Image: Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough spoke against the use of the taxpayers’ contingency funds for a “management issue” during the January 8, 2019, Commissioners Court meeting.
Conroe, January 21 – In the good old days of disgraced former Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, covering up for the problems arising from Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts’ nepotism and cronyism when he was a JP would probably have fallen on the secretive “consent agenda” with the funds from the taxpayers’ contingency fund, the pot of money the members of the Commissioners Court set aside each year at budget hearing time to make sure that they don’t give the taxpayers any sort of reduction in spending and taxes. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough made clear that he has quite a different approach, even though ultimately he and his conservative ally, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, lost the vote to the leftist Metts, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador.
The issue arose when new Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Jason Dunn came before the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to ask for the following:
“CONSIDER AND APPROVE THE PAYOUT OF ACCRUED BENEFITS FOR TWO POSITIONS, 458-4213-1 AND 458-4132-1, IN THE AMOUNTS OF $13,160.57 AND $11,278.01, RESPECTIVELY, PLUS BENEFITS, DUE TO RETIREMENT ON 12/31/2018. PLEASE NAME A FUNDING SOURCE.”
That may sound pretty mundane but it wasn’t, because what really happened was that, as JP, Metts hired his cousin, Jane Metts Landis, and the mother of his closest political ally, Jerry Sue Hayden (mother of Constable Rowdy Hayden), and gave them jobs inside his JP court. Hayden and Landis rarely worked full-time hours but always received full-time pay, as this newspaper has previously reported on several occasions.
When Metts left the JP position to become the Precinct 4 Commissioner, Dunn didn’t want to retain the nepotistic hires, according to two employees inside the JP office who discussed this matter with The Golden Hammer on the condition of anonymity. The problem was that Landis and Hayden were claiming accrued comp time and alleged “overtime” pay and benefits of approximately $30,000 (the salary plus the lucrative County benefits). During the period of that those payments continued forward to come out of the salary budgeted in the JP 4 budget, Dunn could not replace the two nepotistic hires who left with Metts on December 31, 2018.
“I feel like I need to fill those positions as soon as possible and not wait until all this time has burned out,” Dunn pleaded with the Commissioners Court.
Metts responded, “This is two positions that I had while I was JP, I allowed these ladies to work some overtime. I needed a job to get day and I didn’t want to come before this court to ask for two additional positions.” Metts claimed he worked them hard and saved the taxpayers money, which was utterly false.
In fact, Metts failed to disclose that one person was his first cousin and the other was the mother of his political buddy, Rowdy Hayden. Because a family member’s compensation was the subject of the vote, Metts, of course, ethically should not have participated in the discussion or the vote.
Instead, Metts made the motion to pay his cousin and his friend’s mother out of the County government’s contingency fund.
Riley, a giant advocate for nepotism (giving his wife and his nephew lucrative County jobs) seconded the motion.
Much to the surprise of the corrupt Metts and Riley, however, Judge Keough stepped into the situation and objected. “I’d like to make a couple of comments on that particular issue and it has to do with contingency funds. First of all, we don’t want to penalize you, Judge. You’re stepping into this position and you need all of the assistance that you need to have. And we don’t want to hinder you. Secondly, we want to make sure that our employees get paid,” Keough said. He further explained, “The way I see contingency funds is a contingency fund is for when an organization…needs funds in the event of an emergency, some catastrophic event…These funds are available for the purpose of sustaining operations.”
The Commissioners Court has used the “contingency fund” as a pot of money from which to take whatever they felt like spending. For Charlie Riley and Mike Meador, it’s an “emergency” when they want to spend money but don’t have it immediately available. This situation was, of course, not an emergency.
Keough continued, “This is a payroll issue and has to do with how we manage the accounts…I feel like I need to say this, because we’ll continue to take money from contigency as long as we don’t say anything.”
The new County Judge noted that “We have $14 million in unfunded liability” for accrued benefits, a staggering unfunded liability, showing the extreme irresponsibility of the members of the Commissioners Court and fired County Auditor Phyllis Martin.
Keough wanted to let the fund payout of the two salaried positions until paid and then hire someone when funds were available in the budgeted salary fund. “It’s not an emergency; it’s a management issue,” Keough said.
Keough concluded, “Taking money from management or accounting errors, and treating it as an emergency for the county, I’m going to continue to fight that as we move forward. It’s not the right way to do it. We need to stop it.”
The contingency fund has approximately $1 million in it for emergency situations.
In the vote to use emergency contingency funds to cover up the cronyism and nepotism of the corrupt Metts, the votes were as follows:
County Judge KEOUGH – NO
Commissioner MEADOR – YES
Commissioner RILEY – YES
Commissioner NOACK – NO
Commissioner METTS – YES.
The motion carried. Corruption remains alive and well in Montgomery County.