Image: Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport and County Attorney J.D. Lambright discussed the Open Records Act request for Davenport’s County’s Treasurer’s policies and procedures manual before the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. Davenport seeks to hide her policies and procedures from the public. Lambright believes the policies and procedures of Davenport’s County Office are “open records” and should be made available to the public.
Conroe, December 20 – Montgomery County Attorney J.D. Lambright told the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, that County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport “should release in its entirety” her policies and procedures manual that Melanie Pryor Bush, Conroe Independent School District Board President who is running against Davenport for County Treasurer in the March 1, 2018, Republican Primary Election, had request from her under the Texas Open Records Act. Davenport has refused to release the document and seeks to hide her policies and procedures from the public.
On December 1, 2017, Bush requested Davenport’s policies and procedures under the Texas Open Records Act. Davenport has decided that she does not want to provide her policies and procedures to the public and wants to maintain them as secret. As Montgomery County Attorney Lambright noted, the usual procedure in such an instance is to request an opinion from the Texas Attorney General.
Realizing that the Texas Attorney General will almost undoubtedly rule against her effort at secrecy, Davenport has already instructed Lambright’s office to file a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he issues an opinion against her. Davenport also sought cover with the Montgomery County Commissioners Court at its meeting on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, to ask them to declare her policies and procedures confidential. Sources inside Lambright’s office have confirmed that Lambright has already indicated to Davenport that his office will not sue the Attorney General over this issue, because Lambright believes Davenport is dead wrong.
Rather than conducting a sober or serious discussion about why she wants to hide the County Treasurer’s written procedures or accounting policies, which many, including former County Treasurer Martha Gustavsen, have said are not secrets, County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport blamed the controversy around her decision to cloak those open records in secrecy on “Melanie and Eric.”
Davenport claims the procedures are 700 pages. Davenport described what procedures are within the manuals she seeks to hide. Those procedures include how to write checks, how to deposit checks, how to replace checks, processes to issues payroll checks, how to record revenues, and similar methods within the County Treasurer’s Office.
Davenport’s predecessor in her position, former County Treasurer Martha Gustavsen, has made clear that the information in the procedures could not possibly be confidential. Davenport told the Commissioners Court that no information has been forwarded to the Attorney General of Texas, but County Attorney J.D. Lambright corrected Lambright, “That is not quite correct. Information has been forward to the Attorney General in our 10 day response.”
At that point, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack asked, “Does this court have any authority to weigh in on what should or shouldn’t be released via open records?” Lambright answered, “No.”
Davenport then interjected, “You don’t, but don’t you want to know the risk if we do it? You set the budget. Don’t you feel like it’s important that when it comes time to pay the bills, the funds are there?”
Noack responded, “I feel like this is political and I don’t want the court in the middle of it. I think this should be handled in the Texas Attorney General’s Office.”
Lambright explained his office only touches approximately 10% of the requests to the County which are open records requests, because the County Attorney only gets involved when a county department doesn’t want to turn over all the documents. 90% of the approximately 9,000 requests the county receives each year are just provided to citizens without objection.
Lambright added, “Our opinion on this one was very clear…that information [which Bush requested] ought to be redacted…this is not one of the more volumimous requests…you can charge for time redacting…the Attorney General is committed to an open and transparent government and we are bound to follow him…We have dealt with records just like this…our advice was that this should be released in its entirety…”
The County Attorney explained, “The most recent one we handled the Attorney General viewed a similar request and ordered everything release”
Davenport tried to blame the situation on Assistant County Attorney John McKinney. “Assistant County Attorney John McKinney admitted he gave me bad advice,” she said.
Lambright retorted, “Mr. McKinney did not give bad advice. This issue was coming to a head last Friday…we reached out to the Attorney General…”
The following slide that began Davenport’s presentation to the Commissioners Court revealed that her purpose in coming before the Court was entirely political, as she just wanted to evoke sympathy for the intense criticism she’s received as a result of her attempt to hide government policies and procedures.