Image: The face of reform in Montgomery County, State Representative Mark Keough, who is running for County Judge in the 2018 Republican Primary Election. Keough announced that he will oppose Montgomery County funding and constructing the project, which Tx-DOT has made clear they’d do anyway.
Conroe, June 13 – A new reformer has come to town and his name is Mark Keough, the Republican State Representative who is running for County Judge in the 2018 Republican Primary Election. Keough announced on Monday, June 12, that he will oppose the Commissioners Court’s “waste of local taxpayer money on the Highway 249 expansion project. The court has embarked on a path that will cost taxpayers $73 million to construct a project that the State of Texas has stated they will construct at no expense to the County.”
The estimated $73 million dollar project is only 3.6 miles long and would be one of the most expensive highways ever constructed on a per-mile basis in American history. It’s better known as the Decimation of Hope Highway.
Keough explained, “TxDOT has stated that they will pay for engineering, construction and operation of the 3.6-mile section of the road.” He added, “The Court has already authorized and spent $12 million on preconstruction engineering. TxDOT has agreed to refund a substantial portion of those costs.”
Keough made an important point, “Why does Commissioners Court want to spend local Montgomery County tax dollars to fund this project when the State will pay instead? Whether it is corruption, cronyism or malfeasance – it needs to stop.” Of course, the answer is that County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have funneled more than $13 million to favored political contributors, engineers and contractors, almost all of whom are from outside of Montgomery County.
Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm of which Bobby Jack Adams is vice president, has received over $2 million for “project management” of a project that is only in its design phase. Adams is Doyal’s best friend and Doyal’s business partner in WS&G, a firm that contracts with other local government entities.
Halff’s James Baker, another engineer, has admitted that Tx-DOT would build the project, if Montgomery County chose not to do so.
Riley has pointed out that the most significant mobility project in all of Montgomery County is the widening of F.M. 1488 from Waller County to Mostyn Manor (going eastward). The general revenue funds which Doyal, Riley, and Meador diverted into the Tx-249 project could easily have paid for the widening of F.M. 1488 years ago. Keough noted, “There are other projects in the county that could benefit from these dollars.”
Remarkably, Rich Muller, a County vendor and attorney who works on the Decimation of Hope Highway project, admitted during the April 13, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting that voters in Montgomery County would likely vote down this project. For that reason, Muller has proposed the issuance of general revenue bonds that involve more risk and higher interest than general obligation bonds would.
Even more remarkably, Muller, Doyal, Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador voted to spend approximately $400,000 on a new study to try to justify the Tx-249 expansion project, which such study is to be complete by the end of the 2017 calendar year. The original study assumed that traffic from The Woodlands would justify construction of the Tx-249 tollway by bringing traffic to Tx-249 from The Woodlands Parkway Extension (“WPX”). Voters rejected construction of WPX during the May, 2015, bond referendum, so the entire economic basis of the Decimation of Hope Highway project dissipated.
Keough spoke to and met with Tx-DOT directly
Keough spoke with The Golden Hammer late Monday evening. “I’ve tried to go to the original sources and talked to a lot of people about this issue. I met directly with the Tx-DOT engineers. I asked them three questions. First, can we give the project back to Tx-DOT? Their answer was unequivocally ‘yes.’ Second, can we recoup the money the County has already spent? They told me ‘yes, as long as the amounts were reasonable.’ Third, what sort of delay would there be on the project if we give the project back? The engineers and Tx-DOT managers told me there would only be a 6-month delay.”
Texas State Representative Mark Keough will address Montgomery County Commissioners Court during public comment. He will direct his remarks to Agenda Item 20. B. 1. “CONSIDER, DISCUSS AND TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION ON RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY PORTION OF THE 249 TOLLWAY.” County Judge Doyal and Commissioner Riley placed that item on the agenda after a meeting of the “249 Partnership,” an organization largely consisting of special interest groups from Tomball and Navasota, as well as Houston engineering and contracting firms, agreed to make a propaganda push for the project during the June 13 Commissioners Court meeting.
Keough announced his candidacy on May 31, 2017, to much delight of Republican activists and conservative groups who have seen the Montgomery County government explode out of control under Doyal, Riley, and Meador’s domination. Since 2000, Montgomery County’s spending has grown 424%, while the population has only grown 84%. Spending growth in the Montgomery County government has greatly exceeded federal government spending growth, which even Doyal admitted is completely out of control and requires reform.
County vendors run amok: political contributors, engineers, contractors, and “The Davenport Issue”
Keough represents a particular threat to County vendors, particularly the engineering firms and contracting firms who have run amok through County taxpayer dollars. Engineers who contribute hefty sums to Doyal, Riley, and Meador regularly receive the most lucrative contracts. They include the engineers who own and operate Halff Associates, Dannenbaum Engineers, Jones & Carter, and Binkley & Barfield. Binkley & Barfield is the company of another close friend of Doyal’s, Dave Hamilton, who recently got married in a wedding that Doyal and Adams attended together.
Meanwhile, local political consultant Marc Davenport, a shadowy figure who is a close political associate of Doyal’s, is attempting to take over the County’s purchasing function. Davenport has strongly influenced County purchasing decisions for his “clients” who seem to work more for Davenport than he does for them. Davenport’s clients include Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, who regularly invites Davenport to participate in staff meetings at the Courthouse, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts who is running against Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark and also lets Davenport involve himself in Courthouse operations, Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden, Sheriff Rand Henderson, and Davenport’s wife County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport.
Keough’s stand against County funding for the Decimation of Hope Highway would seem to threaten the entire politicized system of contracting with County vendors who seem to buy their way into those relationships. The engineering firm donations to Doyal and Riley during 2014, 2015, and 2016 reached staggering proportions.
Montgomery County’s government and its tax dollars seem ripe for the plucking.
But Mark Keough seems ready to come back home from his work in the Texas Legislature to clean this place once and for all.