Image: Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley spoke to the Magnolia Area Republican Women at Magnolia High School on Monday, September 18, 2017.
Magnolia and Conroe, September 20 – Montgomery County’s Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley had great enough difficulty just presenting a report about Precinct 2 road bond projects during a presentation to the Magnolia Area Republican Women at Magnolia High School on Monday, September 18, 2017. When Riley opened the event to questions from the floor, however, the Commissioner descended into a heightened state of befuddlement as almost all of the inquiries concerned the proposed $73 million, 3.6 mile, Tx-249 Tollway, a topic about which Riley revealed he has little understanding. The 3.6 mile tollroad project is also known as the “Decimation of Hope Highway.”
Calvin Russell, husband of a Republican Precinct Chair from Magnolia, asked Riley, “Commissioner, are you for or against [having a voter referendum on the proposed tollroad] and why?”
Riley timidly answered, “I’m not for or against it. The county attorneys said we couldn’t put anything like that on the ballot for a referendum for any opinion.” He paused and then added, “I would always want someone to be able to vote on something like that.”
Commissioner Riley: “I’m not for or against it. The county attorneys said we couldn’t put anything like that on the ballot for a referendum for any opinion… I would always want someone to be able to vote on something like that.”
Whatever “county attorneys” to whom Riley referred seems to be quite a mystery. There have been no executive session meetings with any attorneys concerning the Tx-249 Tollway project. Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack told The Golden Hammer, “County Attorney Lambright and others have said you can’t have a referendum for revenue bonds, but no one that I’m aware has ever said the Commissioners Court couldn’t place a referendum on the ballot to ask voters whether they want more tollroads, whether they want the Texas 249 project, or whether they want a toll road authority at all. Harris County voters got to vote on their toll road authority. There’s no reason Montgomery County voters shouldn’t get to vote as well.”
Commissioner Noack: “County Attorney Lambright and others have said you can’t have a referendum for revenue bonds, but no one that I’m aware has ever said the Commissioners Court couldn’t place a referendum on the ballot to ask voters whether they want more tollroads, whether they want the Texas 249 project, or whether they want a toll road authority at all. Harris County voters got to vote on their toll road authority. There’s no reason Montgomery County voters shouldn’t get to vote as well.”
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark said, “I’m not aware the County Attorney ever said we couldn’t bring it to the voters to see if they wanted the road. One of the tollroad attorneys, Rich Muller, said in Commissioners Court you can’t hold a voter referendum, but that’s only for the issuance of revenue bonds. I believe holding a referendum is what should be done. I am personally not in favor of tollroads.”
Commissioner Clark: “I’m not aware the County Attorney ever said we couldn’t bring it to the voters to see if they wanted the road. One of the tollroad attorneys, Rich Muller, said in Commissioners Court you can’t hold a voter referendum, but that’s only for the issuance of revenue bonds. I believe holding a referendum is what should be done. I am personally not in favor of tollroads.”
Although Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal argued that people outside of Montgomery County allegedly support the 3.6 mile road construction, which, at $73 million and more than $20 million per mile, will be one of the most expensive roads ever constructed in American history, Sugar Land attorney Rich Muller, who Doyal and Riley hired, using County tax dollars, to provide legal services in favor of their Tx-249 Tollway project, indicated otherwise when he spoke to the Commissioners Court on April 11, 2017. Muller admitted, “If every road you vote on, you list individually…I think we all know what the result of most of those elections would be.”
Noack noted in response to Muller during the April 11 Commissioners Court meeting, “People question the need for tolls on this road…There’s no need for the County to take the financial risk on this road. If TxDOT is willing to take the risk, we should let them do that. People are firmly against toll roads. If this were put to a vote, it would never pass.”
County Judge candidate Mark Keough, now serving as a State Representative, has openly opposed the Tx-249 Tollway. Keough’s research led him to the conclusion that the Texas Department of Transportation would build the road, if Montgomery County chose not to do so. That’s where the rubber meets the road, figuratively, because at least one other county, Grimes County, successfully lobbied Tx-DOT not to toll any portion of the Tx-249 Extension there.
Doyal’s and Riley’s misrepresentations to Tx-DOT
In fact, the only reason that Tx-DOT is tolling the Montgomery County portion of the Tx-249 Extension is because Doyal and Riley attended the Texas Transportation Commission meeting in Austin on June 27, 2017, and gave them misinformation about Montgomery County support for tolling the road. “Montgomery County is unified in our support for a tollroad,” Doyal told the Tx-DOT governing board with Riley sitting nearby in support.
It’s become very apparent that Doyal and Riley – along with certain political supporter$ who benefit – desperately want Tx-DOT to construct the Tx-249 Extension road as a tollroad, so that they’ll have an excuse to build the 3.6 mile section of the road as a tollroad from Spring Creek to Pinehurst that connects to the 15 miles of state road connecting at Pinehurst. By taking the 3.6 mile project away from Tx-DOT, Doyal and Riley, through the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, can control which political contributors of theirs get the lucrative contracts for engineering and construction of the road. The so-called “project manager” of the Tx-249 Tollway’s 3.6 miles is none other than Halff Associates engineers, the firm whose regional director is Bobby Jack Adams, Craig Doyal’s best friend and close business associate. Doyal and Adams owned WS&G, a contracting company, together until August 17. According to County Clerk records, they still own an interest in Superall Environmental together.
If Tx-DOT didn’t build the 15 mile section of state road as a tollroad, then Doyal and Riley would have no pretext for Montgomery County to assume “primacy” for the 3.6 mile section of road, because it wouldn’t make sense to toll 3.6 miles connecting due south of a 15 mile free road, especially when Tx-DOT already has sufficient funds to build the entire 18.6 miles (the 3.6 miles plus the 15 miles) as a free state road.
Montgomery County Republican Party Executive Committee supports a voter referendum
In a stunning turn of developments, on August 15, 2017, the County Executive Committee of the Montgomery County Republican Party voted overwhelmingly, 34 to 1, to call for placement on the ballot of a proposition that would urge that “no governmental entity should ever construct or fund the construction of toll roads, unless its voters have approved each road by referendum.” The County Party “establishment” fiercely resisted permitting the vote, but the conservative reformers on the Executive Committee overcame their opposition and won by an overwhelming vote of the Republican Precinct Chairs who comprise the Executive Committee.
Woodlands GOP Precinct Chairman and Area Chairman Paul Gebolys, known for his quiet and thoughtful demeanor, authored the resolution and presented the motions in the most gentle of manners. Meanwhile, Walter Wilkerson, Jr., the County GOP Chairman, fiercely fought against even permitting a vote on the motion. Wilkerson attempted to adjourn the Executive Committee to avoid the vote, but his own Party Secretary insisted that he could not do so. Therefore, the resolution proceeded to a vote and won with only one Precinct Chair voting against it.
If Charlie Riley really supports a referendum, here are some ways to get that done
There actually are some ways that Montgomery County or others could hold a referendum on the proposal to spend $73 million on the crazed 3.6 mile Tx-249 Tollway.
- The Harris County Toll Road Authority actually came into existence on September 13, 1983 when Harris County voters approved the release of up to $900 million in bonds to create the Hardy Toll Road and the Sam Houston Tollway. Ten days later, the Harris County Commissioners Court designated all five court members as the governing board for the HCTRA. Admittedly, there are some reasons why Montgomery County may not want to utilize this method.
- The Commissioners Court acting in their individual capacities along with a private group of citizens could pay privately – i.e., not with government funds – for the County Election Administrator to hold a non-binding county-wide referendum on the issue whether the citizens want such a tollroad. Texas Attorney General Dan Morales’s Opinion 94-091 discusses that method. That is an excellent mechanism to hold such an election.
- The State Republican Executive Committee could hold a statewide referendum on the proposed referendum that issued from the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee on August 15. If that referendum were to pass, then the Commissioners Court should hold off on tollroad construction until they can petition the Texas Legislature to amend the Texas Election Code to codify a provision which authorizes the holding of referendums on proposed toll road projects before begin development or construction.
Let’s make Charlie Riley happy. Let’s hold a referendum on the Tx-249 Tollway in Montgomery County! We could hold the referendum during the Primary Elections on March 6, 2017, so that both Republicans and democrats could vote in the referendum at that time.