Image: Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough (right) with FLOMC (First Lady of Montgomery County) Kim Keough (left). Keough has torn the fabric of electoral politics by actually keeping his promises.
Conroe, August 6 – Mark Keough has kept his promises, which he made in his “Contract with Montgomery County” during his 2018 campaign for Montgomery County Judge. Keough truly deserves the appellation “The People’s Judge,” because that very clearly is what he has become.
When confronted with this aberration in electoral politics – a politician who keeps his word and his promises – Keough had to confess. “Per my Contract, I have done each of the things I said I would do. So far, that includes tolls, budget transparency, and I’m the only County official or employee who did not receive the COLA adjustment [salary increase]. And a lot more.”
Keough is correct that he’s done a lot more. Keough has brought a cohesion and ability to work together in an open deliberative setting which citizens rarely see in public entities. By stressing full discussion in open meetings, such as what citizens observed during the four-day Budget Workshop last week, Keough has shown by leadership that the Texas Open Meetings Act does not place any sort of onerous burden on government officials.
During the cruel and terrible reign of disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court looked like a dysfunctional family unable ever to communicate with each other except in secret settings behind closed doors away from the transparency of public view. Judge Keough, however, has shown the world that transparency works and that it’s possible to operate a deliberative body in plain and open view.
Keough also forgot to mention in his confession that he was instrumental in the passage of the JD Lambright Local Government Reform Act, House Bill 1495, which passed the Texas Legisature on May 27, 2019, and which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on June 14. Keough testified before the Texas House of Representatives during the 86th Legislature and fiercely lobbied for passage of the legislation both on the Senate and House sides of the Legislature.
Judging the Judge
Keough’s “Contract” called for a new attitude in the County government calling for all County government employees to understand they are servants of the people of Montgomery County. There’s no question that Keough’s County Judge Office and many of the Departments with whom he has directly worked have made a lot of progress in understanding that County employees are servants of the citizens of Montgomery County.
There remain many County Departments, especially Precinct 2 County Commissioner (Riley) and Precinct 4 County Commissioner (Metts) who are wholly inaccessible and operate in secrecy and behind closed doors.
Keough promised he would fight for an enforceable ethics code. Keough was instrumental in support State Representative Steve Toth (R-Conroe) and State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) who gained passage of the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act, which gives Montgomery County the ability to enact an enforceable ethics code. That should, of course, be Keough’s next priority.
A major promise Keough made in his 2018 campaign was to bring the tax rate down when property tax appraisals go up, so that actual taxes do not rise. Keough fulfilled that promise completely with the approval on August 1 of a County Budget at the “effective tax rate.”
Keough promised he would fight to protect the County government’s contingency fund. Keough faces a fundamental problem in that regard. He and conservative Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack are a minority of two votes who must face the liberal majority of Precinct 2 Commissioner Riley, Precinct 4 Commissioner Metts, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador.
Keough promised to eliminate the State Highway 242 flyover tolls. There’s no question that Keough and his Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps pushed very hard and ultimately were the reason that tax relief occurred earlier this year.
There are two important additional areas from Keough’s “Contract,” which he must still address. First, Keough should lead the County government to adoption of a countywide mobility plan before any new bond financing occurs. Second, the Montgomery County government suffers mightily from the interference in decisions by “outside interests” in the form of vendors who financially control members of the Commissioners Court through campaign contribution largesse. The latter issue may come into place if the County government ever adopts an appropriate ethics code with a committee possessing the power to enforce it.