Riley’s Tollway debacle: Charlie Riley single-handedly killed voter referendum on the $107 million TX 249 Tollroad

Riley’s Tollway debacle: Charlie Riley single-handedly killed voter referendum on the $107 million TX 249 Tollroad

Image: Bad guys dress in black.

Magnolia, May 15 – Charlie Riley, the Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner, single-handedly killed a voter referendum on the $107 million, 3 mile, TX 249 Tollway. The road, also known as the “Decimation of Hope Highway,” will be the most expensive road on a per-mile basis in American history.

Montgomery County’s Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley had great enough difficulty just presenting a report about Precinct 2 road bond projects during a presentation to the Magnolia Area Republican Women at Magnolia High School on Monday, September 18, 2017. When Riley opened the event to questions from the floor, however, the Commissioner descended into a heightened state of befuddlement as almost all of the inquiries concerned the proposed $107 million, 3 mile, Tx-249 Tollway, a topic about which Riley revealed he has little understanding. The 3 mile tollroad project is also known as the “Decimation of Hope Highway.”

Calvin Russell, husband of a Republican Precinct Chair from Magnolia, asked Riley, “Commissioner, are you for or against [having a voter referendum on the proposed tollroad] and why?”

Riley timidly answered, “I’m not for or against it. The county attorneys said we couldn’t put anything like that on the ballot for a referendum for any opinion.” He paused and then added, “I would always want someone to be able to vote on something like that.”

Commissioner Riley: “I’m not for or against it. The county attorneys said we couldn’t put anything like that on the ballot for a referendum for any opinion… I would always want someone to be able to vote on something like that.”

During that meeting, Riley made clear that he would support conducting a voter referendum for or against the TX 249 Tollway, if the citizens’ tax dollars were put into the project. On April 24, 2018, however, Riley voted in the Commissioners Court, along with County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, to put $5 million of general revenue tax dollars into the TX 249 Tollway project, in addition to the $13.25 million of Montgomery County government funds already put into the crazed road project.

In total, Montgomery County citizens have funded $18.25 million for Riley’s TX 249 Tollway, all 3 miles of it:

  • $5 million of general revenue tax dollars Riley put into the TX 249 Tollway on April 24, 2018;
  • $10 million of general revenue tax dollars Riley previously gave to the TX 249 Tollway under the original agreement;
  • $0.25 million of general revenue tax dollars Riley previously gave to the TX 249 Tollway under another agreement;
  • $3 million of revenue from the SH 242 flyover tolls Riley transferred into the TX 249 Tollway project.

Riley still didn’t insist on a voter referendum, despite his promise that he’d do so if general revenue tax dollars went into the TX 249 Tollway project. Riley has tried to hide behind his September, 2017, excuse that the “county attorneys” told him “we couldn’t put anything like that on the ballot.” The Golden Hammer interview Montgomery County Attorney J.D. Lambright who confirmed that he never advised Riley on that issue one way or the other.

Riley kills the citizens’ referendum: Chapter 284 of the Texas Transportation Code

Doyal, Riley, Muller, and Palmer intend to issue the unpopular bonds for the unpopular TX 249 Tollway project under Chapter 284 of the Texas Transportation Code. Chapter 284 includes Section 284.037(c), which provides:

“The authority to issue the revenue bonds is subject to the right of referendum provided by Section 252.045, Local Government Code.”

Section 252.045(b) of the Texas Local Government Code provides:

“If a petition [calling for a voter referendum] is not filed, the governing body may finally award the contract and issue the time warrants. In the absence of a petition, the governing body may, at its discretion, order the referendum.” (Emphasis added.)

There it is. Right there in the statute under which Doyal and Riley intend to stick these bonds to the citizens of Montgomery County so that they can funnel $95 million into the hands of their favored engineering firms and contractors, in addition to $12 million paid through a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation. Right there, even though Riley has said repeatedly that the lawyers have told him that a referendum is not permissible. Right there, even though Doyal has said you can’t have a voter referendum for these types of bonds.

As a matter of fact (and law), there are two ways under Chapter 284 of the Texas Transportation Code and Chapter 252 of the Texas Local Government Code that a voter referendum could proceed. First, the “governing body,” i.e., Riley and the Commissioners Court, could “order the referendum” under Section 252.045(b). Second, there could be a citizen petition calling for a referendum as long as the citizens submit the petition before the Commissioners Court “lets” the contract, which normally would mean to enter into a contract with a construction company to build the road after bond funds are obtained through the bond market, so the funds are available to enter into a contract. (Counties may not, under Texas law, enter into contracts, unless the County Auditor certifies that funds are available for the County government to pay.)

That second means of having a voter referendum – a citizen petition – is precisely the reason that Riley worked with the tollroad lawyers and Doyal to ensure that there could be no petition. On May 8, 2018, Riley voted along with Doyal and Meador to proceed under a small portion of the construction contract with SpawGlass Construction. Since they haven’t issued the bonds, and probably won’t issue them until some time in July, Riley had to figure out a method with the lawyers to stop a citizen petition dead in its tracks. That’s precisely why Riley, Doyal, and Meador took another $5 million from the taxpayers on May 8, so they could use those funds to pay $5 million down out of the total $56 construction contract with SpawGlass Construction.

In other words, Riley specifically spent $5 million of general revenue County government taxpayer funds in order to prevent the taxpayers from having the right to submit a citizen petition to require a vote on the Tollway. If Riley had voted with Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack not to spend that $5 million until after the revenue bonds were issued, the citizens would have approximately three months to gather signatures on a petition.

Noack told The Golden Hammer, “Senator Creighton and I worked very hard in our negotiations with TxDOT. It’s unfortunate that the actions of the Commissioners Court cut our legs out from under us and the citizens, because of the limited timing allowed with regards to the petition. Hopefully, our legislators will work to push forward legislation to require all votes for all tollroads in this next legislative session, or at least make it easier for citizens to require voter referendums by a petition.”

As conservative activist and Campaign for Liberty Gulf Coast Regional Coordinator Kelli Cook has explained, “It just wasn’t realistic to try to gather 20,000 signatures in a 2-week period. Riley killed the right of voters to have a referendum.” Cook has led successful citizen petition drives against red light cameras and is very familiar with methods to find success in those types of voter actions.

The voters have a different viewpoint

On March 6, 2018, statewide, 1,372,554 Texans voted for Proposition 2 – against tollroads – in the Republican Primary Election, while only 154,077 voted against it. That represents an 89.90% in favor to 10.09% against margin. Montgomery County voters, however, provided an even larger margin of victory for Proposition 2 in the March 6 Election. Those results are particularly interesting. Countywide, Proposition 2 passed by a huge margin of 43,915 voter in favor to 4,187 votes against, or 91.30% for with 8.70% against.

PROPOSITION 2: NO GOVERNMENTAL ENTITY SHOULD EVER CONSTRUCT OR FUND CONSTRUCTION OF TOLL ROADS WITHOUT VOTER APPROVAL.

The Golden Hammer examined Magnolia-area voting precincts, because County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have argued that the Magnolia area supports the TX 249 Tollway – specifically as a tollroad – even if there is no voter approval. Doyal and Riley were wrong. Voting Precinct 29, where the Precinct Chair is none other than Linda Stuckey (Riley’s former campaign manager), in the heart of Riley’s and Doyal’s area of greatest support, the voters voted in favor of Proposition 2 – and against tollroads unless they receive voter approval first – by 89.85% for and 10.15% against. More significantly, in Riley’s Commissioners Precinct 2, 91.72% of the voters voted in favor of Proposition 2.

Riley killed the right of voters to approve or disapprove the TX 249 Tollway. He can’t blame “the county attorneys.” He can’t blame anyone but himself.

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