Image: Letter from Magnolia Independent School District to Republican activist Ginger Russell of Magnolia, dated October 27, 2017.
Magnolia, November 1 – In order to try to protect Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, in part, from allegations that he used a Magnolia Independent School District truck for his political campaign, the Magnolia ISD produced a clearly manufactured-for-the-purpose “invoice” to Riley for $100 for the use of the truck. Amazingly, the cover letter the school district sent over the invoice to Ginger Russell, Republican Precinct Chair and conservative political activist, gave away the fact the school had created the document in response to Russell’s Open Records Act request.
Sequence of events
On Friday, October 13, 2017, Russell and her ally, Kelli Cook, a major grassroots political leader in Montgomery County, close associate of Dr. Ron Paul (former Congressman and presidential candidate), and active member of the Liberty Belles Republican Women, began an investigation of Riley’s use of governmental property, equipment, and employees for Riley’s political campaign. Russell and Cook photographed and video-taped Riley, Riley’s wife (a County employee on County property during County business hours, and several County government employees making preparations for Riley’s political campaign event the next day.
Early in the morning on Saturday, October 14, 2017, Russell and Cook observed, photographed, and video-taped Riley, Magnolia ISD Superintendent Todd Stephens, and at least two Magnolia ISD maintenance workers loading a Magnolia ISD truck at the Magnolia ISD Administration Building with Riley’s personal band equipment stored at the Administration Building for free. The school district employees then transported the equipment to the site of Riley’s political campaign kickoff, unloaded the equipment, participated in Riley’s campaign presentation, loaded the equipment back onto the school district truck, transported it back to the Administration Building, and unloaded the equipment with Riley and Stephens there to help with the unloading and re-storage of the equipment.
On October 14, 2017, as he introduced members of the “Charlie Riley Band” standing among the band’s privately-owned equipment to the sparse crowd during Riley’s campaign kickoff, a political event, and standing in the Unity Park Pavilion, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley of Montgomery County announced,
“We ended up trying to get to places where we had to have some help, so Dr. Todd Stephens [Magnolia ISD Superintendent] gave us or let us borrow a couple guys from Magnolia ISD…maintenance guys who help us load this equipment, and move it around from place to place…and one of them’s missing, but we’ve got Mr. Louis Bennett. He’s our roady!”
Riley openly admitted that, for personal and political campaign purposes, Riley and Stephens use Magnolia Independent School District maintenance workers to help them load, unload, transport, and store their equipment.
During the October 14 Riley “campaign kickoff,” Riley also utilized some County-owned electrical carts as a “train” to carry passengers attending Riley’s campaign kickoff from where they parked to the site of the event. On October 15, 2017, the carts were back in the Commissioners Precinct 2 barnyard behind the locked and gated fence.
On October 16, 2017, Russell submitted a formal request under the Texas Open Records Act to the Magnolia ISD for any purchase orders for the use of the school district truck, equipment, and personnel and any invoices.
After waiting for eleven (11) days, the school district finally responded by October 27, 2017, letter to Russell (shown above). In the response the school district told Russell:
“Enclosed please find documents responsive to your request for public information dated October 16, 2017, a copy of the Accounts payable sent/or to be sent to the Charlie Riley campaign regarding the use of ISD equipment.” (Emphasis added.)
Unbelievably, the Magnolia ISD couldn’t even just provide the letter that was “sent.” Instead, they admitted that the invoice was “sent/to be sent”!!! Obviously, someone in the school district created the invoice after Russell sent the Open Records Act request!
Furthermore, Magnolia ISD made clear that there were no other responsive documents, thus clarifying that neither Riley, Stephens, nor anyone else had requested the use of the school district vehicles in advance under any payment arrangement. The school district allowed Riley and his political campaign to use the school district employees, storage facilities, and musical equipment for free! The school district only charged Riley $100 for use of a large box truck for the entire weekend.
Russell told The Golden Hammer, “This political abuse by not only County Commissioner Riley but the Magnolia ISD superintendent Todd Stephens is out of control. It is not only against policy to use district vehicles for personal use but it’s against the Texas Transportation Code. I have no doubt this abuse has been going on for sometime but they just finally got caught.”