Secretive “consent agenda” shrouds Montgomery County government in darkness

Secretive “consent agenda” shrouds Montgomery County government in darkness

Image: A shroud of darkness has fallen over the Montgomery County government, as Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and his Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps have shoved open government to the wayside.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe, January 26 – A shroud of darkness has fallen over the Montgomery County government, as Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough and his Chief of Staff Jason Millsaps have largely excluded County government department heads from the agenda process and included items on the super-secretive “consent agenda” which, even under former County Judge Craig Doyal, would always have been on the open agenda for Montgomery County Commissioners Court meetings.

Today’s agenda for the Tuesday, January 26, 2021, 9:30 a.m., meeting is a stark example of the secretive approach to County business Keough and Millsaps have undertaken.

Under the administration of former County Judge Doyal, the “consent” agenda would never include any County spending items equal to or above $50,000. Furthermore, County department heads and the County Commissioners would have an opportunity to review the draft agenda to ensure that their particular agenda items were in it.

Keough has included numerous expenditures which greatly exceed the $50,000 threshold on his “consent” agendas. Neither Keough nor Millsaps invite County department heads to participate in the agenda preparation process.

The problems with the “consent” agenda are that (1) the Commissioners Court votes on the entire “consent” portion of the agenda in one vote without any consideration or deliberation, so that the County Commissioners rarely even review the “consent” items prior to the meeting or at all, (2) there is public deliberation of the “consent” agenda, so hundreds of decisions occur at Commissioners Court meetings with complete exclusion of the public from the process, an approach contrary to the open meetings policy of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Keough’s January 26 meeting agenda for the Montgomery County Commissioners Court includes the following items:

  • A major proposal, which could potentially cost taxpayers millions of dollars, to allow Building Maintenance Director Tim Stewart to approve unilaterally all change orders for construction of the Forensics Facility, which will cost more than $20 million to the taxpayers. What is particularly bizarre about this proposal to grant Stewart the sole change order authority is that the County government has not yet even entered into a contract for the construction of the facility. By including this item under the super-secret “consent agenda,” the public will never receive an explanation for the hidden manner in which the County Judge is proposing to build the unpopular and wasteful facility.
  • Payment of Accounts under the County Auditor. The 238 pages of expenditures are a jumbled mess, which the public cannot follow or understand. Under the Doyal administration, the payment of accounts was clearly legible and segregated by County department. If the public cannot follow 238 pages with $5.9 million of expenditures, most assuredly the members of the Commissioners Court cannot follow it either.
  • A proposal to spend $230,500 for the Justice of the Peace courts to improve their use of technology for hearings and trials. While this spending proposal came from Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, for whom the proposal includes $89,500, the County Judge’s office listed the proposal under “County Auditor” as though County Auditor Rakesh Pandey had requested the expenditure.
  • A County Auditor’s report of Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull gave the county official strong marks but did chide him for his slow submission of monthly fee reports.
  • Dozens of County employee payroll changes.

With the enormous salaries and benefits, the public pays the members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, close to $250,000 for each Commissioner and the County Judge, the extra time necessary for them to go through each agenda items in the open, as opposed through a secretive “consent agenda,” seems a fair method of asking them actually to earn their keep.

 

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