Image: As Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough (center) spoke against the secrecy proposal of Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack (second from left in Mohawk hairdo), Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador (far right) held his own head aloft at the tip of his fingers, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley (second from right) studied his own toes, and Noack marveled at Meador’s ability to balance his own head in his fingers. The three “establishment” Commissioners did everything they could to avoid paying attention to the County Judge as he spoke the truth. The Commissioners Court meeting was on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts seemed actually to listen to the proceedings.)
County Judge Mark Keough: “We’ve gone behind closed doors again.”
Conroe, June 12 – In a clear effort to seek to ensure that Montgomery County citizens never have the opportunity to review his hiring, firing, or salary spending decisions again – after his embarrassment for secretly hiring and promoting former Courier blog editor Andy Dubois as a public relations member of his Commissioner Precinct staff – Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack shoved secrecy down the citizens’ throats during the June 11 Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting. Noack enlisted his puppet, Montgomery County Budget Director Amanda Carter, to place an item on the meeting agenda, which read, “Consider and approve update to the budget policy authorizing County Commissioners Departments to open, close and modify department positions as needed following assessment by Budget Office. Departments will not exceed total authorized budget for current year.”
Basically, Noack’s proposal for which he hid behind the Budget Director, was to make secret all of Noack’s and other Commissioners’ employment decisions. As discussed below. Noack very much needs that secrecy.
Quite frankly, the June 11 discussion of this item was ugly.
The issue came to a head two weeks ago, when Noack angrily opposed a hiring decision of Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Matthew Beasley, because Noack felt slighted that Beasley didn’t come to Noack for approval prior to placing the hiring request for Beasley’s County Department on the May 28 Commissioners Court agenda. Noack tried to criticize Beasley’s hiring request, but the criticism backfired onto Noack who has at least three full-time, highly-paid employees on his Commissioner Precinct staff who do little more than public relations.Noack tried to hide the agenda item from public view by:
- Placing the item on the super secret “consent agenda” so that it would not automatically come forward to discussion in the open;
- Enlisting Carter to place the item under her name as a proposal supposedly from the Budget Office;
- Failing to include whatever the update to the budget policy actually would be.
On the posted agenda, the item appears under the category “Commissioners” rather than the Budget Office. Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, two other “establishment” Commissioners, voted with Noack in lockstep for the proposal to shroud all hiring within the Commissioner Precincts in secrecy. While personnel decisions will continue to appear on “Payroll Change Request” Forms, they will appear only after-the-fact when the personnel decision has already occurred.
Noack will now have the opportunity to make all of his hiring decisions in total secrecy with the exception that two non-elected individuals, the County Budget Director and the County Human Resources Director, will have some input (but not any sort of final decision power).
Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Pryor Bush issued a written letter to the Commissioners Court on Monday, June 10, in which she stated her opposition to Noack’s proposal:
“Regarding Item 9 F 1 on the consent agenda of tomorrow’s court, why would it be ethical for you gentlemen to be able to make whatever changes to your office’s staffing that are budget neutral to “this year’s budget” without bringing it to the full court, but your fellow elected officials are not? According to the state structure we are equal, the difference is that you approve our budgets. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. That is ethical. That is right. Whatever policies your fellow elected officials are held to, ethically should apply to you. That is right.
“This policy would be open to massive abuse. A change could be made that is budget neutral this year but that causes massive ramifications for next budget year. You would never allow your fellow elected officials to do this without your approval. Why should you? This policy would be the opposite of transparent and open government.
“Gentlemen, our county has a real opportunity to shift the course we have been on for decades – to look at all of our processes and procedures and to do the right thing, the ethical thing and to raise the bar for counties across the state. Please stand tall and proud by making the ethical choice in Court, not just the easy or convenient, legally-allowed choice. Make the right choice and either remove this item or vote it down.”
During the Commissioners Court discussion, County Judge Mark Keough, who voted againstNoack’s secrecy proposal, noted “We have never turned down a Commissioner. Why would we do this?…It usurps the Court’s authority we have under Article 5, Section 18, of the Texas Constitution.”
Keough, known as the “People’s Judge,” for his advocacy for the interests of the County’s citizens, said, “We’ve gone behind closed doors again” with Noack’s proposal.
Riley admitted the potential for abuse with Noack’s proposal but voted in favor of giving himself free rein as Commissioner. “An outgoing officeholder could put people under civil service if someone is leaving office” in order to protect his cronies from adverse hiring decisions, Riley said.
Noack was somewhat quiet during the initial discussion. Instead, Carter, the Budget Director, who seems to work solely for Noack rather than the entire Commissioners Court, interrupted Keough and gave an angry argument in favor of Noack’s proposal which would, of course, give Carter and the Human Resource Director, more authority over Precinct employment decisions unfettered by Commissioners Court review.
Keough then called for a roll call vote. Meador voted for Noack’s secrecy proposal. Riley then voted for Noack’s secrecy proposal. Keough spoke again and explained why he was voting “No” as to Noack’s secrecy proposal. Noack could no longer restrain himself and interrupted Keough, first demanding “can we just go ahead and vote now” and then referring rudely to Keough’s “magnanimous elocution,” a phrase which made no sense whatsoever in the context of the discussion.
Keough pointed out that, under Noack’s proposal, the only check on a County Commissioner will be whether the Budget Office Director and the Human Resource Director approve the Commissioner’s hiring decision. Neither the Budget or HR Director, however, are elected. Instead, they’re appointed bureaucrats. Keough explained that, taking such authority away from the Commissioners Court, was a violation of the Texas Constitution which vests the Commissioners Court with the authority and duty to manage and operate the governmental business of the County government.
The last vote was of Precinct 4 County Commissioner Metts who, obviously sensed how disturbing Noack’s proposal was. Metts ultimately announced he was “abstaining” from the vote. Later during the meeting, Metts explained a request to hire an inspector, with no budget increase, to assist hardworking Bill Smith, the road and bridge manager within Metts’ office. Keough offered Metts the option of not explaining the decision to hire an inspector, based upon the passage of Noack’s secrecy proposal. Obviously, however, Metts felt ethically embarrassed to partake of Noack’s secrecy, so Metts publicly explained his rationale for the hiring decision regardless of Noack’s urging of governmental secrecy.
Noack has three full-time employees on his payroll who seem to constitute little more than his entourage, Dubois and two others:
- Dubois, “Manager of Precinct Projects,” salary $103,745.46, plus benefits of $41,809.42, for total $145,554.88;
- Evan Besong, “Chief of Staff,” salary $110,588.06, plus benefits of $44,566.99, for total $155,155.05; and
- Cody Grimes, “Public Relations,” salary $60,840.06, plus benefits of $24,518.54, for total $85,358.60.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget Noack’s salary that he voted to give himself! Noack’s salary is $174,831.26, plus benefits of $70,457.00, for total of $245,288.26.
Noack’s entourage costs taxpayers at least $631,356.79 per year! It’s little then that Noack doesn’t want the public to see his employment decision out in the open.
On his taxpayer-funded website, Noack states, “Our mission is to provide government leadership through fiscal responsibility, transparency, and diligence.” Noack may wish to consider a revision to his taxpayer-funded website to speak the truth: “Our mission is to promote citizen service to the government through diligence, opacity, and spending as much money as we can before you catch us.”