Conroe, November 6 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal has come to abuse the so-called “consent agenda” portion of Commissioners Court meetings to a degree that most Montgomery County business is 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.
Take the last Commissioners Court meeting on October 24, 2017, 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, is quite different and, unfortunately, all four of the County Commissioners go along with it.
On October 24, 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 20 budget amendments for the last Fiscal Year 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 $3,885,353.20 of tax dollars.
- The Commissioners Court approved payment of $36,999.48 in overtime compensation to salaried employees during the month of September for overtime related to Tropical Storm Harvey.
- They passed 7 budget amendments for the current Fiscal Year already, signifying that they messed up the budget when they hastily passed in during the budget process. The amendments totaled $1,048400.50.
- Approved a $3.8 million audit of official fees for each County Department from the past two months without any backup material.
- Approved eight departmental audits without backup material.
- Approved paying $6,948,352.77 in expenditures without any review whatsoever.
- Approved three reports from the County Treasurer concerning monthly statement of balances, monthly investments, and pledges of depository collateral without any backup material.
- Approved the Tax Assessor-Collector’s report of tax collections for the month.
- Exercised eight contract renewal options without any examination of whether competing prices might be better for the County’s taxpayers.
- Approved three open-ended contracts with no fixed contract price for Cisco Systems and other vendors.
- Approved advertising for more animal cages and kennels for the Animal Shelter.
- Approved advertising for contracts, change orders, and awarding seven contracts to county vendors without discussion of why.
- Made a number of board appointments without discussion.
- Approved a number of county roads, plats, and septic variances.
- Approved payroll change requests. These were open agenda items in the Sadler days.
- Made approximately a dozen major decisions, some small and some major, regarding grants.
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 October 24 consent agenda alone involved decisions pertaining to more than $18 million. The County Judge and four County Commissioners are derelict in their duty by merely blinking their eyes and looking the other way.
That’s not how “open government” should operate.