Image: Embattled Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport.
Conroe, December 16 – In trying to hide her government office policies and procedures from the public, County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport is seeking to violate both the Texas Open Records Act/Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act together. Ignorance and viciousness are a bad combination for an elected official, but Stephanne Davenport (and most of the Davenport Ring of corrupt officials and candidates who follow the direction of her husband local political boss Marc Davenport) suffer from those attributes.
The whole ugly mess Davenport has created will play out during the Tuesday, December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting, a venue where the County Treasurer has certainly shown her ugly side in the past. Please see “Treasurer Davenport: ‘There’s A Huge Lack Of Integrity There” In The County Human Resources Department,” The Golden Hammer, March 14, 2017.
Open records request
On December 1, 2017, Conroe Independent School Board of Trustees President Melanie Pryor Bush, who also happens to be a citizen and member of the public, made an Open Records Act request to County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport for her procedures manual and accounting procedures as well as some other government records. Bush is running against Davenport for County Treasurer as a reformer in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election.
Almost immediately, Davenport contacted the County Attorney’s Office to seek help in keeping her County Treasurer procedures manual and accounting procedures secret. Three sources inside the County Attorney’s office have confirmed the facts in this story.
Assistant County Attorney John McKinney contacted Bush and told her verbally that Davenport would only allow Bush to view the procedures manual at the Sadler Administration Building but would not allow Bush to have copies of the open records. Bush told McKinney that she would agree to the procedure initially but reserved the right to receive copies.
Meanwhile, McKinney informed the Texas Attorney General’s Open Records Division of the proposed procedure. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office immediately informed McKinney that the procedure of only allowing viewing of the documents but not copying, was not compliant with the Texas Open Records Act. McKinney told Davenport on Wednesday, December 13, 2017, who then instructed the County Attorney’s Office to withhold the procedures manual and accounting procedures entirely.
On Thursday, December 14, 2017, McKinney sent Bush a letter on behalf of Davenport formally to respond to Bush’s Open Records Act request. Davenport, through McKinney, told Bush that the County Treasurer’s Office accounting procedures and procedures manual would not be disclosed, because Davenport claimed the Open Records Act provided three exceptions under which the requested documents fell:
- Davenport is claiming that the County Treasurer’s accounting procedures and procedures manual are “confidential” generally under Section 552.101. Davenport has not explained how accounting procedures of a public office could possibly be confidential (even if Davenport wants to hide those public documents from the public). Davenport has not explained how a general claim of “confidentiality” could possibly comport with the Open Records Act’s stated public policy of “openness.”
- Davenport is claiming that the County Treasurer’s accounting procedures somehow constitute “the name of an applicant for the position of executive director, chief investment officer, or chief audit executive of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas” under Section 552.154 of the Texas Government Code. That’s pretty pitiful. Hopefully, Davenport doesn’t really believe that or her problems may go beyond ignorance and viciousness.
- Davenport is claiming a right to “common law privacy” to withhold the requested information. Once again, Davenport clearly has no understanding of Texas law, the Open Records Act, or the Texas Government Code. “Common law privacy” would cover an individual’s right to privacy under very, very limited circumstances. Bush, however, made clear to Assistant County Attorney McKinney that she agreed that any individual names or passwords contained in the procedures manual could be redacted, a common procedure for Open Records Act requests. Of course, those redactions would raise the question: why are individual names or passwords in an accounting procedures and procedure manual at all?!
Davenport has instructed McKinney to seek a formal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether she must withhold the documents. Davenport has also already instructed McKinney and the County Attorney’s Office to sue Paxton in the likely event that Paxton will rule that Davenport must turn over the documents!
Clearly, Davenport knows that Texas Attorney General Paxton will rule against her, but she doesn’t want the public or Bush to see her accounting procedures (or lack thereof) or her procedures manual (or lack thereof) prior to the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election. Davenport wants County taxpayers to pay for her legal expenses to delay and hide information from the public.
The sequence of events gets worse: Davenport’s bizarre Commissioners Court agenda item which violates the Texas Open Meetings Act AND the Texas Open Records Act
In her desperation to hide her accounting procedures and procedures manual, County Treasurer Davenport submitted one of the strangest agenda items ever proffered for a Commissioners Court meeting. Amazingly, Davenport has sought to have the Montgomery County Commissioners Court try to supersede Texas law, which the Texas Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law long ago.
Davenport’s requested agenda item originally, as submitted, read, “Consider and Discuss the Adoption of a Policy That Deems Procedures As Proprietary.” She submitted that agenda item for the Tuesday, December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting. Davenport made the submission on the same day when McKinney reported to Davenport that Paxton would not permit a mere viewing of the requested public information.
There are numerous problems with Davenport’s initial request:
- Government documents are “proprietary” usually because that term describes something in the form of a trade secret that gives a business enterprise a competitive advantage. Proprietary information can sometimes come into the hands of a government entity if, for example, a private company has provided the information within a bid package. Phonoscope, the fiber optic cable company, that the Davenport Ring is seeking to foist on the Montgomery County government, claimed that all of its proposals and communications were proprietary under the Texas Open Records Act. The Texas Attorney General disagreed and required the production of documents to this newspaper.
- Davenport wanted to draw a cloak of secrecy basically on every document that set forth internal procedures for the entire County government. That’s contrary to the policy of “open government” and “open records” that the Texas Legislature made clear is a fundamental public policy of the State of Texas.
- Davenport had no specific proposal for what the “policy” would be, which violated the requirement that the notice be “sufficiently specific to alert the general public to the topic to be considered,” as the Supreme Court of Texas has made clear.
- The Commissioners Court cannot overrule Texas law put on the books by the Legislature and the Governor. That’s a violation of the “separation of powers” doctrine in the Texas Constitution.
County Judge Craig Doyal, whose daughter works for Davenport in the Treasurer’s Office as a nepotistic hire, seems to go along with whatever Davenport wants, as protecting his daughter’s salary and position is Doyal’s top priority. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Doyal’s “chief of staff” jim fredricks happily placed Davenport’s bizarre agenda item on the draft agenda on Wednesday, December 13.
Unfortunately for Davenport, there are some people inside the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office who have some integrity. Both McKinney and Assistant County Attorney Amy Dunham objected to the proposed agenda item and made their concerns known to fredricks.
Unfortunately, fredricks and Doyal operate outside of the law. Therefore, they merely changed Davenport’s proposed agenda item to make it even more bizarre without further review from the County Attorney’s Office.
Therefore, the County Treasurer’s actual agenda item in the posted December 19, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting agenda reads, “CONSIDER AND DISCUSS OFFICE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES AND POTENTIAL DISCLOSURE OF SAME.”
There are numerous problems with Davenport’s actual agenda item, mostly the problems listed in bullet points above. But the vagueness of the actual agenda item is a clear violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Davenport and any Commissioners Court member who engages in any action or discussion under such a vague provision would clearly violate the Texas Open Meetings Act. (Of course, Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley don’t really seem to care, because they don’t believe the Texas Open Meetings Act applies to them. Please see, e.g., “Texas Attorney General Paxton Sides Against Montgomery County Judge Doyal, Commissioner Riley In Texas Open Meetings Act Criminal Case,” The Golden Hammer, October 18, 2017.)
Neither Davenport nor County Attorney J.D. Lambright responded to requests for comment.
Bush, told The Golden Hammer, “One of the core tenets of my campaign is transparency. These documents directly involve how the County Treasurer’s Office and the entire County government spend our tax dollars. We should know how they’re doing it. The public has every right to know whether those measures are the most efficient measures possible.”
If County Treasurer Davenport’s bizarre performance during the March 14, 2017, Commissioners Court would provide any clue, the public may see another outburst from the County Treasurer as she reads another Marc Davenport-written speech with appropriate cues when she should have emotional moments while slinging arrows at her political opposition and the public-at-large.