Hiding in plain view: the most recent example of why “consent agendas” harm the taxpayers

Hiding in plain view: what a nice looking family of giraffes!

Conroe, January 11 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal came to abuse the so-called “consent agenda” portion of Commissioners Court meetings to a degree that most Montgomery County business was conducted without the open deliberation or discussion that is the clear policy of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Of course, Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have argued that they don’t believe the Open Meetings Act applies to them in the criminal cases pending against them along with corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport whom they paid as a consultant.

Take the last Commissioners Court meeting on January 8, 2019, as an example. Out of an eleven-and-a-half page agenda, 8 pages (69%) of the business fell inside of the “consent agenda.” There was no discussion of the “consent agenda” but rather a motion, a second, and a vote to pass it in its entirety.

On several occasions, The Golden Hammer has spoken to all members of the Commissioners Court about “consent agenda” items where it became clear the County Judge and Commissioners didn’t even know they had approved the policy item. On several other occasions, the “consent agenda” will list that the Commissioners Court adopted a resolution or approved a financial report from the auditor for which, this newspaper confirmed, no one had provided such items to any of them for review.

“Consent agendas” under Alan B. Sadler’s tenure as County Judge were much shorter and rarely included policy or spending items. Judge Sadler actually required the Commissioners Court to go through and actually discuss each item on the agenda, so that the Court would more likely do the right thing and so the public would have the ability to understand how the Commissioners Court go to those decisions.

Doyal’s era of secret government, however, was quite different and, unfortunately, all four of the County Commissioners went along with it.

New County Judge Mark Keough, however, assured voters that he would operate in the open. Specifically, in his “Contract with Montgomery County,” Keough promised:

“THE ACTIONS OF ELECTED OFFICIALS ARE TRANSPARENT AND BEYOND REPROACH.

“a. I will work to create an environment of transparency that will eliminate the possibility of actual or perceived conflicts of interest.”

The January 8 meeting was Keough’s first. He and his Chief of Staff, Jason Millsaps, only had two days to prepare and post a meeting agenda by Friday, January 4, 2019. Therefore, citizens should not judge the agenda too harshly with respect to Keough and Millsaps.

Nevertheless, it’s still important to recognize what happened on January 8 under the secretive “consent agenda.”

On January 8, with the blink of an eye, the Commissioners Court took the following actions on its “consent agenda” without any discussion or deliberation:

  • The Commissioners Court voted to approve 18 budget amendments, 3 of which were for the last Fiscal Year and falsely listed as as an “emergency” and “grave public necessity.” It’s not clear how something that happened last year could be an emergency. What the Commissioners Court is doing, however, is attempting to skirt the requirements of the Texas Local Government Code for public hearings for budget matters. The budget amendments totaled 1.03 million tax dollars.
  • Approved a $420.5 million interim audit for each County Department without any backup material.
  • Approved 12 grant changes totaling over $127,000 without any discussion or review.
  • Approved paying $12.3 million in expenditures without any review whatsoever.
  • Approved $955,000 of changes in six “special revenue accounts” without discussion, understanding, or review.
  • Ratified $118 million of budget changes disgraced Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal had made.
  • Deputized 3 new Assistant County Treasurers.
  • Exercised three contract renewal options without any examination of whether competing prices might be better for the County’s taxpayers.
  • Approved a microform contract for the Library with no price.
  • Approved three change orders one of which was $1.68 million and the other two of which have no agreed-upon price.
  • Approve advertising for two new contracts neither of which terms they bothered to provide to the members of the Commissioners Court for review.
  • Entered into an additional contract with Omnibase with no pricing terms. (While this newspaper believes Omnibase provides outstanding services to the County government, pricing terms should be in every contract before the Commissioners Court approves the contract.)
  • Cancel autopsy services with a particular doctor without any explanation.
  • Pay over $9,000 in claims.
  • Amend the pharmacy services contract for the County employees’ health plan without any consideration of the changes in the plan.
  • Approved a number of county roads, plats, and variances.
  • Approved payroll change requests including the hiring of a convicted felon and one of the Commissioner’s girlfriends. These were open agenda items in the Sadler days.
  • Amend the lease agreement between the Conroe Symphony and the County government.
  • Approve charitable contributions for jurors to six nonprofit organizations without review, discussion, or deliberation.
  • Made approximately a dozen major decisions, some small and some major, regarding grants.
  • Partially assign a land lease at the Montgomery County Airport.
  • Enter into an agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service.
  • Approve use of $3,600 from the Court Technology Fund for a completely unknown purpose.

Article V, Section 18, of the Texas Constitution mandates that the Commissioners Court shall oversee all County business. These “consent agendas” are an abuse. The five members of the Commissioners Court should take the time to deliberate on every matter before them. The January 8 consent agenda alone involved decisions pertaining to more than $550 million. The County Judge and four County Commissioners are derelict in their duty by merely blinking their eyes and looking the other way.

The Commissioners Court spent less than 1 minute on the totality of the foregoing items. Almost all of that time was to figure out how to get around Noack’s objection to the payment of accounts.

That’s not how “open government” should operate. That’s not “transparency.”

Hopefully, over the next three weeks, the pro-citizen new County Judge Keough and his brilliant Chief of Staff, Jason Millsaps, will bring an end to these abusive “consent agendas” forever.

 

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