Image: Precinct 1 Montgomery County Commissioner Mike Meador (foreground) and County Judge Craig Doyal (behind).
Conroe, March 8 – Over the course of two secret meetings in Executive Sessions on February 13 and February 27, 2018, the Commissioners Court took the entirely inappropriate action of deliberating and deciding to hire a “Budget Office” Director without any citizen scrutiny or involvement. In fact, the manner of making the decision to make an offer to a lady who is currently an employee of the City of Rowlett, near Dallas, was actually a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, which does not permit a governmental body to make decisions in executive sessions but only to receive information in them.
On February 27, 2018, during the second of two Executive Sessions on the issue, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador even made the comment, “I vote for the younger girl” in reference to the candidate for the position to whom Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal ultimately directed County Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw to extend a written offer of employment. Doyal told the Commissioners Court members that there was a “consensus” to hire the candidate from Rowlett “subject to Commissioners Court approval.”
The problem, however, is that the Commissioners Court conducted its deliberations and made its decision in the secret Executive Session rather than in an open meeting, as the Texas Open Meetings Act requires.
There are other problems with the hiring decision:
- Why couldn’t the Commissioners Court wait to allow incoming Montgomery County Judge, who will not be Craig Doyal, input into the Budget Office Director?
- Why is the Commissioners Court hiring a Budget Office Director and spending over $300,000 for that new County Department when the Court has failed to remove the budget office expenditure funds in the County Auditor’s Office?
- Why couldn’t the Commissioners Court interview the Budget Office Director candidates in public to permit citizen scrutiny for this essential function in the County government? This candidate should reflect the conservative political ideology of the citizens of Montgomery County. If the candidates required secrecy in the job interviews, then citizens should have had the opportunity to review transcripts of the secretive interviews for the candidates with identifying information redacted therefrom.
- Why is this hasty decision necessary given the fact that Doyal is a lame duck County Judge and there is a good possibility that at least one other member of the Commissioners Court will not be on the Court in the coming year?
- Why couldn’t the Commissioners Court wait to determine whether the new County Treasurer will have the ability and proclivity to manage the budget functions for the County government rather than forcing the taxpayers to pay for an entirely new County Department?
Although the candidates have strong resumes with respect to their financial backgrounds, neither Doyal nor any member of the Commissioners Court has dared to ask the interviewees what their philosophy is with respect to government spending. Furthermore, none of the candidates have had to provide documentation to show any success in cutting government waste or even in attempting to cut government spending at all.
As in many other county governments, the Montgomery County government’s “Budget Office” will become an apologist and rationalizer for the massive government spending growth Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have inflicted on the taxpayers.
During the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget considerations during the summer of 2017, it readily became apparent that the Commissioners Court and County Department directors had less knowledge about the County’s Budget than the members of the Citizens Budget Committee, which had provided a detailed report to the Commissioners Court and which Doyal and the Commissioners Court ignored. At the conclusion of the budget considerations on September 5, 2017, the Citizens Budget Committee presented a number of specific problems with the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, including contradictory proposals and items that didn’t make any sense.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark voted against the Budget as a result of the haste of Doyal, Riley, and the remainder of the Court to pass any budget regardless of its content. Since that time, the County Commissioners Court has had to pass over two hundred budget amendments just to clean up portions of the mess about which the Citizens Budget Committee had warned Doyal and the Commissioners Court.
As with the budget itself, the Commissioners Court should permit citizen input. The final Budget Office director candidates should come before a public town hall meeting to answer questions about their budget philosophy and their qualifications for this important job. Since the Budget Director must be willing to go into each County Department and look for waste and inefficiency, the person filling that position should have the appropriate temperament both to be firm and courteous in such situations. Montgomery County citizens don’t need another County government bureaucrat to justify Doyal’s, Riley’s and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador’s terrible spending habits.
Montgomery County citizens don’t need another County government bureaucrat to justify Doyal’s, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s and Meador’s terrible spending habits.
The very creation of Doyal’s “Budget Office” is troubling. On Friday morning, July 28, 2017, Doyal announced to the Commissioners Court during the “budget workshop” that the Montgomery County government’s portion of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District (“MCAD”) Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 would go down from $2,293,255 (Fiscal Year 2017) to $2,184,000 (Fiscal Year 2018), a $109,255 savings, as a result of the County’s passage of a 20% homestead exemption, the passage for which Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack and local political activist Kelli Cook were primarily responsible. MCAD charges its budget based upon tax collections for each governmental entity. Since the County’s property tax collections went down a small amount as a result of the 20% homestead exemption, MCAD’s charge to the County government will decline during the coming Fiscal Year.
Doyal has also had a $50,120.52 vacancy on his County Judge’s payroll for three years, although Doyal has taxed Montgomery County citizens for that amount each fiscal year. Doyal “contributed” those funds to the “Budget Office” as well.
Doyal told the Commissioners Court that the new County “Budget Office” would have a budget of $300,000 per year. Therefore, the Commissioners Court had to move another approximately $140,000 into the new bureaucratic political office Doyal has created.
Doyal told the Commissioners Court that he hoped that moving the “budget function” away from County Auditor Phyllis Martin will “allow her to do her auditor’s job,” but the Commissioners Court never reduced the County Auditor’s Office’s budget by $300,000 to reflect its diminished responsibilities.
Illegal and improper executive session
Section 551.041 of the Texas Government Code, part of the Texas Open Meetings Act, the statute under which Doyal and Riley are already in a heap of trouble and face criminal indictments, mandates “A governmental body shall give written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of each meeting held by the governmental body.” The notice must be posted following a particular procedure of public posting 72 hours before the meeting. That means that Commissioners Court meetings beginning Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. must be the subject of a public posting at the Courthouse no later than the previous Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. The notice must include the subject of the meeting.
About 31 years ago, the Austin Independent School District landed in a bunch of hot water when they began to abuse executive sessions by failing to provide any notice of the subject of the executive sessions that they’d hold when they provided notice of the school district meetings. A newspaper chain, Cox Enterprises, Inc., filed a lawsuit against AISD and fought the issue all the way to the Supreme Court of Texas, which held on April 9, 1986, that before an executive session may occur under TOMA, advance written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of the executive session is required. A “reader…[must be] alerted to the topic for consideration” in order for the executive session to comply with Texas law.
Not surprisingly, the Commissioners Court, which appears to want to operate in secrecy, doesn’t give the proper notice oftentimes.
The agendas which County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks post, have many problems. First, since the public has begun to take a special interest in many topics – County payroll, ethics, spending – the agendas should include specific explanation of the items about those topics that will be under discussion.
An April 25, 2017, meeting notice provided notice for an executive session which only provided the following information: “DISCUSS AND DELIBERATE THE EMPLOYMENT AND DUTIES OF SELECTED PUBLIC EMPLOYEES.” Clearly, that meeting notice failed to apprise the public about the topics of the meeting, as it could easily have concerned any of approximately 2,600 employees in the County government alone.
Where the Montgomery County Commissioners Court seems to get into the most trouble, however, is in what they actually do during so-called “executive sessions.” Those executive sessions cannot, by law, involve deliberations or debate over County business matters, no matter what the topic. Numerous sources have confirmed that the Commissioners Court executive sessions regularly involved substantial discussion and debate among the County Judge, Doyal, and the Commissioners. In the instance of the Budget Office Director, one Commissioners Court member, Meador, actually voted on the matter. Doyal regularly announces that they’ve reached a “consensus,” a clear violation of TOMA’s open meetings requirements. That, of course, explains why the Commissioners Court rarely takes action in the open after they’ve held executive sessions, which are, by law, supposed only to be informational and not discussions of government policy.