Conroe, March 1 – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and his Chief of Staff, Jason Millsaps, have begun to try to bring some reform to the Commissioners Court meeting agenda process. While they’ve slightly reduced the “consent agenda” portion of meetings to bring a few matters out into the open for discussion, one major priority they established was to require elected servants and department heads to submit backup materials for inclusion with the posted agenda, so members of the Commissioners Court and the citizens may review materials prior to the meeting.
So far, their efforts to require the submission of backup materials have floundered, as the February 26, 2019, Commissioners Court meeting revealed. Several items on the February 26 agenda appeared without backup materials. For one item in particular, an insurance administration proposal, with absence of backup materials enormously prolonged the meeting and led to the defeat of the agenda item.
Many agenda items without backup material still passed the Commissioners Court in a pitiful display of approval without knowledge of the matter which they approved.
The Commissioners Court members unanimously approved advertising for three major, very high dollar spending projects, without any information about the content of the advertising:
- a Deferred Compensation Program for the County government;
- the Fish Creek Thoroughfare/McCaleb Overpass II for Commissioner Precinct 2
- the Keenan Cutoff Overpass for Precinct 2.
The Commissioners Court unanimously voted to approve expenditures by two Justice of the Peace Courts of $3,000 each “for Apple projects and applicable service plans.” What those Apple projects are is completely unknown. The Commissioners Court could have approved purchasing $3,000 of computer games for all they know.
There was an agenda item to set the compensation for the Precinct 2 Constable’s Captain. It passed unanimously. While there were no documents provided in advance, at least the Constable disclosed the proposed compensation during the meeting.
The Commissioners Court deferred a request to approve the standardization of base salaries for Constable Chiefs and Captains, partly because Precinct 3 Constable Ryan Gable had failed to provide any financial information to the Commissioners Court in advance and partly because Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack and County Judge Keough wanted to wait to approve this item during the summer budget considerations.
The Commissioners Court approved the reappointment of two Airport Advisory Board members and the new appointment, on a 3 to 1 with 1 abstention vote, of disgraced former County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport. The Director of Airport Maintenance, James Brown, failed to provide any information about any of the proposed Board members.
One of worst failures was the unwillingness of Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae to disclose the recipients of three tax abatement agreements or the terms of those agreements prior to the Commissioners Court meeting. Always willing to blow tax dollars on favored treatment for likely substantial political contributors, the Commissioners Court approved the abatements with little discussion.
McRae also failed to provide any advance information with respect to the Tax Year 2019 ad valorem tax exemptions. As a result, the Commissioners Court took no action other than to approve tentatively the same exemptions as those during Tax Year 2018. Sadly, many disabled citizens and senior citizens may have lost an important opportunity due to the secrecy of the citizens’ elected servants. It’s still possible the Court could expand exemptions but the longer they wait means the less likely that change will occur.
The Commissioners Court blindly approved an agenda item to “Consider, approve, and authorize Montgomery County Tax Assessor to recognize revenues from (1) interest earned on the Tax Assessor Collector’s tax deposit accounts and (2) unclaimed refunds pursuant to Tax Code Sections 31.11 and 31.111. Those funds would bee recognized in a separate cost center to be used for future capital outlay for the Tax Office.” The approval was unanimous, even though none of the Commissioners Court members had any idea how much money they set aside for that questionable capital outlay.
Since the Risk Management and Purchasing Departments failed to provide any information in advance, the Commissioners Court refused to approve an “award for Property Casualty and Workers Compensation Third Party Administration Services for Risk Management,” which enlarged into a major issue during the meeting. Only Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley was willing to vote to approve the blind item, because Riley couldn’t understand the difference between insurance coverage and third party administration of insurance claims. In fairness to Riley, someone with a background running a failed truck stop would not likely have such cognitive ability.
The Commissioners Court received a presentation by Brown and Gay Engineers on future mobility projects. There was no reason those materials could not have been part of the agenda materials before the meeting.