Image: Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright (October 25, 1945 – March 9, 2019) had fun at the Texas Motor Speedway on September 14, 2014, and posted, “Time to head into the office. Love this commute!!” Lambright knew had to have fun, especially with the love of his life, Belinda Cates Lambright, his wife who survived him. Nevertheless, Lambright also fiercely advocated ethics in government, especially inside the walls of the Sadler Administration Building in Conroe, Texas, where he served.
Conroe and Montgomery County, March 10 – Thanks to the efforts of State Representative Steve Toth, Republican of Conroe and The Woodlands, and a group of local government ethics reform advocates, significant steps have occurred to name the pending local government ethics bill in the 86th Texas Legislature “The Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act” after Montgomery County Attorney JD Lambright, who died yesterday morning after a brief battle against cancer.
Late Saturday, Senator Brandon Creighton, Republican of Conroe, who is authoring similar legislation in the Texas Senate, confirmed, “Yes, it would be an honor to do so,” in reference to naming the ethics reform legislation pending in the Legislature after the highly-respected Lambright.
Representative Will Metcalf, Republican of Conroe, said, “Great idea, Steve. I stand ready with you.”
Lambright fought for ethics reform in Montgomery County and spent an enormous amount of his time as County Attorney trying to promote ethical behavior inside the walls of the Sadler Administration Building and elsewhere in the Montgomery County government, which continues to have a reputation as “the most corrupt County government in Texas.” Lambright definitely had substantial work cut out for him in trying to bring ethical behavior to the corrupt Montgomery County government, yet he made significant strides before his untimely passing.
Toth’s proposed legislation, House Bill 1495, now called “The Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act” would give the Montgomery County Commissioners Court and Ethics Committee the ability to enact a Code of Ethics which the Ethics Committee could actually enforce. The Texas House of Representatives has referred Toth’s bill to the House County Affairs Committee.
A group of ethics reform advocates approached Toth and Texas Senator Brandon Creighton early yesterday to rename their proposed ethics legislation after Lambright. Dale Inman, a current member of the Ethics Committee, said “This would be a great way to honor a great man.” John Hill Wertz, the Treasurer of the Montgomery County Republican Party, added, “I agree wholeheartedly with this request.”
Jon Bouche, a member of the Republican Party’s Steering Committee and Board member of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District said, “I think this is a wonderful idea.” Kelli Cook, the forceful conservative leader who, along with Republican Vice Chairman Reagan Reed and Inman, led the Victory 2018 Republican General Election campaign, gave her “thank you” to Toth for his strong work in support of ethics reform and honoring Lambright.
Bob Bagley, who serves a Board member of the Montgomery County Hospital District, said, “It would be a great tribute for the work that Lambright did.” Paul Gebolys, author of Proposition 2, the statewide tollroad referendum which passed with 91% of the vote last year, explained, “Agreed, It is fitting, right, and proper to name the ethics legislation for this honorable public servant.”
Ginger Russell, renowned conservative activist, Republican Precinct Chair, and the Quiet Lady From Magnolia, said, “Totally agree with this. What a fine man JD was. We were all blessed to know him.” Betty Anderson, who has fought for conservative causes for three decades and lives the life of a Christian conservative, said, “What a wonderful plan. I agree!”
The Sage, Bill O’Sullivan, was among those pushing for this move as well and said, “Nothing is more compelling than an idea whose time has come.”
Lambright had lobbied internally for a Code of Ethics for several years after he became the County Attorney in 2013. In 2017, he received some help from the Texas Department of Transportation, which threatened to withdraw all state road funds for Montgomery County, unless the County enacted a Code of Ethics. Therefore, the corruption-replete County government finally had to start paying attention to Lambright, who drafted a Code of Ethics.
In March, 2017, the Commissioners Court reluctantly approved the Code of Ethics but provided the Ethics Committee with no enforcement power. Although Lambright had sought a much more precise ethics code, the Commissioners Court, especially Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, former County Judge Craig Doyal, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, didn’t want anything to interfere with their wheeling and dealing with County vendors behind the scenes. Riley even tried to appoint his former campaign manager, Linda Stuckey, and his best friend, former Sheriff Tommy Gage, to the ethics committee, so that Riley could continue to get away with unethical behavior.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon had asked in February, 2017, that the Commissioner Court “reach for the stars” in adopting an ethics code. Sadly, the Commissioners Court instead reached for euphemisms to have an appearance of maintaining an ethics code without actually having ethics.
Montgomery County’s government has a wide reputation in Texas for:
- Nepotism. For example, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley created a job for his wife Deanne Riley after the incoming Sheriff Rand Henderson made clear he would not keep Deanne Riley on his staff.
- Conflicts of Interest. Out-of-County vendors give hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of the Commissioners Court, especially Riley, Doyal, and others, in return for lucrative multimillion dollar County government contracts.
- Gifts. LJA Engineering and many other County vendors wine and dine members of the County Commissioners Court with the infamous LJA “Fishing Trip” in June of each year at the Hackberry Rod and Gun Club in Hackberry, Louisiana, hunting trips, “camping trips,” and other gifts. Halff Associates, Inc., and a group of real estate developers, including Rick Shelton of San Antonio and Waco, set up a legal defense fund for Doyal which funded his criminal defense.
- Secrecy. Although the Texas Open Meetings Act has become an unenforceable shell, Riley, Doyal, and others regularly violated it by holding secret meetings to avoid having to deliberate in public meetings in the open before the eyes and ears of citizens. Doyal and Riley, in particular, have fought for stringent secrecy to hide County decisions and operations from the public.
- Use of government property for private purposes. Montgomery County, particular Precinct 2 (Riley) and several County Departments, regularly use County government property for private and political purposes.
Lambright and his team in the County Attorney’s Office wrote a strong first draft of a Code of Ethics, but Doyal and Riley, in particular, refused to allow it to proceed. Lambright regularly dealt with the corruption of the Davenport Ring and often had to counsel County employees how to respond to the Davenports’ depravations against ethical behavior.
Toth’s legislation would allow the Commissioners Court to pass a Code of Ethics with enforceability similar to the Code of Ethics in El Paso County. Lambright supported the concept. County Judge Mark Keough included that proposal in his “Contract with Montgomery County” platform when Keough ran against Doyal for County Judge in 2018.
Lambright’s death is tragic. He was a wonderful person and continuously fought hard for what is right. Toth and others may allow Lambright’s name to symbolize ethics in government for an eternity.