Montgomery County Commissioners Court approves courtroom remodeling supposedly for COVID-19, using CARES Act funds, without full facts in front of them

Montgomery County Commissioners Court approves courtroom remodeling supposedly for COVID-19, using CARES Act funds, without full facts in front of them

Image: Montgomery County Judge Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps presented an “emergency management” request for COVID-19 regulatory compliance to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, May 26, in which 96% of the request will go towards funding construction costs for asbestos abatement unrelated to the COVID-19 social distancing compliance.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

BREAKING NEWS!

Conroe, June 4 – On Tuesday, May 26, 2020, on the motion of Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to approve an expenditure of $50,000 alleged “in an effort to enforce CDC social distancing guidelines.”

This newspaper has confirmed with two sources high up inside the Montgomery County government and one source who is an employee in another department, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of political retaliation, that the shifting of the wall in the 418th District Court will assist that Court in complying the guidelines but was actually planned prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

County Judge’s Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps presented the request to the Commissioners Court as “Consider and approve partial remodel of the courtroom for the 418th Associate Judge in an amount not to exceed $50,000 in an effort to enforce CDC social distancing guidelines.” Specifically, the reference to CDC social distancing guidelines arises from those contained within the Texas Supreme Court’s order for the reopening of Texas courts.

Millsaps explained, “The courtroom as it currently sits, [requires us] to comply with the order from the Supreme Court and how they can resume operations starting June 1. They would be allowed about five individuals in the courtroom at a time without removing this wall, and allowing the spacing for the attorneys and both sides necessary to be in the courtroom.”

What Millsaps didn’t disclose to the Commissioners Court, however, is that moving the wall was an action the 418th District Court’s Judge, Tracy Gilbert, had contemplated before the COVID-19 outbreak and that 96% of the $50,000 request will go towards asbestos removal and remediation rather than the direct construction costs. Millsaps did say to the Commissioners Court at the end of the discussion that the cost includes “potentially some asbestos related to the project.”

The 418th District Courtroom is somewhat narrow, so complying with social distancing guidelines might, in fact, require moving the wall. By doing the remodel of that courtroom allegedly to comply with COVID-19 rules and regulations, the County government has the ability to utilize federal COVID-19 funds distributed under the CARES Act to the Montgomery County government.

An administrative official inside the Montgomery County Courthouse, who also requested anonymity, confirmed that the remodel job would have been within a budget request from the 418th District Court regardless of COVID-19. That same official echoed Millsaps’ comment to the Commissioners Court that other Montgomery County Courthouse courtrooms already comply with the Texas Supreme Court’s social distancing mandate.

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