Image: On Tuesday, June 25, 2019, Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts brought a lynch mob to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to demand the removal of Reagan Reed, the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, from the County government’s mockery of an ethics committee. This gentleman sought to give a speech to the audience so he turned his back to the Commissioners Court.
Conroe, July 3 – A convicted felon who spent several years in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a convicted thief, the former campaign manager of Charlie Riley who regularly receives County government contracts, a partisan of rogue County GOP Chairman Wally Wilkerson who vehemently maintains that the local Republican Party is not a part of the Republican Party of Texas, and an obviously angry and emotionally-distraught chief deputy constable appeared before the Montgomery County Commissioners Court to demand removal of Reagan Reed, the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, from the County government’s mockery of an ethics committee.
After a different family of convicted felons who are close supporters of Metts called for Reed’s removal from the ethics committee for Reed’s daring to comment publicly about serious charges against Precinct 4 Montgomery County Constable Rowdy Hayden and four of his deputies allegedly for falsifying training records which they submitted to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE), Metts moved to remove Reed from the ethics committee, because he and the lynch mob feared Reed would act too ethically.
When Reed spoke the truth about Metts’ closest political ally, that was more than Metts could bear.
Metts summarized their comments: “…I made the motion to put him [Reed] on there [the ethics committee], because I believed I had confidence in him that he would make good decisions and he would be unethical in anything to come before him on the committee. I no longer have that confidence.” Since Metts and his corrupt allies came to the conclusion that Reed wouldn’t act unethically, they removed him from the ethics committee by a 3 to 2 vote on the Commissioners Court, once again proving Montgomery County is “the most corrupt County government in Texas.”
Not surprisingly, the rogue GOP Chairman Wally Wilkerson, whom the State Republican Officials Committee determined last October has acted in a manner to “disgrace” the Republican Party, sat in the Commissioners Courtroom to cheer on the corruption as it unfolded.
Reed has a reputation in Montgomery County for his ethics and integrity. Clearly, he doesn’t fit within Metts’ world of corruption or within a County government with such a justly-deserved terrible statewide reputation.
As documents The Golden Hammer obtained two days ago show, Reed’s reporting about Hayden was, in fact, entirely accurate. Hayden and his four deputies each face a 6-month suspension of their law enforcement licenses. TCOLE issued the preliminary findings, subject to appeal, on June 6, 2019, seven (7) days before Reed published a blogpost in the “Texas Scorecard.”
The real question, however, which Metts’ and his allies’ ridiculous spectacle raises, is: does this ethics committee from which the Commissioners Court removed Reed have any clout and does it do anything? Or was this action by Metts merely a political show by the forces of corruption that they won’t tolerate ethics?
Does the ethics committee have any clout and does it do anything?
The ethics committee has no clout and doesn’t do anything. It has no enforcement power whatsoever.
In fact, the lack of ethics committee enforcement power is precisely the reason that former Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright, State Representative Steve Toth (R-Conroe), State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough also known as the “People’s Judge,” and current Montgomery County Attorney so fiercely fought for passage by the 86th Texas Legislature of the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law last month. The legislation, House Bill 1495, permits the Montgomery County government to create an ethics committee which will have the ability to oversee an enforceable ethics code with civil penalties.
The current ethics committee, however, does almost nothing.
The current Montgomery County ethics committee arose in January, 2017, when the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, always looking for more ways to spend public dollars, had to confront a requirement by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) that all governmental entities, including county governments, that wanted to receive TxDOT grants must adopt an ethics code in accordance with Chapter 43 of the Texas Administrative Code.
In 2011, TxDOT adopted this regulation, Title 43, Chapter 10, Subsection A, Section 10.1:
“As a steward of public resources, the department must ensure the protection of public funds and maintain a high level of transparency and accountability. Therefore, the department expects entities doing business with the department to adhere to ethical standards of conduct. This chapter prescribes required ethical standards for entities doing business with the department, and most enforcement provisions applicable for violations of the ethical standards.”
What the foregoing regulation means is that any government entity which does business or receives funds from TxDOT must adhere to ethical standards. That sounds pretty strong. Sadly, TxDOT has provided very little guidance for what it actually expects those ethical standards to be.
Section 10.51(b) answers the question what the minimum ethical standards must be for a County government to receive TxDOT grants:
“An entity’s internal ethics and compliance program must be in writing and must provide compliance standards and procedures that the entity’s employees and agents are expected to follow. At a minimum, the program must provide that: (1) high-level personnel are responsible for oversight of compliance with the standards and procedures; (2) appropriate care is being taken to avoid the delegation of substantial discretionary authority to individuals whom the entity knows, or should know, have a propensity to engage in illegal activities; (3) compliance standards and procedures are effectively communicated to all of the entity’s employees, including members of the governing board if the entity has a governing board, by requiring them to participate in periodic training in ethics and in the requirements of the program; (4) compliance standards and procedures are effectively communicated to all of the entity’s agents; (5) reasonable steps are being taken to achieve compliance with the compliance standards and procedures by: (A) using monitoring and auditing systems that are designed to reasonably detect noncompliance; and (B) providing and publicizing a system for the entity’s employees and agents to report suspected noncompliance without fear of retaliation; (6) consistent enforcement of compliance standards and procedures is administered through appropriate disciplinary mechanisms; (7) reasonable steps are being taken to respond appropriately to detected offenses and to prevent future similar offenses; and (8) the entity has a written employee code of conduct that, at a minimum, addresses: (A) record retention; (B) fraud; (C) equal opportunity employment; (D) sexual harassment and sexual misconduct; (E) conflicts of interest; (F) personal use of the entity’s property; and (G) gifts and honoraria.
The County government must have a written code of conduct which addresses:
- Record retention;
- Equal opportunity employment;
- Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct;
- Conflicts of interest;
- Personal use of the County government’s property; and
- Gifts and honoraria.
It’s important to note that the TxDOT regulations don’t say what the written code of conduct must say about “gifts and honoraria,” as an example. Rather, the written code of conduct must merely “address” such matters. Furthermore, the TxDOT regulations do not require any sort of enforcement mechanism for the required code of conduct.
Therefore, it’s important to examine the Montgomery County Code of Ethics, which the Commissioners Court adopted on January 24, 2017. It’s little more than the bare minimum.
As far as enforcement of the Montgomery County Code of Ethics, the Code merely establishes a five-person Advisory Committee to hear complaints. The Committee has no enforcement power whatsoever. The Committee has never received a complaint, because there would be no point to filing a complaint, since the Committee can’t do anything if it were to find a violation.
The fact that the Code of Ethics is completely unenforceable really ends any necessary analysis of the Code. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the Code tracks the TxDOT requirements and clearly doesn’t go one step beyond them. The definition of a “gift,” for example, is written perfectly so that members of the Commissioners Court may go on lavish fishing and hunting trips which County government vendors provide. The Code of Ethics doesn’t address whether a County Commissioner may vote on awarding County vendor contracts, if the Commissioner has received many tens of thousands of dollars of contributions from the vendor. The Code of Ethics didn’t address the “Metts method” of procuring a multi-million contract for his logging company with TxDOT for the TX 249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway, through Metts’ government connections.
While a County government employee may not be involved in awarding a contract to a County vendor in whom the employee has an ownership interest, County government employees may certainly take tens of thousands in political contributions and many types of gifts from vendors.
The Code of Ethics doesn’t address Metts’ decision to hire his live-in girlfriend as a highly-paid employee in his office. Since there is no enforcement mechanism, Commissioner Charlie Riley’s procuring a lucrative job for his wife in the Precinct 5 Constable’s Office technically would be prohibited but there would be no way to take any action thereof.
The Code of Ethics does not prohibit personal use of the County government’s property.
What it all means
Since the County government’s ethics committee has no power and does nothing, Metts, the family of felons, the other criminals who appeared before the Commissioners Court, the complaining County vendor, and the others had no reason to care whether Reagan Reed continued to serve on the County government’s ethics committee, except for one reason:
They sent an important message: we demand unethical conduct and those who do not act unethically will pay the price politically.