Noack the Hero, Part 1 of 3: the Montgomery County Animal Shelter

Noack the Hero, Part 1 of 3: the Montgomery County Animal Shelter

Image: Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack on his way to the roads of south Montgomery County to conduct an inspection.

The Woodlands, November 30 – James Noack, Precinct 3 County Commissioner, knows how to get things done and, when he puts his mind to the task, they do, indeed, get done. Heroes aren’t perfect people. Look at Pericles, Abraham Lincoln, and even the United States of America. But they committed acts of heroism. This series examines three acts of heroism, which Noack has committed, during his five years on the job.

Heroism requires courage and bravery. It’s not always physical acts of courage that constitute the heroic acts. Sometimes, it’s acts of leadership that a community greatly needed and which no one else in the right position came forward to fulfill. That’s where the Montgomery County Animal Shelter was during most of 2016.

Animal Shelter history

After former Constable Tim Holifield sold the private contractor, Care Corporation, to an unpopular pair of veterinarians, the County government took the Shelter’s operations back in 2015 and turned them over to rookie Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, who had been a commissioner for less than a month at the time. The Commissioners Court was grossly unfair to Clark to stick him with that responsibility. Clark should never have accepted the responsibility that early in his tenure. The Animal Shelter became a disaster. Clark was on a steep learning curve as a public servant. The MCAS disaster has taught him the importance of listening to citizens who knew a lot more about how to run an animal shelter than did he.

On March 25, 2016, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, under County Judge Craig Doyal’s direction precipitously hired a new MCAS director, Todd “Boss” Hayden. Doyal failed to disclose to the public or anyone else that the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners had recently disciplined Hayden for animal cruelty during his treatment of an animal under his care.

Todd “Boss” Hayden (right) with a very unhappy creature (left). Hayden was the Animal Shelter Director from March 25, 2016, to December 12, 2016.

Under Hayden’s watch, the Animal Shelter became a sight for several animal abuse, filth, mis-treatment of volunteers, and wholesale chasing of volunteers away. Since animal shelters depend upon volunteers for their operations and for successful adoptions, the miserable animal population under Hayden swelled to over 700 animals on average, although Hayden satisfied some bizarre need for “lebensraum” (space) by euthanizing animals, even puppies and kittens, by the dozens daily. It was sick.

The crisis reached its zenith during Labor Day weekend in 2016 when an unannounced midnight inspection of the Shelter occurred on Sunday, September 4, 2016, after a couple interested in animals basically forced their way into the Shelter for the inspection and dragged a group of friends, animal experts, law enforcement, and Commissioner Clark with them. The group of citizens with the assistance of a Deputy in the Sheriff’s Office gained access to the Shelter just before midnight and conducted an extensive inspection of every room in the facility. The horrors they witnessed even brought tears to the eyes of the law enforcement officers who participated in the inspection. Suffering dogs, filthy cages, animals kept outside in the Texas heat without drinkable water, backed up feces, terrible disease, and even animals writhing in locked closets with broken bones were all aspects of what they saw. Clark displayed shock at what he had observed. He, along with the rest of the group, was speechless.

After both animal activists and political conservatives joined forces, under the leadership of Laurie Elliott, Bill O’Sullivan, Jacqueline Beaton, Geoff Litke, Minda Harris, Robbie Benson, and several others, the Animal Shelter was front page news almost every day in Montgomery County.

Noack joins the Animal Shelter reform efforts and becomes the leader

Noack got involved after he received reports of the midnight inspection of MCAS on September 4 and after reports of that inspection had begun to filter out into the community. Citizen activists had had enough of the refusal of the Commissioners Court to listen to their concerns.

Noack contacted one of the citizens and requested that he set up a meeting and tour of the Animal Shelter later that same day, Friday, September 16, 2017. Much to Noack’s surprise, almost fifty individuals from the animal caring community came to the meeting despite the short notice.

After a lengthy discussion and tour of the Shelter, Noack agreed to meet with citizen experts on animal care and shelter management (just as Noack had initially met with citizen experts on the County’s budget at the beginning of the 2017 budget cycle). Noack spent two full days – September 19 and 20 – gathering information from citizens who met with him in his County office. Noack then presented a draft report for Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and several citizen activists to review.

The final draft report, which both Noack and Riley proposed, became a working tool for the eventual improvements that came to the Animal Shelter. On September 27, 2016, the Commissioners Court, primarily at Riley’s urging, discussed the proposed citizen plan. The Commissioners held an Animal Shelter Workshop on October 5, 2016. On November 5, 2016, Noack participated in another detailed tour of the Shelter.

Finally, on December 12, 2016, a new director, Charles Jackson, replaced Hayden, and the Animal Shelter began to see substantial improvements. Noack worked closely with Jackson to ensure that the new Animal Shelter Director received the Commissioners Court support he needed.

Sadly, in an obvious political stunt to take control of the Animal Shelter away from Noack and the citizens who were helping Jackson to bring improvements to the facility and its inhabitants, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks held a secret meeting on March 24, 2017, with Jackson, made some unfounded accusations against him in violation of the County’s Employee Policy Manual, and eventually forced Jackson to turn in his resignation four days later. Please see “Doyal Violates County Human Resources Policy, Chases Animal Shelter Director Jackson Away With Politically-Charged Accusations In Secret March 24 Meeting,” The Golden Hammer, March 29, 2017.

Despite the Doyal-induced major setback, the Montgomery County Animal Shelter has moved forward in a positive fashion under its current Director, Aaron Johnson.

Acts of heroism

During a time period when the remainder of his colleagues on the Commissioners Court seemed afraid to take any responsibility for improvement of the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, Noack dove right into the middle of the issue when he arranged the impromptu meeting at the Shelter with the animal caring community the afternoon of Friday, September 16, 2016. Noack took a giant political risk that day. Animal rights activists, conservative political activists, dog lovers, and cat lovers are often very opinionated and strong-willed people. Noack brought them all together to try to bring the problems of the Shelter to an eventual close.

Noack’s act of bravery worked that day. Only three days later, the animal experts without that large group of people met with Noack, his community relations director Evan Besong, and others in the Precinct 3 Commissioner’s Office, to share their knowledge.

One of the signs of a great leader is the willingness to listen. President Lincoln listened carefully to his Cabinet, to his generals, and to the American people during the Civil War. Likewise, Noack genuinely listened to the ideas of the citizen-experts with whom he and Besong met and formulated a plan for the Animal Shelter directly from those ideas.

Just recently, however, The Golden Hammer, obtained a secret document from the Montgomery County government through an “open records request,” which revealed another sign of a great leader. Great leaders don’t always seek publicity for their acts of heroism. Sometimes, they perform those acts in appropriate privacy, which makes their courage stand out even more when history shines its light upon the behavior.

The secret document, which Noack has never sought to publicize and which he will not know this newspaper obtained until he reads this article, is a letter Noack wrote to “Boss” Hayden, the cruel and heartless Animal Shelter Director who presided over the Animal Shelter disasters of 2016.

Noack wrote the letter on August 31, 2016, addressed to “Dr. Hayden”. Noack chided Hayden first as follows: “In the last few months you have been disrespectful and insubordinate to members of Commissioners’ Court by use of profanity during Court and while addressing concerns with the public in reference to the Animal Shelter.”

In reference to a political philosophy book that a private citizen had given to Hayden as a gift, Noack continued the letter, “You recently showed a total lack of judgment and respect when you placed a book in the remains of animals that had been incinerated and sent the picture to the citizen who gave you the book. As a Director/Department Head you are held to a higher level of standards and are expected to treat everyone with respect also set set an example to all employees.”

Noack explained to “Boss” Hayden in the August 31 letter than Hayden had violated several policies within the Montgomery County Employee Handbook. Noack listed the specific policies.

Noack concluded the letter, “This type of behavior is not acceptable and I expect to see immediate and sustained improvement in your behavior.”

Noack never sought publicity for his condemnation of “Boss” Hayden. The August 31 letter Noack wrote to Hayden would never have seen the light of day if The Golden Hammer had not requested certain related records from the County government under the Open Records Act.

Taking actions that others wouldn’t and didn’t take, listening to the wisdom and expertise of others, and not seeking publicity for doing right are signs of heroism in Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack.

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