Image: Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough spoke to the Montgomery County Tea Party at their regular meeting on Monday, February 4, 2019.
Conroe, February 5 – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough spoke to the Montgomery County Tea Party on Monday, February 4, 2019, and told the audience, “It’s easier to work with people when you’re not demeaning them…but whatever you do, hold your ground.” Keough’s comments were apparently in response to conservative activists who were concerned about some of his positions during his first two Commissioners Court meetings.
Keough, as a brand new Montgomery County Judge who has only served five weeks in office, is working diligently to build relationships with his colleagues on the Commissioners Court, Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, and Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts. Keough has voted with and sponsored several spending and hiring proposals of Metts so far.
Keough said, “I don’t believe you can always unify people. But you’ve got to stop holding grudges. It’s easier to work with people when you’re not demeaning them. Act like Christians with them. But whatever you do, hold your ground.”
The County Judge began his talk a bit more lightheartedly, “My name is Mark Keough and I am your County Judge. Who would have ever thought?” He continued with a wry smile, “I love what I’m doing.”
Keough tried very hard to justify his votes on the Commissioners Court to date before a tough crowd of conservative Republican activists, which were a major part of the core of Keough’s base in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election. Keough told a story about how an elected Constable told him “I love my job but I hate the politics” to which Keough responded, “…then stop being a politician. Don’t sit there and try to manipulate and control the situation. Just do your job and see if the people will continue to elect you.” He added, “I’m out on that deal, because sometimes the people who supported me they’re not very happy with me. But I’m going to do what I believe I should do.”
Judge Keough told the group, “I especially want to discuss my Contract with Montgomery County,” which was his election platform during the 2018 election. He then discussed several improvements he’s made so that the Commissioners Court agenda is more accessible to the public, including posting the agendas earlier on the Friday before the week of Commissioners Court, so there would be a full day for the citizens and Commissioners to “review and research” agenda items. “I believe we’ve made some major strides. We had to see what was going on. I wanted to see how the agenda process took place,” Keough said.
The County Judge drew hearty applause when he discussed the 12% cut in his own salary he took. “We need to lead by example. It’s given me a level of moral authority,” he noted.
Keough was very critical of his predecessor and those who would have him just continue the work of Craig Doyal. “People tell me I need to develop institutional knowledge. We have court violations that have been front page-worthy and a 140% increase in taxes with only a 2 cent drop in the tax rate. We just got our homestead exemption while other counties have had it since 1989. Thank you Kelli Cook. So how has that institutional knowledge worked out for you?”
Keough tried to distance himself from the ethics reform he had promised during his campaign and upon which State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) and State Representative Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) are working to pass to allow the Commissioners Court to enact a Code of Ethics which has enforcement powers. Keough derided the idea of an ethics committee which could fine County employees for ethics violations. Referring to Doyal and Riley, Keough said, “They already paid $300,000 in attorney defenses and they did it anyway…If you want good people, you should elect them.” Keough seems to have changed his position and no longer supports enactment of legislation which would give the Commissioners Court the power to enact an enforceable ethics code, similar to the one which has worked very effectively in El Paso County.
Keough told the group that he had successfully nominated Montgomery County Republican Party Vice Chairman Reagan Reed to the Ethics Committee. The audience applauded the announcement.
“It’s my goal for Montgomery County to be the leader in how we budget and how we operate,” Keough said. He discussed his commitment to eliminate “ghost employees,” positions which are vacant for lengthy periods of time but for which the taxpayers must pay in taxes as part of the County Budget.
The County Judge reiterated his commitment to remove tolls when tollroads are paid. His comments drew substantial applause and support. (Hopefully, Judge Keough will work to remove the SH 242 flyover tolls immediately.)