Image: On June 11, 2019, Noack hid behind Budget Director Amanda Carter who placed his proposal on the agenda to allow him to make hiring, firing, promotion, and other personnel decisions in secret. Noack’s proposal was completely irrational and harmed Noack more than it helped Noack or anyone else. It illustrates the fact that group decisions generally aren’t based upon rationality and often emanate from the garbage can.
Conroe, June 20 – He’s done a lot of good. He runs his Commissioner Precinct very well. In the past, he’s claimed to be conservative, although his record voting for higher spending and pay raises for himself and higher salaries is very troubling. He’s argued for openness in government many times and sharply criticized disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley for their secretive behavior.
Then why in the world did Precinct 3 Montgomery County County Commissioner James Noack push a resolution, Agenda Item 9F1, to allow County Commissioners to hire, fire, promote, and make other personnel decisions in secret, hide behind Budget Director Amanda Carter who placed his proposal on the agenda as though it were her proposal, and then argue vehemently for that resolution in the June 11, 2019, Commissioners Court meeting?
The answer? Noack’s behavior arose from personal anger, strong emotions, and a desire for payback, which the County Commissioner couldn’t control.
Elected servants aren’t robots. None of them are perfect. In fact, most of them are very imperfect and often have little self-control.
Andrew Marshall, the late Director of the Office of Net Assessment in the Pentagon, spent an entire career studying irrational group behavior, particularly in the Soviet Politburo and General Staff. Renowned business researchers Michael Cohen, James March, and Johan Olsen presented a broad model to describe the decision behavior of organizations, such as the Commissioners Court, in their famous paper, “A garbage can model of organizational choice,” which appeared in Administrative Science Quarterly in 1972 and largely drew from Marshall’s research at the Pentagon and RAND Corporation. Basically, Marshall and the “garbage can theorists” argued that organizations don’t act rationally. Human emotions are too strong for groups of decision makers to over come them.
Sadly, that’s precisely what explains Noack’s Agenda Item 9F1. Noack was angry that Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Matthew Beasley made an important hiring decision to hire Natalie Laurent as Beasley’s office manager without consulting Noack, and Noack was particularly angry that he (Noack) took the heat for high County salaries rather than Beasley. Noack has three public relations employees in his office, his Chief of Staff Evan Besong, his Manager of Precinct Operations Andy Dubois who used to be the editor of the Courier blog, and Cody Grimes.
Noack was also upset that the Commissioners Court had voted to allow Commissioners to hire and fire low-level Operators, the lowest road and bridge positions, without Commissioners Court review. Therefore, Noack seized the opportunity to try to hire his top-level public relations team members in the future in secret.
The proposal made Noack look terrible. Even Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Pryor Bush, who suffers from very serious ethics problems as a result of her husband recently taking on a job as a partner with a major Montgomery County government vendor, criticized Noack openly for Noack’s 9F1 agenda item proposal.
Likewise, County Judge Mark Keough, the “People’s Judge,” made the statement in the June 11 Commissioners Court meeting that “We’ve gone behind closed doors again” in response to Noack’s proposal to hide his employment and personnel decisions from public scrutiny.
Noack allowed his emotions to remove the best of him. Noack made himself look terrible. Of course, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, who is an enormous proponent of secrecy because so many of his actions seem so dim-witted, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador voted along with Noack for more secrecy in government.
Keough voted against what Noack pulled from the “garbage can” of irrationality. Even Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts seemed embarrassed by the proposal. During the meeting, Metts actually made a special point of explaining his hiring of a new position, a road inspector, for $40,000 per year, rather than try to hide behind Noack’s 9F1 resolution. Metts ultimately abstained on Noack’s resolution.
Where does Noack go from here?
Noack needs to listen to his constituents a whole lot better than he has in recent months. He’s cloistered himself inside his office with a phalanx of PR people protecting him. Noack is the only member of the Commissioners Court without an email address which constituents may use to communicate directly with him. His telephone number is not publicly available. Noack doesn’t like when constituents ask him to vote a particular way on subject matter before the Commissioners Court, even though it’s his job to listen to such constituents.
Noack also is the member of the Commissioners Court who has the opportunity to show genuine leadership on spending reductions in the County government and a giant tax rate decrease to along with those spending reductions. Of course, without spending reductions, a tax rate decrease is merely an illusion, because families’ property tax bills would still increase, as a result of the ever higher property tax appraisals.
The Golden Hammer‘s rating system follows the Platform of the Republican Party of Texas.
The Golden Hammer‘s ratings measure Commissioners Court votes that affect spending in comparison to the provisions of the Republican Party of Texas Platform. Points are good. The number of points depends upon the amount of money involved in each vote.
The Commissioners Court, all of whom claim to be Republicans, violated the Republican Party Platform on almost every vote during the March 26 meeting. They violated Plank 144 in particular, which provides:
“144. Government Spending: Government Spending is out of control at the federal, state, and local levels, and action is needed.”
The editorial staff of this newspaper sincerely hopes that Plank 144 is simple enough that even the members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court might understand it.
Commissioners Court meeting, June 11, 2019, 9:30 a.m. All Court members were physically present.
Vote #1 – Noack’s secrecy proposal discussed above. Noack’s bonehead move costs him a 1,000 point deduction. It made him look terrible. It pull a Doyal-ish cloak of secrecy over the County’s road and bridge operations. Major vote. Proper vote was “No.” It was a three (Noack, Riley, Meador) to one (Keough) to one abstention (Metts) vote. Major vote. 25 points.
Taking slush funds carried over from other budgets to pay for the spending explosion the Commissioners Court members refuse to address
Vote #2 – In order to try to fool the public, the Commissioners Court no longer refers to budget amendments as budget amendments. Instead, they appear on the secretive “consent agenda” as “Consider, approve, and authorize the line item transfers and adjustments for FY 2019 Budget according to Budget Policy.” The problem, however, is that these budget amendments actually concern line item transfers and amendments involving funds from previous year’s budgets.
Whenever the suffix “7997” appears in a budget amendment or transfer, citizens should beware. The 7997 suffix refers to “carryover” funds from previous years. In other words, County Departments have spent more than they’ve budgeted for the current Fiscal Year 2019 and they need to draw funds from another source to cover their out-of-control spending.
Here are the carryover funds, which the Commissioners Court will blindly approve in June 11:
- The IT Department spent $3,460.71 for overspending on supplies and $101,000 for unexplained “major projects”;
- Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley drew $10,630.00 in slush funds for subsidize his park maintenance;
- Environmental Health drew $2,231.25 from slush for supplies; and
- Precinct 2 Constable Gene De Forest spent $2,036.60 from slush for supplies.
Sadly, the Budget Director, Amanda Carter, needed $5,122.14 budget amendment for her own department. In other words, the Budget Director can’t properly budget for the Budget Office.
The total is $124,477.70 of unmanaged and uncontrolled spending on budget amendments alone.
Major vote. 25 points. “No” vote appropriate. Passed unanimously.
Squandering millions of County tax dollars without scrutiny or discussion
Vote #3 – The Commissioners Court spent $7,178,784.86 in tax dollars. Those expenditures included:
- $7,500 paid to LJA Engineering, the engineering firm which gives luxury fishing trips to members of the Commissioners Court;
- Over $150,000 in undocumented Visa card charges by County employees; and
- Over $603,000 in retail price payments to Lowes, auto part stores, and hardware stores.
By the way, LJA Engineering had their annual fishing trip the first weekend of June. Only Precinct 1 Commissioner Meador attended the trip among the elected servants of the Commissioners Court.
A “No” vote was appropriate. Major vote. 25 points. Passed unanimously.
Vote #4 to 14 – Purchasing items totaling $673,000. Many of the contracts are missing portions or not there at all. How can the Commissioners Court members vote on spending items where the contracts aren’t even in front of them?! A “no” vote was appropriate. 5 points each. Passed unanimously.
Vote #15 – The Commissioners Court voted again to allow Gearn Offshore, Inc., a company which had received lucrative tax abatements but defaulted on its agreements with the County government, to enjoy a release from its further financial obligations to the County government. 10 points. “No” vote appropriate. Passed 4 to 1 (Noack, dissenting).
Vote #16 – The Commissioners Court approved a contract with Telegistics for a wireless communications project for the Sheriff’s Office. There was no contract before the Commissioners Court but they approved it anyway. 10 points. “No” vote appropriate. Passed unanimously.
Vote #17 – Commissioner Metts hired a new inspector to assist Road and Bridge Engineer Bill Smith in the Precinct Office. Smith does outstanding work but needed an inspection assistant. Metts created a new position which did not impact his salaries budget at all. Metts was open and transparent about the situation and showed a lot of good sense in making this move. Metts gets a 100 point bonus for his transparency despite Noack’s quest for secrecy in such hiring decisions. 5 points. “Yes” vote appropriate. Passed unanimously.
Vote #18 – Approve a $4,100 change order for the $95 million, 3.1 mile, TX 249 extension, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway. There was no discussion or deliberation. Of course, Riley approved spending more money on his beloved tollroad no matter what. “No” vote appropriate. 25 points. Passed 3 (Riley, Meador, Metts) to 2 (Keough, Noack).
Vote #19 – Payroll change requests. No discussion, no deliberation, no analysis. Pitiful. “No” vote appropriate. 5 points. Passed unanimously.
Ratings for Commissioners Court meeting, June 11, 2019:
KEOUGH 55/185. Grade F.
MEADOR 5/185. Grade F.
RILEY 5/185. Grade F.
NOACK -960/185. Grade A+.
METTS 105/185. Grade F.
The following are the cumulative scores for Fiscal Year 2019, which began October 1, 2018.
KEOUGH 4,008/3,776. Grade A+.
MEADOR -142/4,088. Grade F.
RILEY -1,912/4,088. Grade F.
NOACK 1,518/4,088. Grade F.
METTS 823/3,776. Grade F.
The citizens must remain vigilant.