ARE THE TAXPAYERS “NOTHING MORE THAN…[CRAIG DOYAL’S] ATM”?
Conroe, February 27 – Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin, working closely with County Judge Craig Doyal and “chief of staff” jim fredricks, added an Agenda item to create a secret budget committee that would take the departmental budget review power away from the Commissioners Court and tuck it into the hands of Martin, Doyal, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador. Doyal has already indicated that he believes “fiscal conservatism” means more government spending growth. Meador has consistently voted for every spending proposal during his entire tenure on the Commissioners Court with two recent exceptions when he voted against two law enforcement funding proposals for political reasons.
Doyal, fredricks, and county attorney Jerry Don “Ice Man” Lambright hid the major proposal under the February 28 “Consent Agenda” within the Commissioners Court Agenda. Martin explained, “There has been recent interest in the reinstatement of the Budget Review Committee for the FY 2018 budget. The recommended committee members are: County Judge Craig Doyal, Commissioner Precinct 1 Mike Meador, County Auditor Phyllis Martin. The goal of the committee will be to create a fiscally responsible budget for current operations and debt management, with a prospective view towards a capital improvement plan.”
Martin’s statement should raise concerns simply because Doyal has made clear that his idea of “a fiscally responsible budget for current operations…” means to increase government spending. Under Doyal’s watch, the Montgomery County government spending budget has grown 428% since 2000, while population has only grown 84%.
The Texas Constitution, Article V, Section 18, places the management of the County government squarely in the hands of the full Commissioners Court. Similarly, Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code establishes the appropriate procedure for development of a county budget. While the statute establishes the County Auditor, Martin, as the “chief budget officer,” budget hearings are to be public hearings with county departments before the full Commissioners Court during which citizens may participate. Last year, County Judge Pro Tem Mike Meador prohibited citizens from participating in the “public hearing” portion of the budget hearings, upon the advice and urging of county attorney Lambright. Meador, Lambright, and the Commissioners Court violated Section 111.038(a) by following that approach.
A number of citizens criticized the Martin-Doyal-fredricks budget committee proposal.
Bill O’Sullivan said, “This proposal is ridiculous, insane and dictatorial. Why? He [Doyal] is really paranoid and his answer is always more control. It’s a coup on the Texas Constitution which gives the most power to the Commissioners and not the Judge.”
Montgomery County Hospital District Board of Directors member Georgette Whatley said, “I believe that would be a little redundant since those three [Doyal, Meador, Martin] are principal players in approving the budget.”
Longtime activist Dr. Annell Simcoe, who once served as the Dean of one of the largest universities in the United States, added, “Meador will look out for himself and family. Martin is already operating under duress and, in my opinion, allowing Doyal to dictate budgeting, justification of expenditures, transfer of budget items within a tax year, etc., which could lead to her being criminally charged. The judges who reappointed her did not do their homework and demand certain transparency and avoidance of conflicts of interest. This proposed budget committee is intended as a coverup. An outside auditor is needed.”
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark said, “If they will pledge to a 5% cut excluding law enforcement and will give updates to the Commissioners Court every meeting and in open court, I would be open to it. I would rather include an equal number of citizens for openness and transparency.”
Jennie Stephenson added, “Frankly, I have little trust in Craig Doyal. I have no faith that he would have the integrity to do what is best for the county. I see him as an opportunist who works harder for himself and his buddies than for the taxpayers. He does not seem to respect the money that is taken from our citizens, often at great hardship. In his view, the taxpayers are nothing more than his ATM. He would be the WORST person to let anywhere near a budget process. Mr. Meador is no better. I am glad he is a ‘cash and carry’ sort of fellow. Good for him. I’d like to be a cash and carry sort of gal, but I find it difficult to save anything because of the confiscatory tax rates in Montgomery County. Keep him away from any budget negotiations. I can’t afford him.”
Former County Infrastructure Director Mark Bosma spoke bluntly (as always): “Used to be that the county judge handled the budget, then a budget department was recommended by then County Auditor Linda Breazeale. The women that worked for her were appointed and worked under the Commissioners Court. When Phyllis Martin took over as County Auditor, she was recommended by Commissioner Ed Chance and Breazeale. Martin messed up the budget because she wasn’t qualified at the time. Chance and Breazeale controlled her, yet needed her to manipulate the Joe Corley and mental health projects. Meador made a statement publicly that budget was the worst he’d ever seen. Currently, the budget is put together by the Auditor’s office and presented to the Court as they choose. Phyllis works the district judges and should not engage with this court on this matter. She can’t be trusted and the departments don’t like her.”
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack stated succinctly, “I’m concerned about the budget process.”
Jean Renfro Mann said, “I’m not sure of the protocol for a committee like this but it would be smart for him to add some concerned citizens who have a voice. This would be his opportunity to explain the spending in hopes of understanding and willingness to listen and cut as necessary.”
Montgomery rancher Kelli Cook said, “Considering Doyal’s and Meador’s egregious misuse of funds this should offend the taxpayers. Like their other fiscal abuses. Meador’s Precinct 1 has had a Buffalo Crossing road and bridge closed for almost a year causing an entire subdivision to have to reroute their commutes. Neglected Calvary Rd becomes impassable after a heavy rain. Maybe there are no funds to accommodate basic needs for the taxpayers, because he keeps taking money out of the road and bridge fund for things like flowers, a truck for Gerald, and Philip Cash’s wish list. County Judge Doyal now wants Montgomery county taxpayers to subsidize the budget of Harris County’s Tomball ISD less than two weeks after he admonished school districts for burdening property tax owners. Having these two on the budget advisory committee would be like having the foxes count the hens.”
Former state representative Steve Toth added, “Judge Doyal doesn’t seem to learn that avoiding the appearance of evil means you should actually avoid the appearance of evil. Judge Doyal has taken the Court in the opposite direction of Barb Sadler. Sadler led the Court as a servant leader. Doyal leads with thuggery and intimidation. County leaders know that Doyal will make good on his intent to take out anyone who refuses to work inside of his play book. The idea that anyone will stand up to him in these private huddles is preposterous. These meetings will only serve to instruct department heads on what to parrot for budget discussions in July. What will they say? ‘Well of course we can’t cut our budgets in favor of improving public safety and lowering taxes.'”
Previously, Doyal, Meador, and Martin acted as an “ad hoc” committee.
By appointment of the committee through the Commissioners Court, very clearly all Committee deliberations would fall under the Texas Open Meetings Act. At least two major Texas Attorney General Opinions address that issue, Opinion H-1281, which Attorney General John Hill issued on December 13, 1978, and Opinion RQ-0133-JC, which General John Cornyn issued on April 4, 2000. That requirement might be a blessing and a curse. By falling under the Open Meetings Act, the appointment of this budget committee would prevent any two of the three (Doyal-Meador, Doyal-Martin, Martin-Meador) or their representatives (fredricks, for example) from discussing budget issues outside of a properly-noticed open meeting. That might be a good aspect of this committee. Preventing those combinations of individuals from discussing the County Budget together is probably an improvement. That Doyal and Meador are involved in the budget process at all is mostly bad.
(Will Doyal snap to and add others to this committee so that he can continue to conduct those secret deliberations without more TOMA concerns? Or, perhaps, Doyal’s county attorney Lambright will give Doyal whatever opinion he wants so that Doyal can do whatever he wants?)