Conroe, August 27 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and County Auditor Phyllis Martin have taken some unusual steps to exclude the public from participating in the County budget process. The so-called “public hearings” that the Commissioners Court conducted on August 8 and August 22, 2017, shouldn’t fool anyone; they weren’t really public hearings, because Doyal and Martin have carefully avoided making the budget available to the public. They placed citizens in the position of having to provide public comments about a “proposed budget” which was unavailable to the public.
Section 111.037 of the Texas Local Government Code mandates that the County Auditor “shall file a copy of the proposed budget with the county clerk.”
Section 111.038 of the Texas Local Government Code then requires the Commissioners Court to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget within 10 days of when the Auditor filed the “proposed budget.” The statute stipulates, “Any person may attend and may participate in the hearing.”
That’s where the trouble has arisen, because Doyal, Martin, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador want to discourage public participation in the budget process.
During the hearings the week of July 25, 2016, for the Fiscal Year 2017,= County Budget, the Commissioners Court prohibited citizens from participating in the hearing. During a break on July 27, 2016, County Judge Pro Tempore Mike Meador expressed his view that permitting citizens to participate in the statutorily mandated public hearing on the proposed budget would “set a bad precedent” and disallowed any citizen participation in the hearing. It was a clear violation of Texas law.
At least two citizens had sought to participate in the public hearing but Meador disallowed citizen participation in the public hearing in direct violation of the law. The Commissioners Court then proceeded to adopt the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017 without ever having conducted a public hearing beforehand.
This year’s shenanigans
On July 14, 2017, County Auditor Phyllis Martin posted the proposed budget in accordance with Section 111.037 of the Texas Local Government Code. The reason one might ascertain that Martin’s proposed budget was just that is because Martin filed the “proposed budget” under a memorandum in which she stated she had filed the “Proposed Budget.”
Martin’s filing of the Proposed Budget on July 14 then required that the Commissioners Court hold a public hearing on her Proposed Budget by July 24, 2017. Of course, an extra meeting of the Commissioners Court would interfere with Doyal’s golf schedule. Therefore, the Commissioners Court ignored the statutory requirement for a hearing and, instead, held a so-called “budget workshop” between July 25 and July 28, 2017.
Since this newspaper had caught the legal problem with the budget process, however, Doyal instructed each of the County Department heads who spoke during the “budget workshop” to refer to the “Proposed Budget” as the “recommended budget.” Several Department heads slipped and called the filed “Proposed Budget” what it actually is, the “Proposed Budget.” The purpose of Doyal’s shenanigans, however, was that he did not want to permit the public to speak during the “budget workshop.” Doyal disallowed any public participation over the four-day workshop.
Former County Judge Alan B. Sadler permitted the public to participate in his budget hearings every year of his tenure. Doyal’s fundamental policy is to hide his political maneuvering so that the citizens cannot catch him.
The Commissioners Court in July, 2017, failed to vote on the proposed budget at the conclusion of the budget hearings contrary to the practice of the Commissioners Court over the past two decades.
The secret budget is coming
During the August 22, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, after a citizen complained that Martin and Doyal had failed to make the proposed budget available, Martin disclosed that she doesn’t intend to make the proposed almost $350 million budget available to the public until August 30, 2017, a mere six days prior to the September 5, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting when Doyal and the Commissioners intend to vote on and pass the budget.
Unlike the members of the Citizens Budget Committee who went through every single line of the County budget in making their completely ignored recommendations, the members of the Commissioners Court have shown an utter ignorance regarding the budget.
Montgomery County’s Commissioners Court members will have had three working days to review a $350 million budget consisting of several hundred pages.
Apparently, they’ll just pass the budget, which promises to contain the highest level of operational expenditures in the history of Montgomery County, on faith.