Image: Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon spoke to the Montgomery County Tea Party on “Ethics in the Montgomery County Government” on Monday, July 15, 2019.
Conroe, July 17 – Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon spoke about “Ethics in the Montgomery County Government” to the Montgomery County Tea Party on Monday, July 15, 2019. Speaking about a subject with such a complete absence of any breadth would, of course, provide for a very short speech and a very short meeting, so Ligon broadened the subject to explain why Montgomery County’s government doesn’t enforce ethics.
Ligon noted, “There are no criminal statutes called ‘ethics.'” The District Attorney, the chief criminal prosecutor in this community, noted that there is a difference between morality, ethics, and the law.
“Morality focuses on personal conduct,” said Ligon. “Ethics focuses on the conduct of person in an occupation, while the law focuses on criminal conduct.”
Ligon provided the example of a persons who was drowning. “If you see a person drowning and you didn’t help them, it would be immoral, but it might not be unethical and is not a violation of the criminal law in Texas in most circumstances,” he said. “There is a separate lane of morality that doesn’t coincide with ethics.”
Nevertheless, if someone were a lifeguard and didn’t help a person who was drowning in front of him, then his conduct would likely be an ethical breach of the duty of a lifeguard.
Ligon reminded the audience of a speech he gave to the Montgomery County Commissioners Court in January, 2017, when the District Attorney said, “Ethical conduct should be aspirational” when the Commissioners Court was considering a code of ethics to adopt.
The rationale behind adopting the Montgomery County government’s Code of Ethics, however, was merely to ensure that the County could receive a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation, which requires counties to have a code of ethics in order to receive certain types of grans.
Former Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright, who passed away on March 9, 2019, “was able to deliver ethics in the form of a code of conduct when JD seized that opportunity which TxDOT presented to us.” Unfortunately, the Code of Ethics, which the Commissioners Court adopted is very narrow in scope and is completely unenforceable. The Ethics Committee has never held a hearing, because no one has wasted time to file a complaint under an meaningly Code of Conduct which has no enforcement mechanism.
To make firmer Montgomery County’s reputation as the “most corrupt County government in Texas,” Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts declared war against ethics in the Montgomery County government at the Tuesday, June 25, 2019, Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting, as he explained why he sought to remove 22-year-old Montgomery County Republican Party Vice Chairman Reagan Reed as a member of the County government’s “ethics committee.”
The Commissioners Court, as expected, voted three to two to remove Reed from the so-called “ethics committee.” Metts and his allies in corruption, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, voted against Reed, while Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack and Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough voted against removing Reed from the committee.
Metts explained, “Obviously, people on both sides of the aisle are going to be disappointed today. Some were disappointed when I made the motion to put Reagan Reed on there, on the ethics committee. I did that because, I made the motion to put him on there, 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.”
In other words, Metts made clear that, to him, to Riley, and to Meador, “good decisions” on an ethics committee would be “unethical” decisions on matter which came before the committee.
Ligon noted, “The response to immoral actions is usually shaming by peers. Ethical violations are usually enforced by a professional organization, such as the State Bar, the medical board, or an ethics board.”
“Criminal statutes must be clear, provide notice, and be as limited as possible,” Ligon explained.
Ligon has made an important point. In a community where government is as corrupt as Montgomery County’s, citizens have only one true enforcement mechanism for ethics or morality: the vote at the electoral box.
Only in unusual circumstances would a corrupt government ever clean up itself.
State Representative Steve Toth and State Senator Brandon Creighton, both Republicans of Conroe, both successfully authored and ushered to passage in the 86th Legislative Session House Bill 1495, The JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act, which allows Montgomery County to establish an ethics committee with an enforceable ethics code. Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1495 into law on June 14.
Passage of the Lambright Act was truly a community effort. Lambright, who was the extraordinarily popular and highly-respected County Attorney of Montgomery County until his death on March 9 after a very brief battle with cancer, inspired the legislation, after he had written a code of ethics for the County government which had minimal import due to the lack of any enforcement mechanism with respect to violations. Local conservative activists, including Montgomery County Republican Party (MCRP) Vice Chairman Reagan Reed, MCRP Treasurer John Hill Wertz, MCRP Finance Chair Kelli Cook, and others, were instrumental in the broad outline of the bill.
In this corrupt County government, however, citizens shouldn’t find it in the least bit surprising that the Montgomery County Commissioners Court has not yet opted into the ethics scheme under the legislation which emanated from Montgomery County citizens and their elected representatives in the Legislature.