In course of discussion to modify Facilities Committee, Montgomery County Judge Keough raises serious taxpayer concerns

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough tipped Montgomery County taxpayers off that there may be serious trouble ahead on which they must vigilantly act.

Conroe, April 2 – Last Tuesday’s Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting had a discussion primarily between County Judge Mark Keough and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack which appeared on the level to be a dispute over who would lead a County Facilities Committee. Nevertheless, remarks, which Judge Keough made during the meeting, were clear that taxpayers are facing spending in the hundreds of millions of dollars on capital projects the liberal wing of the Court wants either as direct increases in taxes or through the issuance of bond debt.

The agenda item were the genuinely frightening issues flared was Noack’s motion to “Consider, discuss, and take appropriate action on removal of Judge Mark Keough as Chair of county-wide facilities master plan committee and replace with Commissioner James Noack and Commissioner Charlie Riley as co-chairs and allow Commissioner James Noack to accept and sign agreement with PGAL to provide necessary services to facilitate a Montgomery County facilities master plan in an amount not to exceed $35,000 funded from capital improvement plan.”

Noack made the motion and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley seconded it. There was essentially no discussion other than Keough who clearly had a lot on his mind.

Keough said, “Our first meeting [of the Facilities Committee] was on February 25. We discussed with PGAL  who is our vendor what was going to be done in terms of a broad discussion of current facilities…it was many facilities and it talked about buying property, expanding of property, and moving facilities…10 days later we received a scope of work which just had to do with the courts and the tax office. Meanwhile, I have asked to postpone the movement forward on this for three reasons. First, at the time of the meeting, we had not met with any department heads or any elected officials. Having been put on this [Facilities Committee] one month after coming into office, it seemed that I needed to address some of the stakeholders and find out what their feelings were…Second, I met with a number of those as I said I was going to. I met with the Sheriff, Forensics, some of the Judges. We have needs that are not going to be touched by this proposal. These needs are the Forensics Center, the West County Jail Annex, the Sheriff, and Sub-Station for Precinct 3…But those are priorities…I guess this is how we do business here. I’m not used to doing business this way…I ask that you leave me on it to work on it and I believe we’ll come to a better place. I may not work as fast as some, but you can count on what I do is thorough…If you go in the direction that was discussed in this meeting, we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bond…I’m not anti-PGAL. I’m not really anti-spending the money…I’m adamantly opposed to moving forward like this. I don’t think it’s good for the court. It doesn’t bring unity.”

At that point, the Commissioners Court voted 4 to 1 to remove Keough from the Facilities Committee, replace him with Noack and Riley as Co-Chairs, and hired PGAL to complete the $35,000 study.

Keough had more he wanted to discuss after the vote. The County Judge said, “Now, the beautiful part about that…I think it’s very exciting that Commissioner Noack has asked Commissioner Riley to both be on the same committee together. I think we’re moving in the right direction. Thank you, Commissioner Noack.”

Noack responded, “Absolutely. Just a few comments. The proposal from PGAL includes a basic service level assessment of all County-owned buildings. The Sheriff’s Department already has a master plan being completed by HDR…HDR and PGAL will coordinate. Forensics Center already being done by PGAL…We need to move forward on this now, because it will take 90 days to have this in place, and, if we move forward on this now, we can have a facilities master plan in place before the budget hearings, so we’ll have a better idea how to allocate the finite resources of the county. So I think it’s an excellent proposal.”

Noack’s and Keough’s comments both contained frightening warnings about massive spending proposals.

At that point in the meeting, however, Noack chose to dress Keough down. “Lastly, when the Court puts you as chair of this committee, it was to move forward, not to decide unilaterally that you were going to pause without communicating to the court. So now that we’ve settled that and that action has been taken, I look forward to taking care of this and look forward to working with Commissioner Riley for the best benefits of Montgomery County.”

Keough took Noack’s comments in stride and responded, “Thank you, Commissioner Noack. I appreciate those comments. I would like to remind you that when you called my office and Evan asked my Chief of Staff questions [about the Facilities Committee], you were in the background and you were whispering the questions to him. My Chief was standing in the hallway, when he got the call, and asked Evan to ‘have the Commissioner call the Judge.’ I never received the call. I contacted you twice. I never received one minute of discussion. That’s okay. You can do whatever you want. And we’ve already voted on it. But the fact of the matter is that I’m not in disagreement with what you’re saying. It would have been nice to know that, since I was put on the committee as the chair and now one month after we did it, now we’re taking it off…I think we’re putting the pedal to the medal and we’re all going to look at this and wish we had not owned this.”

Keough explained to this newspaper that there are tentative proposals to spend money as follows:

  • A crime lab and forensics center, approximately $40 million;
  • A new justice center, $200 to 300 million;
  • A Sheriff’s Office in the western part of Montgomery County as well as a Sheriff’s sub-station in south Montgomery County, each with an office and jail facility, and which together would cost approximately $30 million; and
  • A new tax office, the cost of which is unknown.

Noack sharply disagreed with Judge Keough’s characterization of the spending plans. “I’m not behind a $400 million expenditure. I have not idea where the Judge got those numbers and neither does our vendor PGAL. I was very disappointed with the Judge for throwing out the $400 million number during the Commissioners Court.”

Noack said that he wants to see if there is a way that the County can “repurpose” existing facilities to accommodate a tax office and forensics center. One possible Noack mentioned is using the building across from McKenzie’s Barbecue on Highway 75, which such property the County currently has listed for sale.

“Nobody on the Commissioners Court has facilities planning experience. For $35,000, it was worth it for us to hire an experienced facilities planning consultant.”

Clearly, this process is one over which the citizens – at the top of the organizational chart of government – must be highly vigilant.

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