Power Top Ten: #9 John Holzwarth and Montgomery County government vendors’ “deep state”

Power Top Ten: #9 John Holzwarth and Montgomery County government vendors’ “deep state”

Image: Engineer John Holzwarth (right) represents the “deep state” of Montgomery County government vendors who exercise vast control over the Commissioners Court and its decisions. More than any other member of the Commissioners Court, Mike Meador, the Precinct 1 County Commissioner, enables the “deep state.” In this photograph Holzwarth and Meador appear at Meador’s May, 2015, “Camp Party” where many of the County’s vendors appear and give sizable contributions.

Conroe, December 4 – Engineer John Holzwarth, along with the “deep state” of Montgomery County government vendors who exercise vast control over the Commissioners Court and its decisions, is the ninth (9th) Most Powerful Person of the Top Ten Most Powerful People in Montgomery County. Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, who was last year’s #5, and lame duck County Judge Craig Doyal both get “assists” because they’ve been so instrumental during the past two decades in placing so much power in the hands of the engineering vendors, who largely conduct County government matters without oversight (other than from Holzwarth himself.)

The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, continues the tradition of listing the Power Top Ten, the ten most powerful people in Montgomery County. The Power Top Ten doesn’t commemorate the ten best people in Montgomery County necessarily, but the most powerful people who are actually able to accomplish political or policy goals. In other words, he or she can get things done in Montgomery County. This year is the second that The Golden Hammer is publishing this list. In 2016, the Publisher of this newspaper published the list on social media before this newspaper began.

So far, The Golden Hammer has named one member of the Power Top Ten:

#10: United States Congressman Kevin Brady.

It’s important to note the work of Meador and Doyal, who are very much behind Holzwarth.

Meador’s influence, as the senior member of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, remains substantial. His health has declined and his energy has most certainly waned. Meador’s greatest influence, however, has been to funnel County tax dollars into the hands of his chosen vendors over the years.

No vendor has enjoyed greater support from Meador than Holzwarth. Others, such as Bobby Jack Adams’ Halff Associates, Inc., may have larger contracts in gross dollars. Nevertheless, Meador has been the driving impetus behind establishing Holzwarth as the true County Engineer who manages road and bridge projects in almost every sense for the County government. Holzwarth, thanks to his financial relationship with Meador and their resulting friendship, has become the “Road Engineer,” the de facto County Commissioner overseeing road projects in Commissioners Precincts 1 (Meador), 2 (Riley), and 4 (Clark).

Doyal obviously is on the way out the door. His last Commissioners Court meeting is December 18. He lost by a landslide margin in the March 6 Republican Primary Election to Montgomery County Judge-Elect Mark Keough.

Don’t discount for one moment the vast impact Doyal’s relationship with engineering firms has had since he became a County Commissioner in 2002 and County Judge in 2015. Doyal has been very close with many different engineering firms to whom he has worked to funnel hundreds of millions of tax dollars. When Binkley & Barfield’s Dave Hamilton got married last year, it was no surprise that Doyal and his best friend engineer Bobby Jack Adams attended the event together.

Engineering firms and some interested real estate developers behind the TX-249 Tollway monstrosity formed Doyal’s legal defense fund and helped him to hire his criminal defense lawyers. They’ve raised massive funds to pay for Doyal’s criminal legal defense as well as Riley’s.

If you look at the list of contributors to the members of the Commissioners Court, there is an enormous correspondence between those contributors and Montgomery County vendors.

Just for the calendar year 2018, the numbers are striking. The five members of the Commissioners Court reported total contributions of $421,533.96 during 2018. Of those contributions, $355,055 came from Montgomery County vendors (most of whom don’t even live in Montgomery County.)

84.23% of the political contributions to the five members of the Commissioners Court during 2018 came from County government vendors.

84.23% of the political contributions to the five members of the Commissioners Court during 2018 came from County government vendors.

Montgomery County’s government is very much “for sale.”

Here is the breakdown among the members of the Commissioners Court:

96.2% of Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark’s contributions came from County government vendors.

91.9% of Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s contributions came from County government vendors.

85.3% of Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack’s contributions came from County government vendors.

73.3% of County Judge Craig Doyal’s contributions came from County government vendors.

61.6% of Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador’s contributions came from County government vendors.

The low numbers of Meador, Doyal, and Noack are deceptive, because adding in contributions from real estate developers would bring their numbers close to the range of Riley and Clark.

Political contributions don’t appear to emanate from a desire for the public good. They’re all about a return on investment.

#9: Engineer John Holzwarth and Montgomery County’s “deep state” of County government vendors

Although the landscape has begun to change, County government vendors still have long tentacles of control over the decisions of the County Commissioners Court and the County government.

Engineer John Holzwarth has “greased” the wheels of government almost every campaign finance reporting period with standard contributions between $1,000 and $5,000 to Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and to three of the Montgomery County Commissioners (Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark). Noack does not do business with Holzwarth.

Holzwarth’s “investments” have paid off nicely. On November 20, 2018, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court awarded Holzwarth two contracts in the amount of $946,800. What is particularly appalling about the two contracts from just a few weeks ago is that Holzwarth is not providing design work or construction. Rather, Holzwarth is merely to “assist the County with management of design consultants, surveying, and mapping…”, to “provide Construction Management and Inspection Services…”, and to “provide other related services as needed” for the Sorters Road and Old Houston Road bond projects. Very clearly what Holzwarth will provide at a very dear cost to the taxpayers are precisely the services that citizens pay County Commissioners to perform.

Holzwarth’s two Precinct 4 contracts will bear an enormous profit margin, since Holzwarth will only provide limited services himself. Instead, he’ll be overseeing the “management” of two contracts under which other firms will charge the taxpayers to perform. He’ll use staff whose services he’s marked up massively for hefty profits.

Holzwarth’s lucrative arrangements with Montgomery County go far beyond such contracts.

Holzwarth charges Montgomery County $200 per hour pursuant to an open-ended contract that has no maximum amount which the County may pay him for his services. The County Commissioners Court approves his invoices and payments on the Consent Agenda without any County Judge or Commissioner oversight whatsoever. The County approval is perfunctory only to make the citizens believe there is some oversight, because the County actually cuts checks for and pays Holzwarth’s invoices before the Commissioners Court meetings.

Holzwarth essentially acts as the statutory “road transportation engineer” for the County government, even though the taxpayers already pay official County Engineer Mark Mooney an exorbitant salary (tenth highest in the County government) to perform his job duties.

Removing the statutory “road transportation engineer” Mooney from the road projects and replacing him with political contributor Holzwarth is both an enormous waste of county tax dollars as well as an important mechanism to ensure that County road dollars flow in the tens of millions to other engineering firms, such as Halff Associates, Inc., Binkley and Barfield Engineers, Dannenbaum Engineering, and Costello Engineering, among many others, who are major political campaign contributors to County Judge Craig Doyal, Riley, Clark, and Meador.

As he continues to bless the work of other engineering firms who provide large political contributions, Holzwarth acts as the overseer to make sure the engineering dollars continue to flow.

Holzwarth truly is the enabler of the deepest of the “deep state” in the Montgomery County government. When taxpayers approve road bonds, what the voters don’t realize is that the amounts of those engineering contracts awarded from the bond funds is outrageous. No one – literally no one – oversees the prices the engineering firms charge the County government other than perfunctory glances from Holzwarth once in a while. Speaking under condition of anonymity, one engineer with one of the above-named firms has confirmed that engineering firm profit margins from government work are 2 to 3 times their margins from private work, and Montgomery County has a reputation for awarding the highest prices for its engineering and construction contracts of any County government in Texas.

The reality, however, is that Holzwarth and the system which he oversees for Doyal and Meador merely represents the largest facet of the “deep state” of vendor control which has developed inside the County government.

The $15 million boondoggle, known as the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project, actually has no ceiling on its price and presently falls under the supervision of three County employees all of whom the voters or their representatives have terminated as of December 31: Doyal, County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport, and County Auditor Phyllis Martin.

Despite the policy of open government which the Texas Legislature has demanded by statute in the Texas Government Code, the secrecy surrounding the ERP project is staggering. After this newspaper took some photographs of the empty room where the ERP project would proceed, Doyal ordered that the changing of the ERP room’s locks, so that the County employee who allowed some transparency would no longer have access to the room. Doyal, Martin, and Davenport have been very secretive about the entire project over the past three months, although they have spent millions of tax dollars on seemingly nothing. Employees have lost their jobs over sharing too much information about the ERP project.

Considering the fact that Davenport and Martin were both leaving the County’s employ by December 31, it has worried several County Department Directors that the two of them seem to have an unusually strong interest in moving the ERP project forward and spending all available funds for it as quickly as possible.

Another example of the havoc of Montgomery County’s “deep state” of vendor control over County government policies was the implementation of Phonoscope fiber optic cable in several County departments without any contract between the County government and Phonoscope. Phonoscope has strong ties to corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport, the husband of County Treasurer Davenport. Davenport clearly has pulled the strings of Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks with respect to IT projects.

Without Commissioners Court approval and without even giving any advance notification to the impacted Departments, Phonoscope showed up to “drop” cable in several County Departments.

Large swaths of County government policy occur as a result of secret decisions between Holzwarth and other county vendors. When Doyal had to plan strategy to move the approval for the TX-249 Tollway through the Commissioners Court as quickly as possible, he held meetings in his conference room behind the Commissioners Courtroom with engineer Bobby Adams, attorney Rich Muller (another vendor and major political contributor), fredricks, and Riley.

The “deep state” of vendors, which Holzwarth represents more than any other engineer, clearly has enormous power over the direction of the County government.

With Doyal and Clark leaving, the “deep state” will linger after them. Clark’s two major contracts to Holzwarth tie incoming Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts to continue to work with Holzwarth. Meador and Riley are enormous Holzwarth aficionados.

 

 

 

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