Image: Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal began the colloquy with Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack with a nasty quip during the July 24, 2018, Commissioners Court meeting.
Conroe, July 25 – The discussion on Tuesday, July 24, 2018, among members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court over whether to hire Woodlands lobbyist Rob Eissler to represent the Montgomery County government got rather heated over personalities, transparency, and the consent agenda under which all members of the Commissioners Court, with County Judge Craig Doyal taking the lead, seek to hide important matters from the public view and from public discussion.
The Republican Platform and Legislative Priorities agenda oppose any taxpayer-funded lobbying. Nevertheless, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack decided to ignore those basic principles and hire Eissler with tax dollars anyway. After discussions with citizens, Eissler had indicated he would agree to two stipulations to his $4,000 per month contract for lobbying the upcoming 86th Texas Legislature in Austin: (1) Eissler would agree to a provision in the agreement that he would not lobby against property tax reform on behalf of any of his clients, and (2) Eissler would lobby for local legislation to permit the Montgomery County government to adopt a stronger and enforceable ethics code, with, of course, the second item raising the ire of Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who generally opposes ethics reform or ethics within the County government at all. Riley is well known for his nepotistic hiring of his own wife, Deanne Riley, in a position Riley created in the Precinct 5 Constable’s Office as well as for his hiring of his nephew to work in Riley’s own office as a county employee.
Doyal began by saying to Noack, “Commissioner, you put this under consent. We looked at this item a year ago. I was surprised to see it on the consent agenda.” Not only was the item on the secretive consent agenda but also there was no copy of the contract available for review.
Noack responded, “I just put it on the agenda. And it’s a professional services contract under $50,000 which every single one of those goes on consent. Not sure why you’d be surprised, but in any event…” Unfortunately, Noack’s response was an admission that he was, indeed, attempting to hide the item on the consent agenda, a secrecy methodology Noack has begun to follow regularly, as shown in his secretive hiring of Andy Dubois as his chief of staff and his hiring of Tim Stewart as the Building Maintenance Department Director.
Doyal interrupted, “After we talked about it a year ago is the reason…”
Noack said, “Doesn’t change the fact that this County needs to be doing a better job lobbying for state and federal funding to help with our highways and now with this flood program. And the agenda item is before the court and I move on that.” Unfortunately, Noack’s comment raises the question why Noack and the other members of the Commissioners Court could not do the lobbying themselves. At their enormously-bloated salaries of $168,000 per year, Noack and his Commissioners Court colleagues should certainly provide a lot of extra services as County Commissioners.
Doyal then asked, “Is there a second? [Silence.] The motion dies for lack of a second. Comments?”
Riley said, “I do think we need some help. I like what Rob Eissler is doing. I like what he’s doing with Woodlands, not Woodlands, Westwood Improvement District. I think we need some clarification on what he is going to be doing. We need to know. We need to know who he’s going to be reporting to. That’s something we need to talk about and get lined out before we approve somebody going somewhere else.” No one really understood Riley’s nonsensical finish to his remark.
Noack tried to respond, “Well, all of that was on the agenda, the whole contract. You could’ve read every page of it.” Actually, Riley couldn’t have read any of the pages, because the contract was unavailable other than an Open Records Act request.
Riley wittily answered, “Okay. I could have…”
Doyal said, “With Mr. Eissler reporting to Commissioner Noack.”
Riley continued, “And I didn’t. So I think we need to have a discussion. I don’t want to be the king of workshops, because I can’t seem to get TxDOT to agree to come to the workshop, but for something this important, I think we need we all need to have open discussion about how we’re going to do that what we expect, and I think that’s the direction we need to be headed.”
Noack snarkily responded, “However you want to see it proceed.”
Doyal announced, “The motion dies for lack of a second.”
Noack said, “Sorry, Rob.”
Riley chimed in, “It’s not ‘sorry, Rob.'” For once, Riley was correct. The Commissioners Court’s actions should never be for a private individual, no matter how powerful Eissler may be. Rather, the Commissioners Court should act for the citizens.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador said, “Obviously, it’s something we need to spend a little time on.”
Noack interjected, “Obviously, a year wasn’t long enough.”
Riley said, “A year wasn’t long enough. We never spoke about it since.”
Noack: “You know how many things get put on this agenda that we talk about in open court. And I would think that all of you would think we probably shouldn’t be talking anywhere but here about things like this. Now I think is a perfect time to address it, but if you don’t want to that’s up to you.”
Doyal said, “Under transparency, to see an item that important under the consent agenda was surprising to me.” [Publisher’s Note: Doyal may very well go to the bottom ring of Hades for eternity for the many layers of deceit contained within that comment of his.]
Noack, “Good Lord. You know anyone can pull anything to open. You know why it was under consent. It’s more wondering why your staff can’t put the backup on the agenda when they’re asked to.”
Doyal answered, “A lot of times we don’t get the backup, Commissioner.”
Noack: “You got it. Here’s an email. I think jim fredricks and Kimberly report to you. We asked them to put it on there as backup and they did not do it. I’m sure things will change in January.”
Meador: “We’ll bring it back, Rob, okay?”
Later in the meeting, after Noack had two private discussions with Doyal, Noack raised the Eissler issue again and offered to pay Eissler’s entire $48,000 contract out of Noack’s Precinct 3 Commissioners budget, since Noack wanted Eissler to work on lobbying the Texas Department of Transportation to widen and repair Interstate 45, lobby for other highway dollars, and lobby for state and federal flood mitigation funds. Sadly for the taxpayers, Noack left out the two stipulations above. Apparently, money trumps ethics. Apparently, money trumps tax relief.
After Riley agreed to pay for half of Eissler’s contract, as long as Eissler also reported to Riley (as well as Noack), the Commissioners Court voted unanimously to hire Eissler as a taxpayer-funded lobbying, in contravention to the Republican Party Platform.