Image: Spring fever must be in the air. Montgomery County’s elected servants seem to be smelling corruption and rushing to embrace it as quickly as possible.
Conroe, June 13 – The “most corrupt County in Texas” has rushed to embrace more corruption during the past several days. Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Pryor Bush, Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, a majority of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors, and ol’ Charlie Riley have placed corruption on a pedestal.
County Treasurer Bush’s husband goes to work for major County vendor, as Bush openly celebrates the corruption!
Early yesterday (Wednesday, June 12, 2019), elected Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Pryor Bush published an announcement on social media in which she bragged, “Now that he made made it LinkedIn official, I am allowed to say something. I am so excited for my husband. Alan [Bush] is starting his new job today as a partner at Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP!”
The law firm, Linebarger Goggan Blair, collects ad valorem taxes and receives payment as a percentage of the amount collected, thereby creating an enormous conflict of interest for the County Treasurer. They are a major vendor for the County government.
Linebarger, Goggan law firm is one of the largest vendors of the Montgomery County government. As a partner, Alan Bush, who was not a tax or collections lawyer previously and was recently trying to begin a mediation practice after he had shut down his employment law firm, will have an ownership interest in the tax collection firm. Linebarger, Goggan receives fees from Montgomery County based upon the percentage of collections, so the higher taxes and tax collections are means the Bushes will enjoy a larger income.
Linebarger, Goggan employs Maris Blair, the daughter of Jim Blair and stepdaughter of Nelda Blair, and Nelda Blair as lobbyists for the law firm to support higher spending and taxation through the Montgomery County government. Both Maris Blair and Nelda Blair are registered lobbyists.
Additionally, the Manager of Linebarger, Goggan’s Conroe office is none other than Jeff McRae, the husband of Tammy McRae, Montgomery County’s Tax Assessor-Collector.
One individual, who is a manager of Linebarger, Goggan, spoke with this newspaper on the condition of anonymity and confirmed that the firm and Bush had agreed to general terms of the partnership since late March, and that the law firm’s primary interest in Bush is his connection to the County Treasurer and his ability, as a result, to market for the law firm both to the County government and to local school districts as a result of Bush’s previous position of President of the Board of Trustees of the Conroe Independent School District.
From a general ethics standpoint, the relationship between Linebarger, Goggan, the Bushes, and the McRaes clearly stinks to high heaven. The performance of both County Treasurer Bush and Tax Assessor-Collector McRae in their public offices could easily directly impact the tax collections available to Linebarger, Goggan to collect. The employment relationships with a major County vendor go far beyond an appearance of impropriety and dive deeply into the appearance of receiving favors from Linebarger Goggan for the continuation of the County’s contract which is quite lucrative for Linebarger, Goggan.
Even Montgomery County’s Code of Ethics, as weak as it is, would seem to prohibit County Treasurer Bush and Tax Assessor-Collector McRae from continuing to perform their job duties. It’s important to note that the County Treasurer regularly makes dozens of disbursements to Linebarger, Goggan in the “payment of accounts” every two weeks. The County Treasurer’s job performance will directly impact tax collections necessary for the County government, an argument even Bush made during her campaign for the office. There are several provisions of the “Procurement” section of the Code of Ethics which would seem to have import to this circumstance.
Since he is married to the Montgomery County Treasurer, one particularly troubling aspect of Alan Bush’s recent employment with Linebarger, Goggan is Article VI.3, Prohibited Acts, which provides, “County Public Servants shall not acquire a financial interest at a time when they believe or have reason to believe that it will be directly affected by their official act. County Public Servants shall not profit by any knowledge they acquired solely from their official position with the County, which information is not available to the general public.”
Since Martha Gustavsen retired as the longtime and beloved Montgomery County Treasurer in 2013, the Office of County Treasurer has suffered severe ethics problems under the bizarre and corrupt leadership of Stephanne Davenport, whom Bush defeated in the March 2018 Republican Primary Election. It’s genuinely sad to see the Bushes plunge the troubled County Department into more controversy while brashly bragging about the move as though it were some sort of accolade.
This newspaper attempted to reach both Bushes by telephone and was unable to do so.
Noack plunges his office into secrecy
Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack has driven a gigantic increase in salaries during his tenure in office since 2013. Noack sought a ten percent (10%) increase in salary, even though Montgomery Count Commissioners are among the highest paid elected servants in Texas.
In each of 2016 and 2018, Noack pushed a three percent (3%) across-the-board salary increase for every County government employee as a pretext for raising his own salary far above any cost-of-living-adjustment.
Additionally, Noack has replaced the road and bridge focus of his top employees instead with a public relations team costing Montgomery County taxpayers approximately $400,000 per year. Noack was very resentful of the public focus on his secretive hire of former Courier blog editor Andy Dubois, a member of the “Solid Gold 50” highest paid County government employees. Noack also didn’t appreciate the request by Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Matthew Beasley to hire a new Court Administrator without Noack’s approval, according to several County employees familiar with the situation who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from Noack.
In reaction, Noack pushed a resolution through the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on Tuesday which permits County Commissioners to engage in hiring and employment decisions in secret. Clearly, it will be difficult for citizens to provide positive accolades to Noack’s Commissioner Precinct in the future, because the veil of secrecy will cover the actuality behind what Noack tries to make the public believe he’s doing.
Riley and the Tollroad
As reported yesterday, “Commissioner Riley Receives ‘The Golden Hammer Award’ For $1.2 Million Of Theft From General Tax Funds For Decimation Of Hope Highway (TX 249 Tollroad),” The Golden Hammer, June 12, 2019, Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley has repeatedly promised that Montgomery County taxpayers would receive full reimbursement, with interest, for County tax dollars taken for Riley’s and disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal’s $95 million, 3 mile, TX 249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway.
Secret documents, which The Golden Hammer obtained, show that Riley and Doyal took approximately $1.2 million in unreimbursed funds for the tollroad project which they failed to repay to the taxpayers.
Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District plunges into secrecy
The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) took a troubling turn towards secrecy and away from transparency at the Board of Directors’ June 11, 2019, meeting.
First, despite warnings, the Board engaged in an illegal executive session. Under the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) and under judicial opinions thereunder, a governmental entity may not hold an executive session – a secret part of the meeting away from the public – unless the agenda announces the specific purpose. Meetings with LSGCD’s attorney don’t generally provide a rationale for executive sessions, because TOMA is very specific about the narrow purposes for which meetings with an attorney behind closed doors may occur.
Interestingly enough, LSGCD’s nemesis, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), recently agreed to come into compliance with TOMA on this precise issue of providing full disclosure of the specific purpose of executive sessions in SJRA’s meeting agendas.
Second, LSGCD has apparently moved into some sort of siege warfare modus operandi with a vote to require all LSGCD consultants to maintain strict confidentiality under written non-disclosure agreements. LSGCD’s General Counsel, Stacy Reese, attempted to argue that the non-disclosure agreements would only require confidentiality of information excepted from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act.
Reese’s argument fell apart, however, when pro-citizen Director Jon Bouche noted that the actual language in the proposed non-disclosure agreements, none of which the Board made available for public view before or during the meeting, broadly defined “confidential information” to mean “any valuable information complied, developed, or acquired for business use and not generally available to the public, including without limitation any legal, permitting, engineering, marketing, technical, public relations, or financial information, or any information regarding strategy, proposals, or business operations, and any other information or materials whether in verbal, visual, written, electronic graphic or other form and whether disclosed orally, electronically, or otherwise in the course of discussion or studies or other work undertaken between the parties including without limitation all notes, analyses, work papers, drafts, compilations, studies or other documents, whether prepared by District, Recipient, or their Representatives.”
Clearly, LSGCD’s Board’s intent is to shroud its information in secrecy in the broadest possible fashion far beyond any of the narrow disclosure exceptions under the Texas Public Information Act.
The Board’s vote to plunge its consultants’ information into secrecy would seem to constitute a direct violation of the Texas Public Information Act.
Therefore, the vote in favor of the non-disclosures was particularly shocking since the citizens elected the entire Board of Directors on November 6, 2018, as a pro-citizen Board whose members had promised to end the secrecy under which LSGCD had operated while it was an appointed Board. Here’s how the vote occurred:
- Director Larry Rogers – voted FOR the secrecy from the public;
- Director Webb Melder – voted FOR the secrecy from the public;
- Director Harry Hardman (who has become a major advocate for Board secrecy) – voted FOR the secrecy from the public;
- Director Jim Spigener – voted FOR the secrecy from the public;
- Director Jon Bouche – voted AGAINST the secrecy from the public;
- Director Jonathan Prykryl – voted AGAINST the secrecy from the public.
On a 4 to 2 vote, which sadly included Rogers, Melder, Hardman, and Spigener, LSGCD has voted to keep its consultants work secret and has taken a bold step towards numerous direct violations of the criminal and civil provisions of the Texas Public Information Act.
The LSGCD Board also discussed a so-called “media policy” under which members of the Board of Directors are to clear their public remarks with LSGCD’s staff before making them. That way the pro-regulatory bureaucracy will keep a firm grip on Board members who choose to cooperate with the censorship of their comments.
When individuals who claim to run for office as pro-citizen reformers veer sharply towards secrecy and corruption, absolute power has corrupted absolutely.
Sadly, it appears the Bushes, Noack, Rogers, Melder, Hardman, and Spigener have sharply turned against Montgomery County citizens.