Image: Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting, from left to right, Superintendant Don Stockton, Scott Moore, John Husbands, Scott Kidd, Board President Melanie Bush, Datren Williams, Ray Sanders, and Skeeter Hubert, Tuesday, September 19, 2017.
Conroe, September 29 – Prior to the Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting on September 19, 2017, CISD Superintendent Don Stockton tried to dissuade Board President Melanie Pryor Bush from putting flood victim property tax reappraisals on the agenda for the Board meeting, while Board members Datren Williams and Skeeter Hubert, seemingly among others, hatched a “solution” for defeating Bush’s compassionate proposal well before the meeting began.
The Golden Hammer obtained secret documents from CISD as part of our investigation into the unusual practices of the CISD and some of its Board members. While CISD had no choice but to fork over some documents, it’s readily apparent that the school district has withheld important documents responsive to the leading daily newspaper in Montgomery County’s request for public information.
Setting the agenda with Superintendant Stockton’s mighty resistance
The CISD administration staff knew quite well that under section 23.02 of the Texas Tax Code, a local taxing entity such a CISD may reappraise properties subject to property taxation in its jurisdiction if they suffer natural disasters. The Woodlands Township and the Montgomery County government swiftly voted to reappraise in order to give taxpayer-victims some relief.
On September 14, 2017, Darrin Rice, CISD’s Chief Financial Officer provided a full written evaluation of the benefits to taxpayers of possible reappraisal. He conducted that evaluation in response to Board President Bush’s request that the Board include discussion of reappraisals at the September 19 Board meeting. Stockton provided Bush with the agenda, as she had requested, but told Bush in an email:
“I think the current [Montgomery Central Appraisal District Board members have represented cisd (sic) well. Nobody has let me know they are interested in being nominated.
“Just my thoughts, but I am still worried about the re-assessment board item. We are looking at a potential $13m deficit for next budget year. And, that is with the 5% AV growth! I just can’t support it without knowing the financial impact. I would argue that there already is a process in place for individuals impacted by the hurricane to be re-assessed.
“See you tomorrow at ORHS.”
Of course, Stockton’s email raises the question why he should even express such a concern to an elected Board member. Stockton, whose annual salary approaches $350,000 in monetary compensation alone, is not elected and simply should have no say in the matter. Stockton also attempted to raise his concerns with Bush by text messages as well.
By September 14, 2017, CISD knew quite well that it was within its direct authority to reappraise property, because Montgomery County Tax Assessor-Collector Tammy McRae provided a detailed and thorough letter to CFO Rice explaining the process. Interestingly, Rice failed to share the letter with the Board of Trustees.
On September 18, 2017, CISD General Counsel Carrie Galatas shared with Board member Scott Kidd an article from The Galveston Daily News discussing how reappraisals work under the Texas Tax Code. Kidd had direct knowledge from CISD’s General Counsel prior to the September 19 Board meeting that CISD’s Board of Trustees had the authority to order the reappraisals of flood-damaged homes. Nevertheless, as later events showed, Kidd engaged in the Board’s deceitful anti-citizen action at the Board meeting the next day.
Bush ignored Stockton’s resistance. While the documents The Golden Hammer obtained reveal that Kidd, Stockton, Rice, and Galatas knew the specific statutory authority that would permit CISD to reappraise flood-damaged homes from the Harvey storm, nothing would suggest that Bush knew that they knew.
Secret deliberations prior to the Board meeting
The Board meeting clearly showed that Williams, Husbands, and Kidd had prepared to remove the reappraisal issue from the Board’s discussion well before the meeting had even begun.
In fact, their plans began four days prior to the Board meeting when, on September 15, 2017, at 7:34 p.m., Williams texted to Board member Skeeter Hubert, “You see Melanie added to of her political items for her campaign vote on the agenda for Tuesday. Item 6.A. and B.”
Hubert responded three days later, “Not yet.” Then he added, “Yea, pet project. Not sure how we get around this one.”
Williams indicated to Hubert one day before the Board meeting, “I have a solution.”
The actual text colloquy follows:
Amazing, CISD has failed to produce the text messages from Williams or from Kidd.
September 19 Board meeting: arrogance and pugnacity towards the citizens and towards Board President Bush
If readers want to watch a disgusting horror show of governmental arrogance and pugnacity, this newspaper highly recommends the video footage of the CISD’s Board of Trustees’ September 19, 2017, meeting. CISD Superintendent Don Stockton sits next to the Board’s dais. During the middle of the Board meeting, Stockton actually made the entire Board stop the meeting so that he could take a telephone call on his cellphone.
Worse yet was the misogynistic and discourteous manner in which Board members Williams, Kidd, and Husbands treated Board President Bush, the only female of the group.
When the Board reached Bush’s agenda item to reappraise flood-damaged homes from the Harvey storm, Williams interrupted the proceedings and, without Bush recognizing her in accordance with parliamentary law, interjected, “Madam President, I have a motion. I’d like to motion that we remove those [agenda items concerning reappraisal] from the agenda because I believe those two items are outside of the authority of this board and they’re more appropriate for a state authority to move on those items; I motion we have those two items moved from the agenda.”
Incredibly, even though Kidd had received direct written communications from CISD’s general counsel Galatas one day prior to the Board meeting, Kidd, who is also an attorney, seconded Williams’ motion, which grossly misstated Texas law.
Bush asked for discussion. Without Bush, as presiding officer, recognizing Williams, Williams again interrupted, Well, as I mentioned, these items are more for the state to make a determination. It’s not really for us to do here. Until we get guidance from the state on how they want us to address these items, it’s just not within our authority…”
Even more incredibly, CISD general counsel Galatas, Stockton, and Chief Financial Officer Rice just sat mute during the proceedings, apparently hoping the reappraisal proposal would die a swift death.
Bush asked, “Can I present arguments as to why we should vote against this motion. That would be what I’m doing in this discussion…We have two of our local tax authorities here with Montgomery Central Appraisal District and the Tax Assessor-Collector.”
Tammy McRae, Montgomery County’s Tax Assessor-Collector, sat in the Board of Trustees meeting for over an hour waiting for her turn to explain how reappraisal works under Texas law. The Board of Trustees never gave her the opportunity to speak.
Bush added, “Having heard from the State Comptroller myself, and he stated that it’s up to local entities whether or not we re-appraise, I’m asking if…”
At that point, Board member Kidd interrupted Bush after conducting a secret whispering discussion with Board member Husbands. Kidd interjected, “Is there a question?”
Before Bush could take control of the meeting as presiding officer, Williams interrupted her again and apparently thought the meeting was his to run, “I’d like to entertain a motion to end discussion and move directly to a vote.”
The CISD Board of Trustees never allowed Bush even to speak. The CISD Board of Trustees never allowed McRae to explain Texas tax law and the re-appraisal process. Stockton, Galatas, and Rice sat mute while the Board ran roughshod over the rights of flood victims, taxpayers, and Board President Melanie Pryor Bush.
That’s how thugs operate.