Image: Then Montgomery County Judge-Elect Mark Keough (right) and Kim Keough, the First Lady of Montgomery County, at the White House on December 10, 2018, where they represented Montgomery County well.
Conroe, January 27 – It was early. It was transparent. It’s a major step in the direction of government openness and transparency.
Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough’s team in his County Judge’s Office posted the Commissioners Court agenda for the Tuesday, January 29, 2019, meeting, at approximately 11:15 a.m., Friday, January 25, 2019. The agenda was like a breath of fresh air.
While not perfect, and while it still contains a “consent agenda” which will enable substantial and significant County government decisions to occur without the open deliberations Texas public policy requires, Keough and his team made a major step in the right direction.
Keough’s Chief of Staff, Jason Millsaps, explained, “I asked our staff to get this agenda done. Amanda Whittington and Kimberly Sutton did all of the work and deserve the credit.”
Millsaps is absolutely correct: Keough’s administrative assistants Sutton and Whittington, both seasoned County government employees, deserve Montgomery County’s thanks for the hard work that was so apparent in formulation of a very different looking agenda from those under the monstrous era of Craig Doyal’s secrecy and closed government.
Now, let’s be clear. It’s the form, not the substance, of the January 29 agenda, which marks a great improvement for the Montgomery County government.
First, Millsaps and Keough made certain that they posted the agenda as early as possible during the day on Friday, January 25, 2019. That marks an enormous contrast with Doyal and his secretive “chief of staff” jim fredricks, who would wait to post the Commissioners Court agenda as long as possible, so that the other members of the Commissioners Court and the public would have as little time as possible to review and prepare for the meeting.
Posting early in the business day on Friday is an enormous improvement, because it affords the Commissioners and the citizens an entire additional business day to review the Court agenda and seek additional information if necessary. Many citizens submit Texas Public Information Act/Texas Open Record Act requests to various County departments in response to the agenda posting in order to obtain additional information before the Commissioners Court meeting. By posting the agenda early, Millsaps, Keough, and their terrific staff, Whittington and Sutton, afford the citizens much needed additional time.
Second, and perhaps most important of all, Millsaps and Keough have instituted a policy that County Department heads, including members of the Commissioners Court, must include all backup materials for their agenda items on the agenda. The backup materials are now available in links online under each agenda item.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed through three confidential sources inside of the Montgomery County government that at least one of the Commissioners and two department directors balked at providing the backup material to the Commissioners Court for inclusion in the agenda.
During the Doyal secrecy era, Doyal would often intentionally leave backup materials away from public view, so that he and his political allies could try to avoid scrutiny with respect to agenda items they supported. There were dozens of occasions when the Commissioners Court would approve contracts, adopt resolutions, and approve reports which they literally had never viewed or reviewed. The Commissioners Court approved the multimillion dollar Enterprise Resource Planning software contract blindly without review, because Doyal, fired County Auditor Phyllis Martin, and disgraced former County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport secreted the contract from others.
Third, Keough’s team attached the entire spreadsheet showing the Payroll Changes under consideration during the Commissioners Court meeting. During the Doyal cloak of secrecy, some of the most significant changes within the Montgomery County government occurred under a cloud of darkness.
In 2018, the Commissioners Court approved the hiring of the Editor of the Courier blog as a County government employee without knowing it! They’ve hired convicted felons and previously fired employees without knowing what they did. They’ve given raises, demoted people, and transferred employees from one department to another without knowing what they were doing.
While the formal Payroll Change Request Forms are not yet a regular attachment to the agenda – according to Millsaps that is coming in the near future – the spreadsheet showing the payroll changes is a link appended to the online version of the Commissioners Court agenda.
Since there are few better windows into the corruption and hyper politicalization of the County government by some of the Commissioners, seeing the payroll spreadsheet in the light of day is a major step towards openness.
The next step clearly is to end the horror show of the “consent agenda” once and for all time.