Image: Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal enjoys a good laugh.
ERIC YOLLICK, The Golden Hammer
Conroe, May 6 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal posted the Agenda for the Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 9:30 a.m., Commissioners Court meeting with two features that are signs of the shroud of secrecy with which Doyal has covered the County government to hide its wasteful spending, inefficiency, and ethical violations from the citizens.
First, as is always Doyal’s practice, Doyal has included a length (9 page) “consent agenda” of items on which Doyal does not intend for the Commissioners Court to have any discussion but merely to pass. The so-called “consent agenda” includes $7.993 million of spending in one agenda item as well as several hundred thousand dollars of other spending proposals.
The “consent agenda” also includes 129 pages of Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Amendments. That’s not a typographical error. There really are 129 pages of amendments which the County Commissioners Court will pass in the blink of an eye without any public hearing or discussion. The procedure, which the Commissioners Court regularly follows under Doyal’s leadership, could not be a clearer violation of Texas Budgetary Law in the Texas Local Government Code.
The “consent agenda” also includes several pages of payroll changes requests. Back in the days of County Judge Alan B. Sadler through December 31, 2014, the Commissioners Court Agenda would actually include payroll changes on the agenda itself. Now, Doyal doesn’t even provide the members of the Commissioners Court with copies of the payroll changes on which they’ll vote. The Golden Hammer had to obtain the payroll change requests through confidential sources inside the County government.
Haste Makes Waste
Doyal is far too busy focusing on his golf game to issue a correct agenda for the Commissioners Court meeting.
Item 18A on the agenda provides notice that County Attorney J.D. Lambright will make a presentation regarding revisions to the regulations for sexually-oriented businesses (“SOBs”) in the unincorporated area of Montgomery County.
When The Golden Hammer sought more information about the nature of the agenda item on this important topic to protect the quality of life in our community and to protect home values as well, we discovered that Lambright did not intend to make the presentation at all. Instead, the proposal for revisions to the SOB regulations came from Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon’s Office. It’s likely that Assistant District Attorney Tyler Dunman will make the presentation to the Commissioners Court.
The Commissioners Court agenda contains one slight improvement. Doyal has allowed the plebeians to have some knowledge about the substance of the Executive Session he intends to run towards the end of the meeting. The Executive Session, as noticed, pertains to employment of a new purchasing director, after Doyal fired Darlou Zenor as Purchasing Director last year after she responded to an Open Records Act request too quickly in order to aid a citizen.
On April 27, 2017, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal issued a press release in which he admitted to facts constituting a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act concerning a new hire. The Montgomery County Commissioners Court seems to have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by hiring a new Director for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter (“MCAS”), Aaron Johnson, after a secretive interview and executive session during the Tuesday, April 25, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting when the animal shelter position was not even mentioned on the meeting agenda.
After the lengthy executive session concluded, four of the five members of the Commissioners Court came into the open meeting. Doyal announced, “There is no action necessary out of executive session.” The meeting then adjourned.
The problem arises because Doyal stated in a press release issued earlier that day that “The court agreed to offer the position to Mr. Johnson, and he formally accepted Wednesday.” The only instance in which the Commissioners Court could have “agreed to offer the position to Mr. Johnson” would have been during the executive session, which is illegal.
It is a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act for the Commissioners Court to take any final action, decision, or vote anywhere other than in an open meeting properly noticed under the statute, as the Supreme Court of Texas has consistently held since its 1986 decision in Cox Enterprises versus Austin Independent School District. Executive sessions are not acceptable locales for decisions.
Numerous judicial opinions, as well as Attorney General Opinions, have held that, during executive session, members of a governmental body may only ask questions and seek information. They may not discuss, debate, or form a consensus on issues involving the business of the governmental body.
By the way, there’s nothing on the Commissioners Court agenda to clean up the problem that the Commissioners Court never actually took any action to hire Johnson, with one sadly funny exception: hidden deep in the Payroll Changes that are not appended to the “Consent Agenda,” the Commissioners Court would approve – without any notice to the public or to themselves – the hiring of Aaron Johnson as a “Replacement for Charles Jackson.”