Image: Conroe City Councilman Duane Ham at an April 10, 2017, fundraiser for the Montgomery County Area Business Women.
Conroe, August 3 – The winds of political change are beginning to blow in Montgomery County, Texas. “People are ready for reform and an end to the tax and spend politics that we’ve been witnessing in this community,” said Conroe City Councilman Duane Ham. “People want to see things done differently around here.”
In recent months, there’s been a major upheaval within the political “establishment” crowd. Much of that shift seems to emanate from Ham, his supporters, and friends, who have split from some of other members of the “establishment.”
Even though County Judge Craig Doyal and his free spending allies Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador fought back against serious reductions in County spending during the recent “budget workshop” held last week in the Commissioners Court, it’s becoming pretty apparent that the citizens of this community, whom Doyal blocked from participating in the budget process, have become active, vocal, and clearly wanting change.
Countywide. Across the entire County, it was primarily citizen initiative and activism which successfully brought about a majority in favor of the 20% homestead exemption which Riley, Doyal, and Meador had mightily resisted. Activists Kelli Cook and Adrian Heath were instrumental in the passage of that major reform. Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark initially sponsored the exemption and closed the deal in March, 2017.
Ham has made clear that he does not intend to work with the Texas Conservative Tea Party Coalition during the 2018 election cycle. He’s told The Golden Hammer that he wants to focus on his own work in the City of Conroe as well as on water and state property tax reform issues. Ham said he “strongly senses” the change in the direction that the vast majority of citizens in Montgomery County want to see the County go. “We’re sick of the argument that our community’s growth is an excuse to make government spending increase at an even faster rate.”
Ham was one of the leaders in reform efforts to stop artificial price fixing and monopolies for water usage. “I won’t give up until I beat back the ‘water czars.'” Ham has argued that artificially-high water prices have harmed development and driven people away from living in Montgomery County. He’s also concerned about school finance reform. “Teachers don’t get paid enough, but our schools are taxing people out of their homes. We need reform at both the local and state levels.”
As for the County government budget, while several departments reduced their proposed spending budgets, Doyal, Riley, and Meador created new spending initiatives that offset almost all of the proposed reductions. The only reason the County was able to reduce its overall budget was because Noack showed County Auditor Phyllis Martin and Doyal how to reduce the County’s debt service substantially. Those savings in debt service, thanks to Noack, amounted to almost $22 million for the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. The overall budget reduction was only approximately $18 million.
State Representative Mark Keough, a formidable campaigner and fundraiser, who has built a credible conservative record in the Texas House of Representatives, has announced that he’s coming home to Montgomery County to challenge Doyal for County Judge. Keough has strongly opposed the tolling of the Tx-249 extension. He has also indicated that he’ll tackle ethics reform, nepotism, and County spending as County Judge.
Meanwhile, the County Treasurer’s Office is a mess. Payroll costs are skyrocketing far above what a private payroll service would cost the County. Payroll records don’t receive the protection of confidentiality to which they’re entitled. County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport seems to believe that she can take government records protected under federal privacy laws and use them for political gain for herself, her political boss husband, or his political clients. Davenport’s challenger, Conroe ISD School Board President Melanie Pryor Bush, has already identified several reforms she would bring to the Treasurer’s Office.
East Montgomery County. Clark is up for re-election in the 2018 Republican Primary Election. He’s had a few challenges and he currently has one major challenger, longtime conservative political activist Bob Bagley. Clark has raised significant amounts of campaign funds while Bagley’s effort is more of a grassroots campaign. Meanwhile, embattled Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts has told many people he intends to run for the Commissioners position.
Metts faces severe problems: (1) he runs a very inefficient and costly court operation and has trouble managing his court budget which is approximately one-tenth the size his budget would be if he were a County Commissioner, (2) the County paid $45,000 in tax dollars to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit which a former clerk in Mett’s court brought against Montgomery County, (3) Metts initiated a bizarre lawsuit against County Information Technology Director Marshall Shirley in which Metts acted as the Plaintiff, Plaintiff’s attorney, and judge issuing an injunction order against Shirley all in the same case (Shirley eventually ignored Metts on the advice of County Attorney J.D. Lambright) and (4) Metts pulled the County into the Graves Humphries-NetData fees and fines collection debacle where four for the five JP courts are using a very costly, inefficient, and opaque court database program that doesn’t allow the public to view court files. Metts’ reaction to this criticism has been even more bizarre than these inefficiencies themselves. Rather than responding in a sober fashion to this severe criticism of his practices and policies, Metts seems to laugh these issues off.
If Metts enters the Commissioner race for Precinct 4, there’s a good chance that East Montgomery County might be rid of Metts once and for all. Citizens in East Montgomery County have joined calls for County government reform and don’t seem to appreciate Metts’ unusual behavior. It could be a close race between Clark and Bagley.
Meanwhile, Spendora ISD Board member and peace officer Jason Dunn has entered the JP 4 political race. Several others, including Stephen Carlisle, Police Chief of Roman Forest and Roman Forest and Patton Village municipal judge Sherry Tavel, are rumored to be considering the Justice of the Peace race whether or not Metts is in it.
West Montgomery County. There’s clearly a split of conservatives in Commissioners Precinct 2 from incumbent Commissioner Charlie Riley. Riley has done a poor job as a project manager or Precinct 2 road projects. Even the November 2015 bond projects don’t seem to be making much progress. Riley has done an even worse job overseeing the County’s management and operations. Basically, he doesn’t do that at all, but has left everything up to County Judge Craig Doyal. Riley’s complete ignorance of the County Budget was apparent during the “budget workshop” last week.
A close Ham ally, Brian Dawson, a Conroe businessman and Republican leader, is challenging Riley for Precinct 2 Commissioner. Dawson opposes Riley’s work in favor of the $73 million, 3.6-mile, Tx-249 Tollway at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County. Additionally, Gregory Parker, an ideological conservative who served two terms as a Comal County Commissioner from 2005 for 2013, is also in the race for Precinct 2 Commissioner. Parker also opposes the Tx-249 Tollway and has called for substantial salary reductions for elected officials and ethics reform.
North Montgomery County. There’s one interesting race in the northern parts of Montgomery County that will be on the ballot in the 2018 Republican Primary Election: the position of Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack. Mack has come under serious criticism recently for his threatening County employees and political activists who don’t follow the direction of his political boss and consultant Marc Davenport. Mack’s court has had some management problems, including employees who disseminate inappropriate (sexual, political) social media posts during county business hours, and spending inefficiencies.
Mack claims to be a religious person who has brought prayer to his courtroom proceedings. Much of his prayer, however, seems to take the form of narcissism and also seems more geared towards fundraising than reverence towards the Lord.
Several people have already discussed the possibility of challenging Mack for his JP seat in the hope of bringing some reform and stability to the position.
“Change is coming”
Ham told The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, that none of his work on issues is personal. “There are a lot of people who are my friends whom I strongly oppose on a lot of issues.I know how to disagree without being obnoxious.” Ham added, “Change is coming, so get ready for it.”