Image: Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin, sitting at her desk at Commissioners Court.
Conroe, February 28 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to establish a Budget Review Committee that would meet in secret but report to the Commissioners Court once in a while. The Budget Review Committee will include County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, and County Auditor Phyllis Martin.
Doyal has made clear that he supports increased County government spending for Fiscal Year 2018. Meador has never opposed any spending proposal with the exception of a few law enforcement requests that he punitively turned down. Martin has consistently approved all increases in County Department spending and has assisted the County Commissioners Court in passing tens of millions of dollars of “budget amendments” that regularly usurp the entire annual budget process, which Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code mandates. Since Doyal has recharacterized “fiscal conservatism” to mean increased government spending, the Budget Review Committee is clearly a means for increasing spending.
During the Commissioners Court discussion about the Budget Review Committee, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack initially raised questions about the Budget Review Committee and said, “The budget committee should be the entire Commissioners Court meeting in open session.” Noack eventually backed down from that position and voted with his colleagues.
Doyal responded to Noack’s initial criticism by saying, “That’s what budget hearings are for.” Doyal did, however, make clear that he intended for the Budget Review Committee to conduct secret department-by-department meetings which usurp the intended function of the public hearings on the proposed budget under Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code.
Section 111.038 of the Texas Local Government Code mandates, “The commissioners court shall hold a public hearing on the proposed budget. Any person may attend and may participate in the hearing.” The secret Budget Review Committee hearings are wholly outside of any authority of Texas law. During the “public hearings” for the Fiscal 2017 Budget, the Commissioners Court refused to permit citizens to participate in the hearing. County Attorney Jerry Don “Ice Man” Lambright encouraged the Commissioners Court to silence citizen participation in a memorandum his office provided to County Judge Pro Tem Mike Meador.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark objected to the proposed Budget Review Committee as well. “Citizens should be directly involved in the budget process. There needs to be more transparency,” Clark said before he also backed down from those concerns and voted to go along with the secret Budget Review Committee.
The County Commissioners Court failed to establish any procedure for zero-based budgeting or any public line-by-line review of the proposed budget. The Citizens Budget Committee, a non-governmental group, is diligently working on a budget that will include substantial County government spending cuts, increases in law enforcement funding, a substantial reserve for roads and bridges as well as other capital projects, and reform of the entire budget, accounting, and payroll procedures of the County.
Under Doyal’s and Meador’s “leadership,” since 2000, the Montgomery County government budget has grown by 428% while population has only grown 84%. Commissioner Noack has criticized Doyal for failing to find and implement any economies of scale as County departments have grown.
By appointment of the committee through the Commissioners Court, very clearly all Committee deliberations would fall under the Texas Open Meetings Act. At least two major Texas Attorney General Opinions address that issue, Opinion H-1281, which Attorney General John Hill issued on December 13, 1978, and Opinion RQ-0133-JC, which General John Cornyn issued on April 4, 2000. By falling under the Open Meetings Act, the appointment of this budget committee would prevent any two of the three (Doyal-Meador, Doyal-Martin, Martin-Meador) or their representatives (fredricks, for example) from discussing budget issues outside of a properly-noticed open meeting. Doyal, Meador, and Martin clearly intend to violate the open meetings requirements by conducting the Budget Review Committee meetings in secret.