Image: Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack asked some poignant questions about County government spending at the Montgomery County Animal Shelter and with respect to tax abatements.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, January 26 – Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack tried to get some information and restrain the free flow of tax dollars in the form of government spending but met with stiff resistance from County Judge Mark Keough and his Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps at the Tuesday, January 24, 2023, meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court.
After Keough published and posted a meeting agenda with a massive “consent agenda,” the super secret portion of the meeting which fails to provide information to the public about how much the Commissioners Court intends to spend on each item, Noack clearly could not ascertain the expenditures either.
Three items, two involving the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, in particular raised Noack’s concern. He pulled them off of the consent agenda and required that the Commissioners Court address them in public discussion.
Despite the millions of tax dollars at stake in the meeting, the following exchange was the most significant:
Noack: “We spend more on protecting animals in MoCo than we do on protecting children. If we can’t use that Petco grant for that, what can we use it for?”
Keough: “If you want to run it [the Montgomery County Animal Shelter], I’ll be glad to step back and let you do it.”
Noack: “I’m not trying to offend you but I’m just trying to ask what the need is [for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new trucks to carry animal cages…It would be irresponsible not to ask. If you find them, how will they be funded?
Keough’s Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps: “Truck and cage is a little over $75,000.”
Noack: “I thought we had bought enough cages and trucks.”
Keough: “If you would answer my calls, I would be able to answer these questions for you.”
Noack: “You don’t need my approval.”
MK: “I’m not calling you and asking you for approval. You don’t return my calls. Commissioner [looking directly at Noack], you need to understand this. You have not answered a call in 60 days from me.”
Noack: “You haven’t called me in 60 days.”
MK: “Because I quit calling you, because you won’t call me back.”
In addition to Noack, the other adult in the room was Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, who then had the following exchange with Keough:
Riley: “Every cage is air-conditioned for these dogs? Is that what you’re trying to do?”
Keough: “Yeah. Granted they’re animals. But we’re humane.”
Riley: “I don’t know why everything has to be air conditioned.”
Millsaps: “There are still 4 trucks that aren’t air conditioned.”
Riley: “We’re using a 1 ton truck to pick up dogs and cats?…I don’t see that we’re getting on anybody. [Turning red.] I just want to know why we’re buying a 1 ton truck and why we’re buying more air conditioned cages. I pull a lot of stuff with a 3/4 ton truck, and I guarantee you I can pull a helluva a lot more than an air conditioned cage.”
Noack: “I know we’ve bought a ton of those cages and trucks in Jim Clark’s days, in my days, and in later days. I bought one or two of them with my [Commissioner Precinct] budget.”
After the Commissioners Court unanimously voted to put out advertising for the one ton trucks, Keough turned to Noack and said, “Forgive me for getting horsy with you. I will say this about the shelter business. It’s highly emotional.”
Noack raised a number of questions about whether a $450,000.00 Petco Foundation grant could fund the trucks and pay for other capital expenditures to make conditions for the animals in the Animal Shelter better. Keough didn’t seem to know but promised Noack he would research that issue. Nevertheless, Keough wanted to plough forward with advertising for bids for the purchase of more trucks and cages.
Later in the meeting, Noack opposed a tax abatement benefitting a large real estate developer, which such abatement Keough had failed to disclose at all on the Commissioners Court agenda. Very few items on Keough’s “consent” agendas have backup contracts or explanations, so the public is usually unable to ascertain the amount of expenditures or their purpose.
At least, in the era of County Judge Craig Doyal, the Commissioners Court followed a strict policy of never placing items on the “consent” agenda which involved spending in excess of $50,000. Secrecy now abounds.