Conroe, January 10 – In an anti-citizen power play in front of several others loitering about, corrupt Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts and his Operations Manager Phyllis Martin, whom the Board of District Judges terminated as Montgomery County Auditor effective December 31, 2018, marched into Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough’s office around 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, approximately 30 minutes before the Commissioners Court was to meet, and demanded that Keough agree to return $30,000, which Metts’ predecessor, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, had transferred to Keough’s County Judge Budget in December.
Sadly, Keough agreed to Metts’ demands outside of an “open meeting” where Metts wouldn’t have the courage to try to have to make the case for why those funds should go back into his budget. In reality, giving those funds back to Metts has nothing whatsoever to do with Metts’ ability to maintain roads in Precinct 4 and was nothing but a power play in which Metts and Martin successfully bullied the new County Judge.
Nowhere on the agenda was there any notice to the public that the Commissioners Court would transfer funds to increase the budget of the Precinct 4 asphalt account. Without that notice – and without that formal budget amendment – the Commissioners Court would seem to have violated Sections 111.038, 111.039, 111.040, and 111.041 of the Texas Local Government Code which requires specific procedures for amending County government budgets. It also seemed to violate the Texas Open Meetings Act.
The budget amendment transferring money into the Precinct 4 asphalt account may be the first of its kind in several years which did not come with a resolution calling for an “emergency expenditure” based upon a “grave public necessity.” Instead, Metts induced the Commissioners Court to move substantial funds around at will with the shocking participation of former County Auditor Phyllis Martin.
How the money moved from the Commissioner Precinct 4 Department Budget to the County Judge Department Budget
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark had to avert a major budget problem for incoming County Judge-Elect Mark Keough for whom Doyal had carefully provided no operating budget whatsoever (except $700) upon Keough’s coming into office. On December 18, 2018, Clark executed a budget amendment to transfer $30,000 to the County Judge’s Office from the Precinct 4 County Commissioner’s departmental budget, so that Keough would have funds to pay for paper, a copy machine, computers for the office, and furniture for the County Judge’s Department.
Clark took the funds out of the Precinct 4 “asphalt account” which has a Fiscal Year 2019 Budget of $1,264,099. In other words, Clark removed a merely 2.4% of the entire asphalt budget. (Please see discussion below why it make no difference to Commissioners Precinct 4.)
Doyal had manipulated the County Judge Budget so that there would be in sufficient funds for Keough, other than for employee salaries, with which to operate the County Judge’s Office. Clark explained, “The new County Judge has little or no budget to work with. There were clearly some needs, because Craig Doyal didn’t want Mark Keough to have money to work with as County Judge.” The out coming Precinct 4 Commissioner noted, “I now that Judge-Elect Keough needs some funds for stationery, computer equipment, and furniture, but Doyal left his budget with nothing.”
The entire Montgomery County Commissioners Court – former County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, and Clark – voted unanimously to approve the budget amendment.
County Auditor Phyllis Martin approved the budget amendment with the transfer of the $30,000 of asphalt funds on December 14, 2018, even though Martin knew she would be heading to work for Metts’ office on December 14, 2018, according to three sources inside of the County Auditor’s Office who spoke to The Golden Hammer on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from Metts and Martin.
With Clark’s budget amendment, which he executed before his term of office ended on December 31, 2018, Keough’s County Judge Office will have sufficient funds with which to operate during the remainder of the Fiscal Year which will end on September 30, 2019.
Why Metts’ demand for the return of the $30,000 into his asphalt account was clearly nothing but a power play to manipulate Keough rather than a real need
The asphalt accounts of the County Commissioners are generally a secret they work very hard to keep from the knowledge of Montgomery County citizens. They rarely spend anything close to all of the funds in those asphalt accounts. Asphalt is fairly inexpensive, although the transportation charges are very high.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has written several articles about the Commissioners’ so-called “slush funds,” the many millions of dollars that each Commissioner enjoys each year that are outside of his official budget. Please see, for example, “$10,886,083.98 Of Commissioner “Slush Funds” On Secretive Consent Agenda For Commissioners Court Approval,” The Golden Hammer, January 9, 2018.
The “slush funds” come from Commissioner’s annual department budgets which they don’t expend and then carryover into secret accounts which they maintain off-budget. The slush funds are particularly harmful to taxpayers, because they represent tax dollars the County government really never needed to collect at all. They fail to comply with Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code, because they’re expenditures of tax dollars that are maintained outside of the normal budget process.
One of the main sources of those “slush funds” are the asphalt accounts. They’re a gigantic joke which the Commissioners Court plays upon the taxpayers, because they so rarely spend the funds in those accounts each year and, instead, roll hundreds of thousands of dollars each year into their carryover slush funds.
For example, in Fiscal Year 2017, the latest Fiscal Year for which there is a Consolidated Annual Financial Report for the Montgomery County Government, the following are the budgeted versus actual amounts of expenditures from each of the four County Commissioners’ asphalt accounts:
Budgeted Actual expenditures Carryover into Slush Fund
Meador, Precinct 1 $1,863,627 $1,249,018 $614,609
Riley, Precinct 2 $3,948,840 $3,752,379 $196,461
Noack, Precinct 3 $856,393 $757,386 $99,007
Clark, Precinct 4 $3,501,619 $3,039,581 $462,038
In other words, in Fiscal Year 2017, which ended on September 30, 2017, Montgomery County taxpayers suffered taxes of $1,372,115, in the form of unspent asphalt budgets which slid into the Commissioners’ “slush fund” accounts.
It’s important to note that the trend of these expenditures was just as high ten years ago, so you can’t blame Clark for not using enough of his asphalt, for example. Clark, in fact, laid more asphalt over the past three years than any of his predecessors as a Commissioner. Clark’s formal “asphalt” account is lower because he stopped the practice of lumping several other road materials into that account and created more transparency by providing a lot more detail in his departmental budget each year.
In Fiscal Year 2007, Precinct 4 Commissioner Ed Rinehart, who is a close friend of Metts, had an asphalt budget of $905,200, but he only spent $83,862. His carryover amount was massive.
Two days ago, Metts and Martin complained to Keough, because Clark had transferred a mere $30,000 out of a $1.2 million asphalt budget. It’s almost certain that Metts won’t use anything close to that amount of taxpayer funds for asphalt, but, by Keough agreeing to put $30,000 back into Metts’ asphalt account, the taxpayers have contributed $30,000 of near-certain additional “slush funds” into the hands of the corrupt Metts.
It also seems a bit ironic that Martin joined with Metts to strong-arm Keough when Martin had approved and asked the entire Commissioners Court to take the $30,000 OUT OF Metts’ asphalt account only three weeks ago when she was the County Auditor!