Image: Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough definitely doesn’t want the public to hear the discussion about his proposal to spend $4.7 million to buy radios for some emergency service districts, as a political favor to them, particularly since they’re flush with cash. Keough thinks it will help his re-election but he doesn’t want the public to know about it.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, January 10 – In a desperate attempt to seek re-election as Montgomery County Judge, Mark Keough and his staff are pushing for the County government to spend $4.7 million to buy radios for some emergency service districts (ESD), as a political favor to the appointed ESD board members and their staffs. ESDs have enormous taxing authority, both through property taxation and sales tax assessments, and, generally, are flush with far more disposable cash, in comparison to their total annual budgets, than the County government.
Broad community opposition has formed against Keough’s proposal. This newspaper has confirmed that both of Keough’s immediate predecessors as County Judge – Craig Doyal and Alan Sadler – have expressed opposition to the idea, which would constitute one taxing authority, the County government, giving other taxing authorities, the ESDs, tax dollars as a gift.
Ashley Burke, a Republican Precinct Chair from Willis, told The Golden Hammer, “The citizens of Montgomery County should feel outraged. Mark Keough wants to spend $4.7 million to curry favor from establishment leaders who don’t need the money, because they actually have more taxing authority than the County government does. Each of the ESDs can impose both sales taxes and property taxes. All of the ESDs are flush with cash. I’ve heard that both former County Judge Barb Sadler and former County Judge Craig Doyal oppose this proposal to buy radios for them. Shame on Keough and his staff.”
To make matters even worse, Keough has placed his proposal on the Tuesday, January 11, agenda under an “executive session,” meaning the public will have no opportunity to hear the discussion or come to a full understanding (1) why the County government should spend the huge sum, and (2) precisely what it is that the County government will provide for the millions of dollars Keough wants to spend.
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and his Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps came before the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, December 14, 2021, with the staggering request to spend the $4.7 million on radios for several emergency service districts (ESDs) throughout the county. Incredibly, Millsaps tried to claim that the County government “oversees” fire protection in Montgomery County, a false claim inconsistent with Texas law and outside of the statutory authority of counties in Texas.
Keough failed to include this proposed expenditure from the Emergency Management Department, which the County Judge oversees, in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget requests, so he blindsided the Commissioners Court with the massive request.
Neither Millsaps nor his own assistant, Darren Hess, were prepared to explain which Emergency Service Districts need the radios and supposedly can’t afford them for themselves. No one has looked at the excess salaries, excess cash, or budgets of any of those ESDs, so, once again, Keough and his staff expect the taxpayers just to come forward and foot the bill for his poor management and mistakes.
Acknowledging that spending $4.7 million on equipment for other government entities, all of which have their own taxing authority, is a “heavy lift” in the words of Keough’s assistant Hess, the question as to how to pay for the radios came from Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack. Hess and Millsaps provided the age old answer: “Fund balance,” which means the taxpayers will take that expenditure hit directly on the chin.
In response, Noack said, “Just last week, Tammy [McRae, Tax Assessor-Collector; submitted a list of what the tax levy is for all taxing entities in Montgomery County and how much revenue they receive. Each one of these ESDs is their own individual independent taxing unit. For you to come in here and ask us for radios that they should be buying on their own – we’ve had this conversation – I think it’s a terrible idea. It’s a complete misuse of County funds. That’s not what we should be doing with that money. I’d rather see that go towards building a jail and taking care of the needs that we have. We specifically talked that, if you brought this up, that you would consider using the ESDs that have revenue shortages.”
Noack continued to hammer away at the proposal and said, “These ESDs needs to do a better job allocating their resources. We can’t use our tax dollars to supplement them. We have a jail to build. Commissioner Riley wants to build a nature center…Every one of us has needs just like they do.”
Ultimately, Noack was able to convince the members of the Commissioners Court to defer action on the costly proposal, but with his March 1 Republican Primary Election looming, Keough has placed the matter back on the agenda for tomorrow’s Commissioners Court, although this time as a secret part of the meeting.
When he ran for election in 2018 as County Judge, Keough made written promises in his so-called “Contract with Montgomery County,” (all of which appears below) including:
2. THE ACTIONS OF ELECTED OFFICIALS ARE TRANSPARENT AND BEYOND REPROACH.
a. I will work to create an environment of transparency that will eliminate the possibility of actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
3.d. I will ensure that the spending of public money will be related to the core functions of county government.
As recently as this past Thursday, at a candidate forum in Shenandoah, Keough assured the public he “insists on always having backup information” attached to the agenda for every Commissioners Court agenda item. There is no backup whatsoever for Keough’s proposal to spend $4.7 million on radios. Therefore, with his plan to discuss the issue in a secret session behind closed doors, the public will have no information at all about what Keough seeks the Commissioners Court to approve.
Renowned conservative and Magnolia businessman Calvin Russell told this newspaper, “When I heard that Judge Keogh is attempting to use our property taxes to give $4.7 million to the ESDs for radio expenses, my first thought was ‘aren’t we already paying for this through sales tax?’ Why in the world would we agree to taking money out of our County services funds and give it to another taxing authority? I would hate to think that this is just another way to shore up a political position with the ESDs to purchase votes with my tax dollars, but I honestly can’t think of any other reason. This should be illegal.”
This newspaper sought comments both from Keough and Millsaps since last week. Neither of them responded.