Conroe, April 27 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal issued a press release in which he admitted to facts constituting a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act concerning a new hire. The Montgomery County Commissioners Court seems to have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by hiring a new Director for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter (“MCAS”), Aaron Johnson, after a secretive interview and executive session during the Tuesday, April 25, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting when the animal shelter position was not even mentioned on the meeting agenda.
After the lengthy executive session concluded, four of the five members of the Commissioners Court came into the open meeting. Doyal announced, “There is no action necessary out of executive session.” The meeting then adjourned.
The problem arises because Doyal stated in a press release issued earlier today that “The court agreed to offer the position to Mr. Johnson, and he formally accepted Wednesday.” The only instance in which the Commissioners Court could have “agreed to offer the position to Mr. Johnson” would have been during the executive session.
It is a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act for the Commissioners Court to take any final action, decision, or vote anywhere other than in an open meeting properly noticed under the statute, as the Supreme Court of Texas has consistently held since its 1986 decision in Cox Enterprises versus Austin Independent School District. Executive sessions are not acceptable locales for decisions.
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal: “The court agreed to offer the position to Mr. Johnson…”
There are four problems with hiring Johnson in the manner in which Doyal claims the Commissioners Court hired him:
- The only place where the Commissioners Court could have “agreed to offer the position to Mr. Johnson” would have been in the closed executive session in violation of the Open Meetings Act.
- There was nothing on the Commissioners Court agenda which would have permitted the Commissioners Court to take any action on the hiring of an Animal Shelter Director.
- In fact, Texas law is quite clear that the Commissioners Court likely should not have even held the executive session concerning the Animal Shelter Director position without mentioning that that position was the subject of the executive session.
- The Commissioners Court did not ever hire Mr. Johnson in an open meeting.
Numerous judicial opinions, as well as Attorney General Opinions, have held that, during executive session, members of a governmental body may only ask questions and seek information. They may not discuss, debate, or form a consensus on issues involving the business of the governmental body.
The Johnson hire appears nonetheless a good one
Johnson is the Medical Services Manager for the BARC Animal Shelter of the City of Houston where he’ll stay until he begins his new job at MCAS on May 23, 2017.
In the press release, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal seemed somewhat unclear about the precise roles Johnson has had with BARC or the exact amount of time Johnson has worked there. “We are excited that Aaron has agreed to come direct our Animal Shelter. Aaron has a wealth of experience, and in our interviews demonstrated a thorough understanding of shelter operations and a true passion for animals and their care,” said Doyal. Using the same phrase that he used to describe the work of Todd “Boss” Hayden, the MCAS Director two directors ago, Doyal said, “I am confident that he will help bring our shelter to the next level.”
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack told The Golden Hammer, “I was not made aware until Tuesday in executive session that we were interviewing a candidate for the animal shelter. I don’t know what process he [Doyal] went through. I was very impressed with the candidate. I told County HR Director Dodi Shaw that she did an amazing job to screen the candidates. I was kept in the dark of the entire process.”
Doyal’s press release quoted Johnson as saying, “I am very excited to bring my decade of experience to Montgomery County. I look forward to working with the judge, commissioners, shelter staff and the community. I want us to be a transparent organization that has excellent effective communication.”
In his press release, County Judge Craig Doyal claimed that Doyal selected Aaron Johnson from a list of applicants for the job and interviewed him with the county’s human resources director, Dodi Shaw and his “chief of staff.” Based on that interview, Judge Doyal recommended bringing him forward to the entire court to interview Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
Johnson told The Golden Hammer this afternoon, “I have to get in there and see how things are running. My goal is to have the highest live release rate possible. Customer service is paramount. We have to get people drawn in to want to adopt from us.” Johnson also mentioned the possibility of starting a low cost wellness clinic for basic shots and preventive care for animals in order to assist the lower income population that owns pets in Montgomery County.
Johnson worked with previous MCAS Director Charles Jackson at BARC for several years. While at BARC, Johnson suffered from lymphoma cancer but has beaten the disease after he received excellent care from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Department at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. “I have a clean bill of health,” Johnson explained.
Johnson made a special point to note, “I’m excited to come here. I know people are worried that I might not stay too long. I have no intentions of going anywhere. I love animals. I grew up around animals in Washington state as a child. I was in 4-H, rode and took care of horses, and would always bring animals home with me. I’m here to give the animals of Montgomery County the best care possible.”
Noack added, “I feel comfortable with Mr. Johnson. He has an impressive background. He’s been an animal control officer, kennel tech, vet tech, shelter supervisor, and he manages the medical service division of BARC. He’s an EMT. He’s also a nationally licensed animal cruelty investigator. Johnson’s passion is to get animals out of the shelter quickly with volunteers and fosters helping him. I’m happy with this hire. I hope he knocks the cover off the ball.”
Johnson, age 33, will earn $100,000 per year in salary, which, although still a bit high under national animal shelter director standards, is far more comparable to average salaries for a director than his predecessor’s exorbitant salary.