Eric Yollick, The Golden Hammer
In June, 2014, before I got back involved in Montgomery County politics, a close friend of mine had a political fundraiser. For a $1000 a plate, we got to have lunch with him. He had just won election as a County Commissioner and would take office in seven months. I had just returned from some climbing in Alaska and was planning a trip to Russia in a couple of weeks, but I decided to go out to support my friend anyway.
I arrived at the lunch place, walked into a room of about 50 people, and didn’t recognize one person in the room other than my friend. Even though I’d been out of politics for several years, I still lived in this community, so I was pretty surprised that I didn’t know anyone at a fundraiser for a Republican politician.
I sat down with a group of seemingly nice people and decided to ask them who everybody in the room was. The people at my table all told me they worked for engineering firms. I asked them if they knew anyone else in the event, and they told me that everyone at the event was an engineer. In my naivete, I had an “aha moment” when I realized that engineering firms and construction contractors are the special interests who want to do business with County Commissioners, whom Texans used to know as “road and bridge commissioners.”
Now it all made sense.
Since I started to spend a lot more time focused on Montgomery County’s government, I’ve observed first-hand who the political contributors – the “supporters” – actually are for the Montgomery County Judge and the four County Commissioners. They’re the vendors giving money to those politicians with the expectation that they’ll receive millions of dollars for a nice rate of return on the contributions they give.
A engineer friend has suggested that this newspaper conduct a full study of the “rate of return” for engineers in particular. The abuse of the engineer vendor-Commissioner relationships is particularly breathtaking. Just look at lists of whom the Commissioners hire for their engineering projects and compare those lists to the Campaign Finance Reports of each of the members of the Commissioners Court.
In fact, some engineering firms won’t contribute to certain members of the Commissioners Court, so they don’t get work from those court members. It’s pretty rare for an engineering firm to receive lucrative County contracts without having made political contributions first.
It’s corruption at its worst. It’s very clear that Commissioners Court contracts don’t go to firms based upon merit. They go based upon money. It’s the old adage, “Follow the Money.”
When Craig Doyal, the County Judge, and his henchman, Charlie Riley, the Precinct 2 County Commissioner, vote for a contract on the Commissioners Court, you can count on some monetary relationship there. And that is what must stop.
There’s nothing wrong with an engineer or an engineering firm making political contributions. They have a right under the First Amendment to do so.
Where the Montgomery County government needs to end the corruption by cutting it off at its knees is in the awarding of contracts upon which those members of the Commissioners Court have voted. That’s the solution. If a member of the Commissioners Court has received political contributions – or legal defense fund contributions – from an engineer or an engineering firm – then the receiving member absolutely should not vote on the contract award. An even more pure solution would be to bar contract awards to any engineer or engineering firm who makes political contributions to any sitting member of the Commissioners Court for a period of two years or so after the contribution.
Similarly, we’re about to see Craig Doyal leave the County government and become a lobbyist for at least five or so engineering firms to find them monetary awards for engineering services in the Montgomery County government and other local governments across this region where Doyal has developed relationships as the Montgomery County Judge. In other words, once again, the taxpayers are subsidizing a contract award system that actually works to the citizens’ detriment.
No County contract should ever go to an engineer or engineering firm who makes political contributions to any sitting members of the Commissioners Court for a period of two years or so after the contribution, whether or not that member is still on the Commissioners Court.
The citizens of Montgomery County deserve good government. Good government only occurs when the members of the Commissioners Court will review contracts based upon merit rather than money.
There needs to be a bright line. Conflicts of interest must end.
Then Doyal’s and Riley’s 2-minute skanks will also come to a close.