The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe and Houston, March 19 – Less than one year after he retired from the Montgomery County government on May 24, 2019, former Montgomery County Engineer Mark Mooney has taken a lucrative position as the Business Development Representative of LJA Engineerning, Inc., a major County vendor over whose work Mooney was to have provided oversight when he served as the County Engineer.
Mooney’s new job would seem to violate the County government’s current Code of Ethics, which, unfortunately, has no enforcement provisions.
Mooney was the first recipient of “The Golden Hammer Award” in 2017 when he received the award at the Tuesday, January 10, 2017, meeting of the Commissioners Court. The “Golden Hammer Award” recognizes instances of wasteful government spending that result in “hammering the taxpayers.” Mooney refused to accept the gold-painted hammer, so Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull took custody of the actual award. Mooney received the award for costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in payments to a contractor, John Holzwarth, who had to take over Mooney’s County Engineer job functions, because Mooney failed to perform them. At the time, Mooney received a salary of $162,064.26, plus benefits in excess of $65,000 in additional compensation.
On February 17, 2020, LJA Engineering, Inc., a major County government vendor, based in Houston, with numerous ongoing County contracts many of which LJA was awarded under Mooney’s supervision as County Engineer, hired Mooney as a Business Development Representative, and issued the following announcement.
The Code of Ethics of the Montgomery County government, however, contains the following prohibition, which would apply to current elected officials and department heads and would seem to prohibit their involvement with LJA Engineering, Inc., in any form or fashion:
“Elected officials and department heads shall not knowingly conduct County business with a former elected official or department head that was separated from office or employment in the previous two (2) years in which the former elected official or department head is currently compensated as a representative of another person or entity which County business includes any business matter in which the former elected official or department head was either personally involved or that was within the former elected official or department head’s responsibility while an elected official or department head.
“Non-elected department heads should not knowingly hire any person who has served as a Montgomery County elected official in the previous year.
“Nothing contained herein shall prohibit the practice of law before any court within Montgomery County or the appointment of a licensed attorney to indigent defense or as an attorney ad litem or guardian ad litem. Nothing contained herein shall prohibit the appointment of a former elected judge as a visiting judge or magistrate.”
The newly-created and appointed Montgomery County Ethics Commission has tentatively re-adopted the Code of Ethics which included the foregoing provision in it. The Ethics Commission came into creation as a result of the 86th Texas Legislature passage of the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act, which State Representative Steve Toth (R-Conroe) and Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) authored.