Eric Yollick, The Golden Hammer
At the beginning, on December 1, 2017, Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport told Melanie Pryor Bush and Justin Pulliam, who requested a copy of her office procedures manual, that she couldn’t produce the document to them as “public information” because she had to protect the personal identifying information, including dates of birth and social security numbers, contained within the document. That raised the question why any employee’s name, date of birth, or social security number would even be in such a procedures manual.
Davenport explained that the document was, in her opinion, a highly proprietary trade secret 800 pages long that the County government had to protect from prying eyes, because Davenport used those procedures to “manipulate the County finance system.” As former County Treasurer Martha Gustavsen who retired in June, 2013, has explained, somehow she did an excellent job as County Treasurer for 26 years while using a 2-page manual that introduced new employees to her office.
Davenport told Assistant County Attorney John McKinney that she’d make the document available to Bush only if Bush would come to the Sadler Administration Building, view the document there, and not make any copies. Of course, such a partial release of information would constitute a full public release, as any person with a lick of common sense would know. Therefore, after McKinney tried to communicate that common sense to Davenport, Davenport told McKinney that she wouldn’t produce the document at all and instructed McKinney to withhold and, if necessary, file a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to keep the document secret.
At a December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, Davenport asked the Commissioners Court to declare the document a secret. The Commissioners Court refused. County Attorney J.D. Lambright told the Commissioners Court that he didn’t believe the document was exempt from public disclosure and that his County Attorney’s Office would not assist Davenport’s efforts to hide the document from the public.
Davenport announced in the Commissioners Court meeting that the issue had become the “Melanie and Eric” show in reference to the Publisher of The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper.
Davenport didn’t want to release any of the procedures manual, as she emphatically told Attorney General Paxton in a legal brief she submitted in December.
On March 1, 2018, Paxton ordered Davenport to produce to the public the procedures manual in its entirety with the exception of County employee dates of birth and social security numbers contained within it. Obviously wanting to wait until after the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, Davenport waited an entire week before she released the procedures manual Attorney General Paxton had ordered her to release to the public.
On March 8, 2018, Davenport released the document first to a family a convicted felons that are among her top political supporters. Davenport released the same document to the public. It was approximately 800 pages of junk, mostly consisting of pages that had been publicly-reviewed when the Commissioners had those same pages as backup material in open Commissioners Court meetings.
During the evening of March 8, 2018, Bush made a horrific discovery about Davenport’s release of the procedures manual: the County Treasurer had failed to remove County employee social security numbers and a date of birth. Bush immediately attempted to contact Davenport who didn’t respond. Bush then contacted County Attorney Lambright who had to spend the next several hours working with Bush in an attempt to claw back the document already released to the public at large.
In other words, Davenport’s release of this childish 800-page document of bureaucratic garbage included the very social security numbers and a date of birth that Davenport had originally tried to use as the rationale for not producing any of the document to the public. Davenport obviously had to little care for the privacy and identity of the County employees whose personal information was within the bizarre document that she proceeded to release that information to the world at large, which caused a panic among Montgomery County government employees yesterday when this newspaper divulged what had happened.
Whether it’s criminal or not, Stephanne Davenport owes an apology to all Montgomery County employees who have feared for their loss of privacy, to those employees whose social security numbers and date of birth Davenport actually did release, to Bush, to Pulliam, to Lambright, and to the public.
It’s bad enough that Davenport attempted to hide this bureaucratic piece of garbage from the public and that she claimed it was some sort of sophisticated document with which she “manipulated the County finance system.” But think about it. This lady, who receives approximately $190,000 in tax dollars per year in compensation, appears to have spent enormous time compiling a document that included such important information as the fact that the United States coin with a value of $0.01 is called a “penny.”
Should the citizens of Montgomery County feel comfortable with Stephanne Davenport continuing to “manipulate the County finance system” for another nine-and-a-half months?