Conroe, February 27 – Ever the one to operate in secret hidden from citizen oversight, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal has scheduled for the Commissioners Court to meet in a secretive Executive Session to select a “Budget Office” director. Doyal has afforded no citizen input whatsoever. In fact, he hasn’t even designated what the secret Executive Session concerns, although four confidential sources have confirmed that Doyal and the Commissioners have secretly interviewed candidates for the position of Budget Office director.
Although the candidates have strong resumes with respect to their financial backgrounds, neither Doyal nor any member of the Commissioners Court has dared to ask the interviewees what their philosophy is with respect to government spending. Furthermore, none of the candidates have had to provide documentation to show any success in cutting government waste or even in attempting to cut government spending at all.
As in many other county governments, the Montgomery County government’s “Budget Office” will become an apologist and rationalizer for the massive government spending growth Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have inflicted on the taxpayers.
During the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget considerations during the summer of 2017, it readily became apparent that the Commissioners Court and County Department directors had less knowledge about the County’s Budget than the members of the Citizens Budget Committee, which had provided a detailed report to the Commissioners Court and which Doyal and the Commissioners Court ignored. At the conclusion of the budget considerations on September 5, 2017, the Citizens Budget Committee presented a number of specific problems with the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, including contradictory proposals and items that didn’t make any sense.
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark voted against the Budget as a result of the haste of Doyal, Riley, and the remainder of the Court to pass any budget regardless of its content. Since that time, the County Commissioners Court has had to pass over two hundred budget amendments just to clean up portions of the mess about which the Citizens Budget Committee had warned Doyal and the Commissioners Court.
As with the budget itself, the Commissioners Court should permit citizen input. The final Budget Office director candidates should come before a public town hall meeting to answer questions about their budget philosophy and their qualifications for this important job. Since the Budget Director must be willing to go into each County Department and look for waste and inefficiency, the person filling that position should have the appropriate temperament both to be firm and courteous in such situations. Montgomery County citizens don’t need another County government bureaucrat to justify Doyal’s, Riley’s and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador’s terrible spending habits.
Montgomery County citizens don’t need another County government bureaucrat to justify Doyal’s, Riley’s and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador’s terrible spending habits.
The concept of the so-called “Budget Office” began with an inauspicious start. It was Doyal’s method of spending $400,000 of money that otherwise might have been the basis of an actual spending and tax reduction, which is the greatest nightmare in the ultraliberal world of the elitist Doyal. The following were the Citizens Budget Committee questions about the Budget Office created at the last minute during the closed budget hearing:
“Account 496 Budget Office”
“How can you establish a budget for this department without establishing any of the department’s goals or purposes first?
“Why can’t you establish a 0 dollar budget for this department and pull its necessary operating funds out of the County Auditor’s budget by budget amendments with the Board of District Judges approval?
“Why does the budget office require three employees?
“Could you please explain why the budget office requires a water cooler?
“Why does the budget office need $6718 for travel expense and professional development when it doesn’t even have goals or a purpose yet?
“How could you know that budget office requires $1000 for business cards and forms without establishing its purpose?
“What association dues does the budget office need that don’t directly overlap with the County Auditor’s budget?
“Aren’t you double-dipping from the County Auditor’s budget?
Of course, neither Doyal nor any member of the Commissioners Court (except Clark) were willing to address the foregoing questions.
If this newspaper’s discussion of the proposal sounds cynical, that’s only because of the history of Montgomery County’s utilization of a “Budget Office” concept and because of the history of Doyal’s complete lack of work or attention to the County’s Budget of proper management of County Departments. Doyal is an absent County Judge. He contributed nothing to the Budget process other than mismanaging the four-day “budget workshop” and then attempting to take the credit for the spending reductions almost all of which came from Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack’s work to reduce the County’s debt service (by $22 million) and Noack’s and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark’s work to reduce the spending within non-law enforcement County Departments.
Frighteningly, Doyal was instrumental in the termination of previous Budget Office Director Julane Tolbert in 2007 when Doyal (then Precinct 2 County Commissioner) and Meador didn’t like Tolbert’s proposals to reduce County government spending. By running a Budget Office under Doyal’s direction or even under the direction of the Commissioners Court, citizens will suffer another politically-charged department which will render opinions regarding spending, County management, County operations, and County efficiency that are little more than propaganda. For a comparison, look at the United States Congressional Budget Office, which is very much the same type of institution.
Chapter 111 of the Texas Local Government Code places the budgeting function under the auspices of the Board of District Judges who appoint a County Auditor as the Chief Budget Officer. While the Commissioners Court can segregate out the budget function from the Auditor – and should do so – it would be far more prudent for the budget to remain under the independent oversight of the Board of District Judges who are not as directly-involved in County politics.
Doyal’s effort to spend saved money on his “Budget Office”
The very creation of Doyal’s “Budget Office” is troubling. On Friday morning, July 28, 2017, Doyal announced to the Commissioners Court during the “budget workshop” that the Montgomery County government’s portion of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District (“MCAD”) Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 would go down from $2,293,255 (Fiscal Year 2017) to $2,184,000 (Fiscal Year 2018), a $109,255 savings, as a result of the County’s passage of a 20% homestead exemption, the passage for which Noack and local political activist Kelli Cook are primarily responsible. MCAD charges its budget based upon tax collections for each governmental entity. Since the County’s property tax collections will go down a small amount as a result of the 20% homestead exemption, MCAD’s charge to the County government will decline during the coming Fiscal Year.
Doyal has also had a $50,120.52 vacancy on his County Judge’s payroll for three years, although Doyal has taxed Montgomery County citizens for that amount each fiscal year. Doyal “contributed” those funds to the “Budget Office” as well.
Doyal told the Commissioners Court that the new County “Budget Office” would have a budget of $300,000 per year. Therefore, the Commissioners Court had to move another approximately $140,000 into the new bureaucratic political office Doyal has created.
Doyal told the Commissioners Court that he hoped that moving the “budget function” away from County Auditor Phyllis Martin will “allow her to do her auditor’s job,” but it will be interesting to see whether the Commissioners Court reduces the County Auditor’s Office’s budget by $300,000 to reflect its diminished responsibilities.
Illegal and improper executive session
Section 551.041 of the Texas Government Code, part of the Texas Open Meetings Act, the statute under which Doyal and Riley are already in a heap of trouble, mandates “A governmental body shall give written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of each meeting held by the governmental body.” The notice must be posted following a particular procedure of public posting 72 hours before the meeting. That means that Commissioners Court meetings beginning Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. must be the subject of a public posting at the Courthouse no later than the previous Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. The notice must include the subject of the meeting.
About 31 years ago, the Austin Independent School District landed in a bunch of hot water when they began to abuse executive sessions by failing to provide any notice of the subject of the executive sessions that they’d hold when they provided notice of the school district meetings. A newspaper chain, Cox Enterprises, Inc., filed a lawsuit against AISD and fought the issue all the way to the Supreme Court of Texas, which held on April 9, 1986, that before an executive session may occur under TOMA, advance written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of the executive session is required. A “reader…[must be] alerted to the topic for consideration” in order for the executive session to comply with Texas law.
Not surprisingly, the Commissioners Court, which appears to want to operate in secrecy, doesn’t give the proper notice oftentimes.
The agendas which County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks post, have many problems. First, since the public has begun to take a special interest in many topics – County payroll, ethics, spending – the agendas should include specific explanation of the items about those topics that will be under discussion.
An April 25, 2017, meeting notice provided notice for an executive session which only provided the following information: “DISCUSS AND DELIBERATE THE EMPLOYMENT AND DUTIES OF SELECTED PUBLIC EMPLOYEES.” Clearly, that meeting notice failed to apprise the public about the topics of the meeting, as it could easily have concerned any of approximately 2,600 employees in the County government alone.
Where the Montgomery County Commissioners Court seems to get into the most trouble, however, is in what they actually do during so-called “executive sessions.” Those executive sessions cannot, by law, involve deliberations or debate over County business matters, no matter what the topic. Numerous sources have confirmed that the Commissioners Court executive sessions regularly involved substantial discussion and debate among the County Judge, Doyal, and the Commissioners. While they don’t actually vote on matters, Doyal regularly announces that they’ve reached a “consensus,” a clear violation of TOMA’s open meetings requirements. That, of course, explains why the Commissioners Court rarely takes action in the open after they’ve held executive sessions, which are, by law, supposed only to be informational and not discussions of government policy.