Austin, January 17 – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts are attending the LBJ School’s and Texas Association of Counties’ “Seminar for Newly Elected County Judges & Commissioners” in Austin from January 14 to 17, 2019. It’s hard to imagine two people who are more different from each other than Keough and Metts who are undoubtedly spending considerable time together inside and outside of the hotel where the seminar is occurring.
Until a few weeks ago, Metts wouldn’t even speak to Keough whom the new County Commissioner blamed for what he told close associates were “brutal attacks” from the Freedom and Liberty Conservatives Political Action Committee (“FLCPAC”) and others. In reality, Keough had nothing whatsoever to do with the organization or its political advertising campaigns which supported bringing much-needed “reform” to the Montgomery County government. Keough’s Ronald-Reaganesque photograph, however, was the theme of the FLCPAC campaign, because the organization believes that Keough was and remains the “face of change to bring an end to the corruption in Montgomery County.”
Metts has calmed down considerably since January 1, 2019. Keough’s decision to give all of the spending savings from his and Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps’ salary reductions to Metts’ Precinct 4 Commissioner’s asphalt account during the January 8, 2019, Commissioners Court meeting warmed Metts up considerably.
Nevertheless, the two men are about as different as they can be.
Differences in detail
County Judge Keough won election on a campaign with enormous specificity in his political views and his positions when he came into office. Keough made clear that he would fight for actual spending reductions in the County government, against tollroads, and for ethics reform. He promised specifically that he’d reduce his salary by 12% during his first Commissioners Court meeting, a promise Keough obviously kept.
Keough went much farther, however, in details about his views. He signed the “no tollroads Pledge” unless there were voter approval first. Most significantly, Keough’s campaign emphasized an extensive “Contract with Montgomery County.”
In candidate forums with then-incumbent County Judge Craig Doyal, Keough displayed a stunning knowledge of facts and data with respect to County government issues. At the time of their debates, Keough was a State Representative, but he showed far greater knowledge of the inner workings of the Montgomery County government than did Doyal, who had been the County Judge for four years and a County Commissioner for twelve.
Metts’ campaign was the polar opposite of Keough’s. Metts actually refused to attend any candidate forums where he would have to debate or interact with his electoral opponents or with the citizens. During the entire campaign, Metts’ only public speech, other than at his own campaign event, was at one forum of the East Montgomery County Concerned Citizens where he gave a five-minute canned speech without any ability of the audience to question him on issues.
In fact, the entirety of the substantive discussion in Metts’ 2018 campaign for the job of Montgomery County Commissioner was “METTS 2018.”
Metts barely beat cancer survivor Jim Clark in the runoff election. Keough won the Republican Primary Election against Doyal by a landslide of more than 57% against an incumbent Montgomery County Judge.
Philosophy of government
Keough had an 88% rating from the grassroots conservative organization Texans for Fiscal Responsibility during the 85th Legislative Session. Keough largely voted against new spending initiatives and has made clear that he has opposed the upward curve in Montgomery County government spending.
Keough has opposed tollroads. Keough has supported ethics reform. At his campaign kickoff in 2017, Keough told the audience in the room that he was committed to “cleaning up Montgomery County, which has the worst reputation of any County government in Texas.”
Keough has made it clear that he believes in openness and transparency in the County government and that he’ll reverse the efforts of his predecessor to make County government operations more secretive.
Keough enjoyed broad support from the Texas Patriots PAC, the largest Tea Party organization in Texas, from the Montgomery County Tea Party, from Empower Texans, and from the FLCPAC. Conservative Republicans were overjoyed with his election and worked for him without rest to ensure his election both in the Republican Primary and in the November 6 General Election.
Keough has an open office. Citizens can readily meet with and communicate with the County Judge. He hired two staff members based entirely upon merit. Neither of his administrative employees had any involvement in Keough’s campaign for Montgomery County Judge.
Metts is a member of the Davenport Ring, the group of corrupt elected officials and politicians who take their direction from corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport. He received no endorsements from conservative activist groups. Metts did, however, enjoy immense support from his close friend Precinct 4 Constable “Rowdy” Hayden and former Precinct 4 Commissioner Ed Rinehart, both of whom are longtime former Davenport clients.
Metts was a direct vendor on the unpopular TX 249 Tollway for which he enjoyed a multi-million dollar logging contract. Metts has fought against ethics, openness, and transparency in the County government vehemently. His hiring practices when he was a JP were largely political and nepotistic. Metts hired his own live-in girlfriend as a direct report to him as a County employee. Metts also provided jobs to Hayden’s mother, Mett’s own first cousin, and a lady who did nothing but write a pro-Metts and pro-Hayden blog during County office hours.
In his new position as Commissioner, Metts hired his girlfriend and almost doubled her salary. He hired a convicted felon who worked on Metts’ 2018 campaign. Metts also hired terminated County Auditor Phyllis Martin.
Metts’ office is essentially closed to the public. Metts rarely meets with citizens. His hires are all political.
What the future will bring
It’s genuinely fascinating that Metts and Keough are spending so much time together in Austin as newly-elected officials. The program that they’re attending together includes presentations about the “Constitutional Basis of County Government,” “Budgeting in County Government,” a “Guide to Ethics & Disclosure Law,” “Personnel Issues,” “Open Records & Records Management,” and the “Effective Operation of Commissioners’ Court.”
Hopefully, both Metts and Keough will return from Austin committed to reform, to reducing the enormous spending and tax burden on Montgomery County citizens from the County government, and to openness, transparency, and accessibility.
The citizens of Montgomery County deserve the best from both of them.