The buck stops here – with Commissioner Charlie Riley and County Auditor Rakesh Pandey – for reform of scandalous Montgomery County ESD #10

The buck stops here – with Commissioner Charlie Riley and County Auditor Rakesh Pandey – for reform of scandalous Montgomery County ESD #10

Image: In order to reform the scandalous Montgomery County Emergency Services District #10 in Magnolia, the responsibility clearly lies at the feet of Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley and Montgomery County Auditor Rakesh Pandey, as well as the entire Montgomery County Commissioners Court.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe and Magnolia, March 8 – On Tuesday, March 9, 2021, at 9:30 a.m., the Montgomery County Commissioners Court will meet under a dark cloud of corruption and scandal arising from Montgomery County Emergency Services District #10 (ESD10). As this newspaper uncovered last Tuesday, March 2, a sex scandal, financial improprieties, and clear breaches of duties have rocked the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) and resulted in the termination of Fire Chief Gary Vincent and the mass resignations of the entire Board of Directors of the entire ESD10 on Friday, March 5, which such Board included former County Sheriff Tommy Gage, longtime Republican Precinct Chairman Johnny Bryant and other very close political allies of Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who appointed that entire Board.

Please see “Sex, Diamonds, Misuse of Public Funds Sink Magnolia VFD Into Abyss of Treachery under Terminated Chief Vincent”, The Golden Hammer, March 2, 2021  and “Riley, Gage Must Bear Blame for Magnolia VFD Sex Scandal,” The Golden Hammer, March 4, 2021

ESD10 oversees and manages MVFD as well as some other emergency services in the Magnolia area. It’s a special purpose district, which has suffered poor management, gross overpayment of employees, and a complete absence of financial oversight. On November 3, 2020, voters rejected with 70% of the vote against an attempt by the ESD10 Board and Riley to double the taxes the district levies on its beleaguered citizens.

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, 75% of volunteer fire departments actually enjoy the services of true volunteers. MVFD is far from such a department, as it pays its firefighters substantial salaries while managers receive quite lucrative compensation. The extraordinarily high salaries within ESD10 clearly have become the engine for the corruption within that poorly-managed and oversight-starved special purpose district.

Vincent, who remains married to his wife, served as the Fire Chief for MVFD, which sits prominently on Buddy Riley Boulevard in Magnolia, for over 12 years. Vincent began an extramarital relationship with realtor Elize Noriega in 2018, according to several employees and former employees in MVFD who spoke with this newspaper on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. In June, 2019, however, Vincent hired Noriega as a Battalion Chief specializing in “communications” at a salary of $123,000 per year. Noriega had no background in firefighting but was to run the MVFD’s Facebook page and communications on NextDoor.

In November, 2020, Vincent promoted his lover, Noriega, to Assistant Fire Chief with a base salary of $142,000. Chuck Grant, a former Assistant Chief whom Vincent fired after Grant spoke with law enforcement authorities about the financial improprieties, contends in his whistleblower lawsuit that Vincent consulted with no other individuals within MVFD before he made any of the hiring decisions with respect to Noriega. Grant also contends that Noriega has a “history of alcohol abuse and violent behavior as well as a criminal record.”

Emergency Services Districts fall under the provisions of Chapter 775 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. Section 775.034 of the Health and Safety Code gives the Commissioners Court the authority to appoint the members of the ESD Board, but corrupt Montgomery County, known far and wide as “the most corrupt county in Texas,” has devolved that responsibility to the single County Commissioner in whose jurisdiction the ESDs operate. In this instance, ESD10 falls within Riley’s Commissioner Precinct, so Riley has used the appointments as a plum form of political patronage to his closes political cronies, especially his best friend former Sheriff Tommy Gage (who resigned last week). Board members receive compensation, although ESD10 protects its salary schedule quite closely and does not make it available to the public on its website.

The Commissioners Court has the power to remove ESD Board members under Section 775.0422 of the Code.

Most importantly, in any county with a population of 3 million or less, which, of course, includes Montgomery County, the County Auditor, who is Rakesh Pandey, and the Commissioners Court have a duty and right of oversight of the finances of every Emergency Services District, pursuant to Section 775.082 of the Texas Health and Safety Code.

Clearly, ESD10’s Board of Directors, which included Gage as its Assistant Treasurer, had the front line duty to manage ESD10’s finances and to oversee the management and operation of MVFD. They failed in that duty miserably.

On Tuesday, however, Riley, Pandey, and the entire Montgomery County Commissioners Court must address – in an open and transparent manner – their own failure to perform their duties of oversight and to explain to the public what actions they’ll take to remove the politics, corruption, cronyism, and outright financial scandal from Emergency Services District Number 10 on which a substantial number of Montgomery County citizens in southwest Montgomery County depend.





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