The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, January 6 – The Montgomery County Ethics Commission, established under the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law in June, 2019, will hold its historic first meeting on Monday, January 6, 2020, at 2 p.m., in the Montgomery County Commissioners Courtroom, 501 North Thompson, 4th Floor, in Conroe. Citizens will have the opportunity to comment up to 3 minutes, near the beginning of the meeting, if they register prior to the beginning of the meeting in order to address the Commission.
At the Tuesday, November 12, 2019, meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, the Court appointed ten individuals to serve as the members. Under the legislation, the Commissioners Court nominated and chooses five (5) of the ten (10) members, while the Court will also choose the other five (5) from nominations from the Montgomery County Government’s Civil Service Commission, the Dispute Resolution Center (DRC), and the Montgomery County Bar Association (MCBA).
The Civil Service Commission, DRC, and MCBA nominated some outstanding individuals to fill the positions.
On October 8, 2019, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted unanimously, 4 to 0, to opt into the ethics commission provisions of the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act. Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley was absent from the meeting. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” drafted the Resolution and Order, which the Court adopted with little discussion.
Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright, after whom the 86th Legislature named the statute, was one of the most popular and highly-respected elected servants in the history of Montgomery County. He fought for government ethics at every turn and dreamed of enactment of an enforceable ethics code in the Montgomery County government. On Friday, June 14, 2019, Governor Greg Abbott, thanks to the hard work of State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of Conroe), State Senator Brandon Creighton (Republican of Conroe), Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, Montgomery County Attorney B.D. Griffin, and conservative activists including, among many, Montgomery County Republican Party (MCRP) Vice Chairman Reagan Reed, MCRP Treasurer John Hill Wertz, MCRP Finance Chair Kelli Cook, and MCRP Steering Committee member Jon Bouche, signed the JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act into law. The statute, effectively immediately, also brought profound changes to every local government entity in Texas with some additional benefits for Montgomery County and Chambers County.
The Lambright Act, which was House Bill 1495, during the 86th Texas Legislature started as a bill allowing Montgomery County to establish an ethics commission with an enforceable Code of Ethics but, thanks to the work of its brilliant author, State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of Conroe), and its sponsoring Senator, State Senator Brandon Creighton (Republican of Conroe), the legislation contained important statewide government disclosure provisions which are mandatory for all political subdivisions of the State of Texas other than junior college districts. The Ethics Commission will be responsible for drafting the Ethics Code to government the Montgomery County government.
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, 2019, 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 helped guide the broad outline of the bill.
There is no question, however, that Toth, his outstanding staff, Creighton, and his outstanding staff were instrumental in turning the Lambright bill into the Lambright Act. They worked closely with Representative Giovanni Capriglione (Republican of Keller) on the brilliant idea to add to the legislation mandatory statewide provisions which require every governmental entity to make public disclosures about their direct and indirect expenditures on taxpayer-funded lobbying. The one group of legislators, who had opposed the Lambright bill when it merely created ethics commissions for Montgomery County and Chambers County, quickly came to support final passage of the bill after Toth, Creighton, and Capriglione added the taxpayer-funded lobbying disclosure language in the final version of the legislation which came out of a House-Senate Conference Committee on Sunday, May 27, one day before the end of the 86th Legislative Session.
The Conference Committee report easily passed the Texas Senate on a 27 to 4 vote, thanks to the enormous influence and respect of Senator Creighton.
On the evening of Sunday, May 27, Toth went to the front podium in the House to move passage of the final Lambright bill. Yvonne Davis, a liberal democrat, raised a point of order. During the discussions in the well of the House, Davis accused the Republicans of trying to “shame” liberals for their use of taxpayer-funded lobbying. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen overruled the point of order, after State Representatives Briscoe Cain (Republican of Deer Park), Will Metcalf (Republican of Conroe), Toth, and Capriglione argued that the proposed legislation comported with the Texas Constitution and the Rules of the Texas House.
Toth moved for passage and Speaker Bonnen swiftly put the bill to a vote before the liberals were able to raise another point of order. The Lambright bill passed the Texas House on a 116 to 11 vote.
It was very apparent that Toth had put his full blood, sweat, and mind into passage of the Lambright Ethics Bill. Toth and Creighton came upstairs to the House Gallery on the Third Floor of the State Capitol to pass hugs around with some Montgomery County citizens who went to Austin to support Toth and Creighton.
Toth told The Golden Hammer on June 14, after Governor Abbott signed the bill into law, “The JD Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act that Governor Abbott signed into law this afternoon was truly a community achievement. JD and Belinda’s charity and decency inspired the legislation while the hard work of [Montgomery County Attorney] B.D. Griffin…helped Senator Creighton and me get it over the goal line. Honestly, there is a little sadness in my heart that JD isn’t here to celebrate with us. We know his legacy will continue to inspire Texas towards future greatness.”
Griffin, who went to Austin to testify in favor of the Lambright bill in a hearing before the Texas House County Affairs Committee, said, “”It was truly my honor to work with and for JD for six plus years. He was a man and an attorney of great integrity. The legislation is a fitting memorial to him and his legacy and impact upon Montgomery County will not be forgotten or diminished.”
The Montgomery County Republican Party’s Executive Committee, comprised of the elected Precinct Chairs, had passed a resolution in favor of the Lambright bill. MCRP’s elected Treasurer John Hill Wertz said, “JD Lambright was the consummate professional, treating everyone with respect. He made time for anyone he came into contact with. He was truly a servant of God and his constituents. He’s missed by all that knew him.”
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough also went to Austin to testify in favor of the Lambright bill before the House County Affairs Committee. Numerous political activists, such as MCRP Finance Chair Kelli Cook, expressed their support for the legislation.
In its final form, which Governor Abbott signed, the Lambright Act:
- Requires all local governmental entities, other than junior college districts, to disclose publicly all contracts and expenditures for the purpose of “directly or indirectly influencing or attempting to influence the outcome of legislation or administrative action.”
- Permits Montgomery County and Chambers County to establish ethics commissions with enforceable codes of ethics applicable to County government employees.
The Lambright Act was JD Lambright’s dream legislation. The statewide component concerned an issue – taxpayer funded lobbying – about which Lambright frequently to this newspaper. It is certainly fitting for this important statute to have Lambright’s name on it.
The five members of the Commissioners Court each nominated one person to serve on the Ethics Commission:
- Retired County employee Amanda Whittington, County Judge Mark Keough’s nominee;
- City of Conroe Community Development Director Nancy Mikeska, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador’s nominee;
- Former Magnolia Chamber of Commerce and current City of Magnolia Planning and Zoning Commission Vice Chair Anne Sundquist, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s nominee;
- Criminal defense attorney Casey Loring, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack’s nominee;
- Retired County employee Brian Stanley, Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts’ nominee;
- Retired Human Resources professional Bill Dornbos, Civil Service Commission nominee;
- Lone Star College Political Science Professor Tony Fuller, Civil Service Commission nominee;
- Lone Star College Mathematics Professor Francis Bourgeois, Dispute Resolution Center nominee;
- Retired Human Resources professional Charles John McBride, Dispute Resolution Center nominee; and
- Renowed family law attorney Janet Spielvogel, Montgomery County Bar Association nominee.
To be eligible for appointment to the commission, under Chapter 161 of the Texas Local Government Code, a person must:
(1) be at least 18 years old;
(2) be a property taxpayer in the county; and
(3) have resided in the county for the two years immediately preceding the date on which the person’s term will begin.