The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe and Austin, October 8 – The 86th Texas Legislature passed legislation which would likely have prevented disgraced former Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal from refusing to allow Montgomery County GOP Vice Chairman Reagan Reed from speaking at the April 24, 2018, meeting of the Commissioners Court. On that date, when Reed tried to speak during a citizen comment to the Commissioners Court, Doyal refused to let him speak and ordered that a Deputy Sheriff arrest Reed instead.
House Bill 2840, however, seems to prevent Doyal and other members of Commissioners Court from taking such precipitous action to prevent citizens from engaging in their rights of Free Speech under the First Amendment and under the Texas Constitution. The legislation, which Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on June 10, 2019, and which became effective September 1, provides the following:
Texas Government Code Section 551.007. A governmental body shall allow each member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an agenda for an open meeting of the body to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during the body’s consideration of the item.
Terry Canales, democrat of Edinburg, who authored the legislation explained in the formal Legislative Analysis, “It has been suggested that the practice of the governing bodies of certain political subdivisions to provide for public input and comment only at the conclusion of a meeting of the governing body makes it too difficult for the public to properly weigh in on decisions being made because they are forced to wait through the entire meeting to provide an opinion on any subject matter being addressed at the meeting. H.B. 2840 seeks to give the public increased access to the decision‑making process by providing for public comment before or during the consideration of each item on the meeting agenda.”
Bryan Hughes, a conservative Republican from Mineola, was the Senate Sponsor of House Bill 2840.
HB 2840 passed the Texas Senate by a unanimous vote on May 22. It passed the Texas House on a vote of 138 yeas and 3 nays with the entire Montgomery County delegation voting for the bill.
Under the statute, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court and other governmental bodies must allow citizens to speak on agenda items before the Commissioners Court votes on them. It’s an important change.
On April 24, 2018, citizen comments on the shameful $95 million Tollway that Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley were shoving down the citizens’ throats, renowned conservative Republican Precinct Chairman Reagan Reed, who is also the Houston correspondent for Empower Texans, rose to make a comment and approached the podium. Doyal angrily pointed at Reed and said, “Have a seat please! You’re not signed up to speak!”
Reed said, “I got here more than 5 minutes early. Your clerk told me I would be allowed to speak.”
In the past, Doyal had allowed citizens to speak even if they didn’t sign up to speak at all. In the past two meetings, however, without any written rules or approval from the Commissioners Court, Doyal has created his own rules that citizens must sign up to speak to the Commissioners Court at least by 9:20 a.m. Doyal’s secretary, Sylvia Olszowy, confirmed on video that “we make up the rules however we feel” in a conversation with Republican Precinct Chair Ginger Russell videotaped early Tuesday morning.
Doyal repeated, “If you don’t have a seat, you’ll be removed.” Reed answered, “If you want that to be in the press, come on.”
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack interrupted and said, “You’re breaking your own protocol. You have done this time and time again.”
Doyal hissed, “No, I’m not” similar to the manner in which a 3-year-old might protect a toy he just grabbed from another child on the playground.
Noack responded, “You have let people who have not signed up come and speak. Come on, Judge. The people want to have a voice. Give them one.” The audience overwhelmingly chimed in that Doyal should have allowed Reed, a highly-respected leader of the Republican Party, to speak.
A Sheriff’s Sergeant then pulled Reed out of the Commissioners’ meeting room, arrested Reed, and required Reed to stand outside of the meeting during the entire remainder of the Commissioners Court for almost two hours.
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley laughed while Jordan arrested Reed.
Doyal then made clear that his real intent was to prevent Reed from speaking against the Tollway: “He said the same thing every time he has come. We know what he is going to say.”
Doyal’s action clearly was a prior restraint of political Free Speech which violated Reed’s rights under both the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution. By ordering Jordan to participate in the illegal and wrongful arrest and prevention of Reed’s political speech, Doyal and Jordan violated 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, which prohibits state officials from violating the federal Constitutional rights of individuals under the color of state law.
How HB 2840 would make a difference in three important ways
First, Doyal would have broken the statutory law – Texas Government Code Section 551.007 – by preventing Reed from speaking about the proposed $95 Million, 3.1 mile, TX-249 Tollway (also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway), on April 24, 2018.
Second, Doyal specifically would have allowed Reed to speak before the Commissioners Court deliberated on the issue about which Reed wished to speak.
Third, no governmental body may stick citizen comments at the end of meetings or after they have already taken action. If someone want to speak on any agenda item, the governmental body must allow them to do so before taking action on that item.
Where the requirement to permit citizen comments in advance of governmental deliberation is particularly important is with respect to so-called “consent agendas,” which the Montgomery County Commissioners Court abuses. The Commissioners Court may no longer vote on the consent agenda and only allow citizen comments thereafter.
While the Commissioners Court and other governmental entities may impose reasonable restrictions on citizen comments, under Texas law, thanks to Governor Abbott and the 86th Legislature, incidents such as the Reed arrest should never occur again.