Eric Yollick, The Golden Hammer
Yesterday’s attempted intimidation by Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley in a campaign publication is merely another attempt by Riley and his cohorts County Judge Craig Doyal and local political boss Marc Davenport to intimidate the free press in the community which is Montgomery County, Texas.
Most of Riley’s campaign publication yesterday didn’t involve an attempt to correct facts, which The Golden Hammer has published in the fifteen months of our existence. Instead, Riley sought to intimidate the individual who publishes this newspaper and writes the vast majority of its articles.
Riley forgot, however, the brilliant concurring opinion of Mr. Justice Hugo Black in The Pentagon Papers Cases before the United States Supreme Court in 1971, which included the following:
“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the Government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.”
In Texas, the Lone Star State, our Legislature has wisely enacted two important pieces of legislation, which mandate the public policy that government information is freely available to the public, so that the citizens, as well as the press, may censure the Government. Those two statutes are the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information/Open Records Act.
Those two Texas statutes are precisely the provisions of law with which Riley, Doyal, and Davenport have run into the greatest trouble. All three stand indicted for an alleged conspiracy to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act. Davenport and his wife, County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport, twisted themselves into a mire over a simple Open Records Act request to obtain the County Treasurer’s office procedures manual, a document which former County Treasurer Martha Gustavsen and future County Treasurer Melanie Pryor Bush have both made clear could and should contain no secrets from the public.
Doyal and Riley have presided over a County government where secrecy and deceit are the rule. As District Attorney Brett Ligon told this newspaper last week in referring primarily to those two public servants (Doyal and Riley),
“As a separate matter from the result of the criminal investigation, speaking for myself, the Commissioners Court appears to be bereft of a moral compass. ‘Chicanery’ is such a great word to describe them, because it deals with political obfuscation in dealing with the public. I join with MCLEA [the Montgomery County Law Enforcement Association] in believing it’s time for a change. They have a good County Attorney and they fail to listen to his advice. As long as their activity is constantly skirting the criminal law, they’re going to be investigated and their activity is going to be brought into question.”
Secrecy has been the primary tool by which Doyal and Riley have attempted to turn the Montgomery County government into the play toy of their personal ambitions. Hence, Riley’s attack and obvious obsession with The Golden Hammer seek to intimidate this newspaper to serve the governor rather than the governed. Goodness, the man wrote an almost 20-page single space typed Unabomberesque screed that (1) expressed his personal hatred for the Publisher of this newspaper and (2) confirmed almost all of the facts this newspaper has written about Riley’s corruption and wrongdoing.
Doyal, Riley, and Davenport have openly expressed their frustration with this newspaper precisely because this newspaper serves the citizens, not the public servants. Sadly, this newspaper’s primary competitor openly serves the governors rather than the governed. That’s where the distinction lies.
That’s also where the divergence of the path between Doyal, Riley, and Davenport on the one hand and The Golden Hammer on the other hand occurs. Riley may think that intimidation might work. Richard Nixon thought the same in 1971. The intimidation has turned the Courier into a public service announcement for the Commissioners Court. It hasn’t and it won’t do the same with Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, The Golden Hammer, which serves the citizens.