen. The County Judge might make decisions for political reasons. The HR Department should strictly adhere to the formal criteria of the County’s Human Resources Policy Manual instead. When the issue came before the Commissioners Court, Judge Doyal should have recused himself, just as Mike Meador should for matters involving his brother (Building Maintenance Department), and Charlie Riley should for matters involving his wife (Precinct 5 Constable’s office).
Davenport contends that she has returned substantial funds to the general fund each year. She claims that she is a “fiscal conservative.” Those sentiments are excellent, and we should commend Davenport for those approaches. Nevertheless, there are two problems with Davenport taking credit for returning unused funds: (1) Davenport’s budget has grown each year by approximately $15,000 per year. Since Davenport has returned funds each year, hopefully we’ll see a reduction in her Treasurer Department Budget by at least $31,505 (the amount of Davenport’s proposed reduction in spending), to $695,097. (2) There’s a greater problem with Davenport’s Departmental Budget, which she needs to address for the coming Fiscal Year, and with her contention of fiscal conservatism. Davenport has had a vacant position for a good part of that period. During Fiscal Year 2017, according to the Salary Survey, she has at least one vacant position for which the budgeted salary is $64,758.11. Therefore, in actuality, Davenport should reduce her Departmental Budget by that amount to $661,844. The taxpayers should appreciate Davenport not spending a portion of her budgeted funds, but the long vacant position certainly helped her achieve that goal. With great care and scrutiny, we should continue to cheer on Stephanne Davenport’s fiscal conservatism.
Nepotism has created a difficult situation between Shaw and Davenport. Shaw has shown courage in confronting that issue directly. It would be easy to criticize Shaw for not keeping human resource matters within the HR Department, but (1) the reorganization of an entire County Department is one where the Commissioners Court should be the court of appeal, and (2) the intervention of the County Judge, his daughter, and his chief of staff into these matters led to a circumstance where the Doyals have created a nepotism problem and have created a management chart where loyalty to the County Judge and political support of the County Judge are the only ways that a Human Resources Department Director may stay off of the County Judge’s “Hit List.”
Loyalty should only flow in the direction towards the citizens.