Image: Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador (left) with County Judge Craig Doyal (right). Doyal and Meador are close allies and vote together almost every time on the Commissioners Court.
Conroe, February 14 – County Judge Craig Doyal’s antagonistic comments towards his Commissioners Court colleagues highlighted the Court’s debate and subsequent rejection of the County management structure which the Texas Constitution stipulates. “I don’t tell you everything that goes on for a reason,” Doyal angrily told Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack during the discussion.
Noack and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark had jointly sponsored a resolution to restore management of all County Departments to the full oversight of the entire County Commissioners Court rather than exclusively under the direction of Doyal. Since January 15, 2015, County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks have been responsible for the management of the vast majority of County Departments. Previously, all County Departments reported to the entire County Commissioners Court. On January 15, however, by a 3 to 1 vote (Noack voted against, Clark was absent), Doyal and Commissioners Charlie Riley and Mike Meador reorganized the County management structure.
Doyal made clear that County Department heads could only discuss matters with individual County Commissioners that pertained to their Commissioner’s Precincts. “If there’s an issue in your Precinct, they’re not precluded” from speaking with individual County Commissioners, Doyal told Clark. Clark noted, “There have been some things that haven’t been communicated to me. I feel like I’m out of the loop on some of this that I need to be closer to. Voters put me here to make right decisions for the county as a whole.”
After Noack argued that “Some department heads asked for the return of the County’s management to the entire Court…department heads aren’t clear if they can talk to us.” Doyal provided that clarification: Department heads apparently can’t speak to individual Commissioners without running afoul of Doyal, unless he gives them permission or the matter involves a Commissioner’s individual Precinct.
Doyal defied Noack’s and Clark’s request for information: “I’m not going to get into day to day operations…I’ll bring major issues to court…I don’t tell you everything that goes on for a reason.”
The County Commissioners Court voted two (Clark, Noack) to three (Doyal, Meador, Riley) and defeated the effort to return management of County departments to the entire Commissioners Court.
The County’s organizational chart shown on the County’s website under the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget (County Auditor tab) is incorrect, because it reflects that County Departments are responsible to the entire 5-member Commissioners Court. Actually, the County has updated that organizational chart, showing all power centralized to Doyal, but failed to make the correct chart available to the public on the County’s website.
There are at least three major problems with the current County administrative and management structure.
First, it runs afoul of the vision of how counties should run under the Texas Constitution, Article V, Section 18, which provides, “The [County Commissioners] court shall exercise powers over county business” rather than one member of the Commissioners Court. Commissioner Noack has said, “Though the opportunity to delegate authority may be permitted, it is not wise. The people elected me as commissioner to be able to make these types of decisions pursuant to the Texas Constitution and statutes and when the court approved this egregious resolution they robbed the power from the people of Montgomery County…Delegating these responsibilities to just one sole authority has created a dictator on our court.”
Commissioner Clark said, “I believe this [proposal to move the departments back under the entire Commissioners Court] is a positive move and one that is necessary to keep the integrity of the court’s actions intact. With the increased and intense scrutiny the court is receiving at this time, my belief is that my vote is a voice for the people that elected me to make the best decisions for Montgomery County. We may not always agree and that’s okay. These important decisions need to be made by the entire court.”
Second, the centralized management of Montgomery County just doesn’t work. Doyal is largely absent from the office. His golf obligations and hectic social life keep him busy. The recent melee between County Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw and her Assistant Director Kathy Flowers on the one hand and County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport on the other hand over the Treasurer Department’s proposed “reorganization” illustrated the problem with keeping the County’s management under the hyper-political Doyal who regularly encourages nepotism and political posturing.
Third, and perhaps most important, Montgomery County’s government has gained a reputation for its lack of ethics during the management tenure of Doyal and fredricks. Just recently, on January 24, the Commissioners Court reluctantly adopted a Code of Ethics in response to a requirement of the Texas Department of Transportation that if the Court failed to adopt such a Code, all state road and bridge grants would cease. The Code of Ethics has very little enforcement mechanisms. Nevertheless, the one enforcement method that exists is oversight from a five-person Ethics Committee, two of whom the County Commissioners Court will appoint and the other three nominated from the Human Resources Department, the Purchasing Department, and the County Auditor. Under the current organization, the Human Resources and Purchasing departments report directly to Doyal. Therefore, Doyal would likely control two Ethics Committee appointments out of five and might control as many as four out of five, if he held the influence over the two Commissioners Court appointments as well.