Conroe, December 31 – The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, presents the year 2017 in review in three parts of which this article is the second and covers May to August, 2017. It’s been an interesting year and one which citizen involvement and activism has marked. In this three part series, this newspaper will review the major stories the citizens of Montgomery County, Texas, confronted.
The corruption of the Davenport Ring – the elected officials and candidates who follow the direction of corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport – dominated the middle of the year.
Stephanne’s “Hit List 2.0”
On June 20, 2017, Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport, who is attempting to run for re-election in the 2018 election, went around the small group of people who attended County Judge Craig Doyal’s June 20 fundraiser (for his legal defense) and confronted those individuals who have “liked” or “friended” on Facebook her likely electoral opponent, Melanie Pryor Bush who is currently President of the Conroe Independent School District Board of Directors. During each confrontation, Davenport told several of her targeted ones that Davenport is “taking notes” and “keeping a list” of who those people are and when they dare to show friendship or liking towards Bush.
Davenport’s “Hit List” already includes the chief of staff of one of Montgomery County’s members in the Texas House of Representatives, a local photographer and event promoter, and several other individuals. One of the anonymous sources commented to The Golden Hammer, “Stephanne Davenport must think she’s back in the 7th grade with these antics.”
Davenport threatens the county judge; Duane Ham exposes the corruption
On May 31, The Golden Hammer began a series on the Davenport corruption.
In a series of threats against his and his wife’s perceived political enemies, local political consultant Marc Davenport threatened Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal during a telephone call on the morning of Friday, May 26, 2017, that Doyal couldn’t continue to be the friend of Conroe City Councilman Duane Ham, or Davenport would order Davenport’s political consultant clients not to support Doyal in Doyal’s re-election bid for County Judge in 2018. Doyal informed Ham, his long time political ally who formed the Texas Conservative Tea Party Coalition in 2014 which was instrumental in Doyal’s electoral victory, that Doyal could not attend Ham’s upcoming political fundraiser on Thursday, June 1, for fear of reprisal from the Davenports and Marc Davenport’s political consulting clients, several of whom are law enforcement leaders.
The communications from both Stephanne Davenport, who is the elected Montgomery County Treasurer, and Marc Davenport, her husband and a political consultant, to Ham are childish. They reflect attempts at intimidation of Ham, a city councilman, and Doyal, the County Judge.
Ham told The Golden Hammer, “The Davenports’ threats against County Judge Craig Doyal are an insult to the law enforcement community and the citizens.” That the Davenports believe they, in response to petty personal feuds with others, can dictate the actions of Davenport’s political consulting clients, who include Sheriff Rand Henderson, Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts, and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace candidate Jason Dunn (who is running to fill Metts’ seat which Metts is vacating), is certainly troubling.
The Davenports not only seem to mix their childish personal vendettas with local politics, but they also seem to mix their local politics with the behavior they demand of leaders of the local law enforcement community. On both counts, the behavior is unacceptable to a government that should be responsive to the citizens rather than petulant power-grabbers.
This type of behavior may explain a lot about why Montgomery County is well known across the State of Texas for terrible County government and a complete absence of ethics in the County’s operations at the top levels.
Trouble began to brew last Thursday, May 25, at a Grand Opening Event for Lone Star Radio in Conroe. Ham, along with many other political people, attended the afternoon event in downtown Conroe. Doyal, his wife Amy Doyal, local photographer Nathan Arrazate, political consultant Melanie Schoettle, Conroe City Councilman Duke Coon, Kristin Leggett (who previously worked at KSTAR Radio), and several others attended the party. Doyal, sporting his facial scars, briefly spoke on the radio station to congratulate the station managers.County Judge Craig Doyal speaking on Lone Star Radio on May 25, 2017, during a party at the radio station where the trouble continued…
Ham arrived at the Conroe event, and people there observed him speaking with Schoettle and another lady with whom Marc Davenport had some sort of relationship with a few years back. Stephanne Davenport heard that Ham walked into a local Conroe bar around the time of the radio station event with Schoettle and another lady, whom The Golden Hammer will call “Mrs. X.”
Stephanne Davenport didn’t like what she saw and she also didn’t like some other comments which she attributed to Ham, who dared to criticize the Davenports. At 7:17 p.m., Stephanne Davenport sent a text message to Ham in which she drew a line in the sand in order to express her hatred towards Schoettle and Mrs. X:
“So Duane, Melanie and…[Mrs. X] walk into a bar. Dead. To. Me. Steph”
“Ok Steph I’m taking it your mad at me! You call with a problem I try to fix the problem and your pissed at me? Duane”
Montgomery County Treasurer Davenport finally replied,
“Not mad. Done. You can call Marc if you need. Our team doesn’t roll with those who roll with the haters. Steph”
Later that evening, Thursday, May 25, Marc Davenport spoke with Ham by telephone. The conversation did not progress too well. During the telephone conversation, Davenport began screaming at Ham and accused Ham of colluding with Marc and Stephanne Davenport’s political enemies. Ham responded, “Well, you talk to Yollick.” Ham accused Davenport of “blackmail.” At that point in time Marc Davenport screamed a phrase described below and hung up. Davenport text messaged Ham and described the entire conversation,
“You [Ham] accused me [Marc Davenport] of collusion with yollick. I told you to go f–k your self and hung up. If you don’t take pictures of you f–king yourself and send them to me there will be nothing to blackmail you with. Melanie [Schoettle], Nathan [Arrazate], Margie [Taylor, a public relations consultant], Gary [Henson, a GOP activist and friend of Ham’s], Kristin [Leggett] are a constant source of undermining. You feeding these people and empowering them to continue to try to weaken is the issue. If you act like one of them you will be treated like one of them. Mark”
Marc Davenport issues a threat to County Judge Craig Doyal
Marc Davenport has a close relationship with County Judge Doyal. Doyal hired Davenport to represent Doyal to negotiate a November 2015 road bond referendum. As a result, Doyal and Davenport are co-defendants in the Texas Open Meetings Act prosecution by the State of Texas pending before the Beaumont Court of Appeals. Doyal constantly reminds the public how much he supports Stephanne Davenport’s work as County Treasurer. That makes a lot of sense, because Stephanne Davenport employs Doyal’s daughter as the payroll coordinator in the Treasurer’s Office. Doyal contributes substantial funds to Stephanne Davenport’s campaign.
Marc Davenport often brags about his control of Montgomery County’s local law enforcement community. He has told several people that he has access to criminal investigation files. Marc Davenport demands strict loyalty from his political consultant clients and will not tolerate the slightest deviation from that fealty.
Therefore, when Marc Davenport called Craig Doyal on Friday, May 26, 2017, in order to threaten Doyal, Doyal took the threat quite seriously.
Marc Davenport told Doyal that the County Judge could no longer be friends with Ham regardless of how instrumental Ham was in Doyal’s 2014 election to the position of County Judge. Davenport told Doyal that Constable Hayden, Sheriff Henderson, Judge Metts, and Judge Mack would not continue to support Doyal if Doyal continued his personal and political friendship with Ham. Marc Davenport told Doyal, and Doyal repeated the comments to Ham, that Davenport would order Hayden, Henderson, Metts, and Mack, all four individuals who are law enforcement leaders, that they could not attend Ham’s political fundraiser on Thursday, June 1.
Ham said to The Golden Hammer, “Davenport is running me down quietly, trying to blackmail me to kiss his a–. That’s not going to happen. Are we in elementary school again?”
Doyal apologized to Ham on Friday, May 26, and told Ham that he couldn’t attend Ham’s June 1 fundraiser as a result of Marc Davenport’s threat. Doyal expressed his concern primarily that he needs the support of Precinct 4 Constable Hayden, who is a very popular law enforcement officer and politician in East Montgomery County, in order to win re-election.
Ham expressed his deep disappointment that Doyal did not plan to attend the June 1 fundraiser. Ham continues to consider Doyal a close friend and political ally despite Doyal’s reaction, as Ham told The Golden Hammer. Doyal eventually changed his mind after The Golden Hammer ran the story and decided to attend Ham’s fundraiser after all.
Ham commented in an exclusive interview with The Golden Hammer, “The Davenports’ threats against County Judge Craig Doyal are an insult to the law enforcement community and the citizens.”
In March, 2016, a local politician, Will Metcalf, who serves in the Texas Legislature as a representative from Conroe, hired a lady away from another local radio station to become his district director. That lady was Mrs. X. When the Davenports heard that Metcalf intended to hire Mrs. X, they contacted Metcalf and threatened him with political payback. Even though Mrs. X had already resigned from her other job to work for Metcalf, Metcalf informed Mrs. X that he wouldn’t permit her to begin work. Mrs. X never got to begin her employment and had to find another job instead.
When the citizens elected Hayden, Henderson, Mack, Metts, and Stephanne Davenport, they elected them to serve the citizens of Montgomery County. It’s frightening that they seemingly bow to the will of a local political consultant whom they pay for his services.
In the serious efforts to reform the Montgomery County government to reduce government spending drastically, to bring ethics reform, to bring purchasing reform, and to bring transparency, it’s very possible that the actions of Marc Davenport and Stephanne Davenport, their childish behavior, and their seemingly improper influence on local law enforcement officials are issues that voters must address in order to achieve real reform.
Wayne Mack’s use of the Lord’s name in vain
On June 1, 2017, this newspaper reported that Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, a client of political consultant Marc Davenport, sent a threatening text message to County employee Marie Moore on April 8, 2014: “You need to give your heart to Jesus. Because the rest of you belongs to Marc [Davenport] and he wants his reputation back.”
In retaliation, Mack began a campaign to try to convince people that he speaks for God in saying that God “hates” anyone who would dare criticize Mack.
In June and July, The Golden Hammer uncovered the full story how Wayne Mack (Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1), Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts, and County Judge Craig Doyal have covered up a serious computer database problem involving the NetData system in the Justice of the Peace Courts during the past two years. NetData has been a financial and technological disaster for the four of the five Justice of the Peace Courts which have utilized the software. The Davenport Ring – political consultant Marc Davenport and his cronies and clients who follow his orders which include Mack, Metts, and County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport among others – has vehemently clung to the NetData software, despite the problems and the coverup.
Meanwhile, Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Edie Connelly, who utilizes the same network database as the five County Courts at Law and eight District Courts, has outperformed all four of the other Justice of the Peace Courts combined. Please see “Montgomery County Justice Courts Reveal Stark Financial Contrasts,” The Golden Hammer, June 22, 2017.
During 2012 and 2013, the County formed an employee committee entitled “the Integrated Justice Steering Committee” (IJIS) to research and evaluate integrated software to store, retrieve, and manage court data. Only County employees were to serve on the IJIS Committee, but Metts insisted that Marc Davenport, whom Metts introduced as a “sworn deputy” in his Justice of the Peace Office, be permitted to participate in the meetings as well. Several employees who attended IJIS meetings, but have requested confidentiality of their identities, have described Davenport as “creepy,” “sleazy,” and “demanding.”
A dispute arose between Metts, Davenport, and some of the other justices of the peace on the one hand and all of the other courts – the 8 District Courts, the 5 County Courts at Law, and Precinct 3 JP Edie Connelly – on the other hand. For some reason, Metts and Davenport insisted that the Court should use a database program by the name of “NetData” on which to keep court files, so that an outside law firm, Graves Humphries Stahl, could then conduct collections of fines and fees for the courts. Judge Connelly, the five County Court Judges, and the eight District Judges did not feel comfortable permitting an outside law firm to contact County litigants for a variety of reasons, including due process, privacy concerns, and efficiency.
Eventually, the four Metts-Davenport courts (JP 1, JP 2, JP 4, and JP 5) went with the NetData software which does not permit the public to access court files online. Meanwhile, all of the other courts in Montgomery County utilize Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey database, which does permit public access. The Court collections of Judge Connelly’s JP3 Court are strikingly higher than all of the other four Justice of the Peace courts added together, so it’s very clear that the Odyssey database and the County’s collection efforts are far more efficient than NetData and Graves Humphries Stahl.
The four Metts-Davenport JP courts had trouble integrating the data from the County’s legacy database system into NetData. One of the results of those difficult was the bizarre lawsuit Metts improperly instigated where Montgomery County sued itself in Metts’ court, and where Metts acted as the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s attorney, and the judge in the same case. Please see “Picture of Corruption: Judge Metts Files Lawsuit Where Montgomery County Sues Montgomery County, Metts Acts as Plaintiff, Plaintiff’s Attorney, Judge All in Same case (the Davenports, Part 16),” The Golden Hammer, July 7, 2017. Graves Humphries Stahl and NetData eventually taped the NetData system together. The Metts-Davenport JP courts use NetData as their court database, but the poor operation of the system prevents the public from viewing court files, among several other problems.
The Golden Hammer obtained secret documents from sources inside the County government after the Metts story broke on July 7. Those documents show what a total disaster NetData has been for Montgomery County.
By July 28, 2015, the NetData system was a total disaster for the four Justice of the Peace Courts which utilized the system. The judges and their staffs began to complain about “slowdowns.” The NetData software vendors admitted that the system had a “latency” problem but also tried to blame the terrible reactivity of the database on the County’s internet bandwidth. Later diagnostic testing revealed that there was nothing wrong with the County’s internet bandwidth that caused any problems with NetData. Furthermore, the database system, which the other fourteen Montgomery County courts utilized – Tyler’s Odyssey system – had no problems whatsoever with speed or latency.
On August 7, 2015, the County’s Network and Operations Manager for its Information Technology Department informed the Director of that Department, Marshall Shirley, as follows:
“Good afternoon sir.
“I’ve had some time to consider this report from Netdata regarding the continuing performance issues that the JP offices have been having and it is my opinion that the problems and issues were never at Montgomery County but were on the Netdata servers the entire time. We did extensive testing and reconfiguration of our firewalls and performed multiple iterations of bandwidth shaping to improve the overall performance of the Netdata product. None of these things were successful in any way. We eventually increased the overall bandwidth available to the county from 140 Mbps to 490 Mbps. This increase in bandwidth had little or no effect on the performance of the product.
“Also, we communicated with Netdata on multiple occasions regarding the poor performance and they never told us that they had other customers experiencing similar issues. It was never mentioned by Netdata in any communications previous to the report below that they had a known issue of latency and poor performance.
“Hopefully, their upgrades will solve the performance issues.
“Bobby Powell, Montgomery County IT, Network and Operations Manager”
On August 10, 2015, Shirley, the IT Director, provided Wayne Mack all of the information from NetData and from Network and Operations Manager Bobby Powell showing that NetData’s performance problems arose on NetData’s servers and did not arise from any problem inside of Montgomery County.
Amazingly, even though NetData, Powell, Shirley, and numerous court employees all recognized the “poor performance” of the NetData system, on August 28, 2015, Mack wrote a pointed reply to Shirley and, of course, carefully noted that his name was not “Wayne” as Shirley had addressed him but “Judge Wayne L. Mack.” In Mack’s reply, he stated:
“Your mention of ‘poor performance’ maybe [sic] an industry term. I do however [sic] take exception with your description in your email of the ‘poor performance of the Netdata JP application” we [sic] have had no ‘poor performance’ other than trying to resolve upload and download internet speeds.”
Mack failed to note in his August 28 reply that the NetData software had become a major problem for court personnel and that the fee and fine collections for the four JP courts that utilized NetData and Graves Humphries Stahl lagged substantially behind all other courts in the County but most especially Judge Connelly’s Justice of the Peace Court in Precinct 3.
By September 1, 2015, all of the foregoing correspondence, including the NetData report revealing the problems with its system, came before Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks. They received a summary email as well as all of the specific emails described above.
They took no action whatsoever to protect the taxpayers from this ensuing financial disaster.
With their use of the Net Data database system and software, four out of the five Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Courts have a serious judicial record openness problem. They don’t seem to comply with the requirements of the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals with respect to making judicial records open to the public during normal business hours.
The main two advocates for the Net Data database system in Montgomery County’s “government” have consistently been Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts and the man whom Metts introduced to numerous County employees during database evaluation meetings as his “sworn deputy,” local political consultant and “boss man,” Marc Davenport. Judge Metts’ repeated appellation of Davenport as a “sworn deputy” in the Precinct 4 Justice Court is a interesting use of terminology to say the very least. Metts began to utilize the term when other County employees questioned why Metts insisted that Davenport, who is not a County employee, should remain in County employee-only meetings to discuss and make decisions concerning the Courts’ database system.
The Golden Hammer has confirmed that there are no records in the County’s Human Resources Department that would indicate that Davenport ever has been a County employee. Furthermore, both the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation do not list Marc Davenport has a licensee or ever having held a license of any sort.
Net Data has caused serious problems within the Montgomery County government. Not only has the decision of Judge Metts and others to utilize the database program within the Justice Court been a major source of dissension and downright nastiness in Commissioners Court meetings but also the Justice Courts that utilize the Net Data database are substantially less efficient in their collections of fines and fees than those Court which instead utilize a different collection methodology. Please see “Montgomery County Justice Courts reveal stark financial contrasts,” The Golden Hammer, June 22, 2017.
The record openness problem
The four Justice of the Peace Courts – JP #1, 2, 4, and 5 – that utilize the Net Data database for their criminal and civil cases differ markedly in one very important respect from the one Justice of the Peace Court – Judge Edie Connelly’s Precinct 3 Justice Court – that utilizes the County’s Odyssey database system: judicial record openness. Court files in the four Justice Courts that utilize Net Data are not open to the public.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, confirmed today that Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts will only permit a citizen to review a court file after making a formal open records request in writing to the court personnel. The records are not otherwise available.
A policy of not making judicial files regularly open to the public is a straight-up violation of clear Texas law as set forth in the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration.
Rule 12.1 of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration provides:
“12.1 Policy. The purpose of this rule is to provide public access to information in the judiciary consistent with the mandates of the Texas Constitution that the public interests are best served by open courts and by an independent judiciary. The rule should be liberally construed to achieve its purpose.”
Rule 12.4(a) of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration further mandates:
“Judicial records other than those covered by Rules 12.3 and 12.5 are open to the general public for inspection and copying during regular business hours.”
Judge Connelly’s Precinct 3 Justice Court, all five of the Montgomery County Courts at Law, and all eight of the District Courts in Montgomery County make all of their records open and available to the public 24 hours per day online through the Odyssey database system and during regular business hours through computer terminals and physical files made available to the public upon request.
To the contrary, Judge Metts, who is one of the “clients” who seem to work more for Davenport than the other way around, does not permit the public to inspect and copy files unless they submit open records act requests. The court files of Judge Metts, Mack, Judge Masden, and Judge Spikes are not available to the public online, a highly inefficient, inconvenient, and questionable practice, given the policy pronouncements of the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals to shift to electronic access to court records.
Both Judge Spikes and Judge Masden seem to be fair minded arbiters who work hard to make their Courts operate efficiently and fairly, both judicial and financially. It is critical in this day and age that they work to make their court records available to the public online, even if that means that they should join the vast majority of the other courts in Montgomery County on the Odyssey system, which seems far more efficient financially. If Judge Metts and “deputy” Davenport choose to operate “their” Court without openness and efficiency, hopefully their poor decision will not bleed into other County judicial departments.
County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport caught in the big lies
On June 5, 2017, this newspaper reported that Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport lied to the Commissioners Court and to the public on at least two counts with respect to her “reorganization” of her 6-person County Department which the Commissioners Court approved on a 3 to 1 vote (Noack absent) on March 14, 2017.
After Montgomery County Human Resources (HR) Director Dodi Shaw finally broke her silence and spoke with The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper in early June for the first time, this newspaper confirmed that County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport, who is also the wife of controversial political consultant Marc Davenport, lied (1) when she told the Commissioners Court on March 14, 2017, that someone in her Treasurer’s department had made a “mistake” in preparing a Personnel Description Questionnaire (PDQ) showing that the County Judge’s daughter would receive a substantial promotion to Assistant County Treasurer with a substantial raise as part of the “reorganization,” and (2) when Davenport repeatedly told numerous citizens who asked that promoting the County Judge’s daughter was never part of the proposed reorganization.
On September 26, 2016, Davenport brought the County Judge’s daughter, who is a payroll assistant in her department, to a meeting with HR Director Dodi Shaw and HR Assistant Director Kathy Flowers in the conference room of the HR Department. Davenport requested the meeting to discuss a proposed “reorganization” of the 6-person County Treasurer’s Department.
Shaw and Flowers have confirmed precisely where each of the meeting participants sat during the meeting and appear to have a vivid recollection of the events which transpired. Flowers and Shaw have explained that they sat on the north side of the conference table with Davenport and Judge Doyal’s daughter on the south side.
The meeting began with Davenport trying to seek assurance, wrongfully, that “all conversations within this room [would be] kept confidential” as Davenport herself admitted in a letter she wrote to jim fredricks, Doyal’s “chief of staff” on January 9, 2017. The State of Texas has a policy of “open government” and “transparency.” Davenport’s attempt at secrecy started the meeting badly. In her January 9, 2017, memorandum, Davenport admitted that “I presented Dodi [Shaw, HR Director] with PDQs for 6 full-time positions and 1 part-time position.” Shaw, in her February 13, 2017, letter rebutting several accusations Davenport made against her, agreed with that portion of Davenport’s description of the meeting.
But where the events got a bit hazy was in the origin of the PDQs. Davenport has refused to disclose who actually prepared the PDQs.
Since Shaw and Flowers have now disclosed that Davenport physically handed the PDQs to Flowers across the conference room table during the September 26 meeting, it’s quite difficult for Davenport not to claim authorship or for Davenport to attempt to shift the blame for the content of the PDQs to someone else in her Treasurer’s Department or otherwise.
The September 6 PDQ stated it was “PREPARED BY STEPHANNE DAVENPORT, MONTGOMERY COUNTY TREASURER.” The September 6 PDQ proposed a promotion of County Judge Craig Doyal’s daughter to the position of “ASSISTANT COUNTY TREASURER.” There’s no subtlety about that.
Since we now know that Davenport physically handed the PDQs to Flowers at the beginning of the meeting and the first page of the PDQs contained those statements about their preparation and the promotion for Doyal’s daughter, it’s all now very clear.
In an exclusive interview with The Golden Hammer, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack explained that “During a break in a Tuesday Commissioners Court meeting in late September or early October, 2016, Judge Doyal asked me whether I’d support a promotion of his daughter Lindsey Doyal to the position of County Treasurer. I told him that he’d have to explain that rationale for that promotion to the entire Commissioners Court before I decided anything like that.”
The Publisher of The Golden Hammer received more than two dozen tips during October and November, 2016, from multiple County employees that Davenport intended to promote the County Judge’s daughter as part of her departmental “reorganization.” When the Publisher asked Davenport and her husband, they both denied that there was any proposal to promote the Judge’s daughter. (Of course, during that time frame, The Golden Hammer did not yet exist and the Publisher hadn’t seen the actual September 26 PDQs.)
Both Davenports lied about whether a proposal to promote Lindsey Doyal was on the table.
During her fiery presentation to the Commissioners Court, on March 14, 2017, which she read entirely from a prepared statement, Stephanne Davenport accused Shaw and the entire HR Department of a “huge lack of integrity.” Davenport then proceeded to tell the shocked room full of people that she does not “exploit” or “magnify” mistakes. Davenport told the Commissioners Court that the draft PDQs were “mistakes” but she refused to identify who drafted the document, which states “PREPARED BY STEPHANNE DAVENPORT” which she physically handed to Flowers during the September 26 meeting. Davenport told the Commissioners Court that she refused to disclose the document author because “mistakes are not exploited or magnified in my Department.”
Stephanne Davenport, County Judge Doyal, and Doyal’s daughter are close friends. Davenport and Doyal’s daughter have traveled together and gone on vacation together. Doyal contributes substantial funds to Davenport’s political campaigns. Doyal paid Marc Davenport $5,000 as a fee to represent Doyal in negotiations for a November 2015 road bond referendum.
In an exclusive interview with The Golden Hammer on February 19, 2017, Stephanne Davenport stated, “By definition, nepotism is an abuse of power. Nepotism does not occur in my department. Yes, I house the daughter of the County Judge. However, the County Judge does not interfere with the day to day operations of my employees.”
Mack, Henderson, Davenport try to bully Fincher out of Constable’s race
The Golden Hammer‘s initial reports about the Davenport Ring emboldened others to come forward with their stories. Courageous Captain Rusty Fincher told his story to this newspaper on June 8.
Fincher faced off with local political consultant Marc Davenport (husband of County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport), Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, and then Sheriff candidate Rand Henderson when Davenport tricked Fincher into meeting with them in the Willis Justice of the Peace Courthouse in order to try to convince Fincher to drop out of the electoral contest for Precinct 1 Constable in the 2016 Republican Primary Election. “I stood up to them in Mack’s judicial office, because it’s not their decision to choose candidates; it’s the public’s,” Fincher told The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, in an exclusive interview over a two day period on June 7 and June 8, 2017.
Fortunately, Davenport does not control the Montgomery County government yet. He used to work with Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley but Riley fired Davenport after a Grand Jury indicted the two of them for allegedly violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. Davenport still seems to have a strong relationship with County Judge Craig Doyal. Davenport seems to influence Doyal’s decisions in a number of areas of County policy, particularly purchasing. Davenport is in the process of running one of his candidates, James Metts, for County Commissioner, Precinct 4, against incumbent Jim Clark. Davenport cannot hide nor control his hatred of Clark. Davenport seems to control Sheriff Rand Henderson and Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack. Davenport helps to determine County policy as well as the course of political campaigns. Just recently, Davenport has threatened Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack with political ruin.
No citizens elected Davenport who is wholly unaccountable to the public.
This article concerns another instance where Davenport caused two of his clients to engage in conduct unbecoming of a “public servant” to say the very least. Davenport’s influence and the degree to which his “clients” follow his demands have become issues that voters must address in the 2018 election. Voters should view warily any Davenport client, because, by electing them, they’re extending Davenport and his hidden agenda farther into the halls of our County government at a time when citizens are ready for reform and not more corruption.
In 2014, longtime incumbent Precinct 1 Constable Don Chumley announced that he was retiring and would not seek re-election in 2016. A candidate arose out of his office for the Republican Primary Election. According to Fincher and one confidential source inside of the Constable’s Office, Davenport sought a meeting with Chumley and the candidate once the candidate had announced. Davenport met with them in Chumley’s Constable’s Office for almost five hours. The following morning the other candidate announced to the Constable’s staff that he was dropping out of consideration for the Constable’s position.
Although Fincher didn’t formally announce his candidacy until October 13, 2015, he began to discuss the idea of running to replace his boss as Precinct 1 Constable over the summer of 2015.
On August 26, 2015, Davenport contacted Fincher. According to Fincher, Davenport told him that Davenport was negotiating on behalf of Montgomery County the purchase of the Odyssey and Spellman computer systems to support the courts and law enforcement. Davenport asked Fincher if Fincher would meet with Davenport at the office of Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, a Davenport client who seems more to work for Davenport than the other way around, to discuss technology issues. Fincher agreed to meet on Tuesday, September 1, 2015, at 3 p.m. A series of text messages between Fincher and Davenport have also confirmed Fincher’s explanation of the events.
Fincher arrived at the appointed time at Mack’s office, but Mack’s clerk told Fincher he would have to wait a few minutes. Approximately 15 minutes later, the clerk buzzed Fincher through the secure door into Mack’s back office area. Mack’s private office door was closed but Fincher heard voices talking insider of that room. The clerk told Fincher he’d have to wait in the kitchen across the hall where there was a long table.
Fincher sat down. About 5 minutes later, Fincher was surprised when Davenport, Mack, and Sheriff candidate Rand Henderson, another Davenport client along with Mack, entered the room and sat down across the table from Fincher.
Mack began the discussion by saying “Rusty, we don’t understand why you think you can run for Constable, because no one in this precinct likes you.” Mack added, “I think you running is a bad idea. You’ll have an uphill battle, so you shouldn’t get involved.”
Fincher responded by saying that he didn’t feel comfortable discussing a political matter inside the Courthouse office of Mack.
Mack ignored Fincher’s stated concern and continued, “Nobody likes you, Rusty. You don’t have to do this.”
Davenport shook his head and began to talk. His first comments were “you can’t get there; you can’t win.” Davenport then proceeded to speak for almost 45 minutes without any other interruption about how much people disliked Fincher and how badly Mack, Henderson, and Davenport wanted to keep Fincher out of the political race.
When Fincher finally had the opportunity to respond, he noted “the Constable has agreed to endorse me and he’s popular. I’ve also got a lot of friends here, because I’ve lived here a long time.” Fincher has been a law enforcement officer for 36 years.
Henderson largely remained quiet during the entire 1.5 hour meeting in Mack’s office other than occasionally nodding his head when Mack or Davenport spoke to Fincher to try to convince Fincher not to run.
Fincher told The Golden Hammer that Fincher repeatedly told Mack and Davenport that meeting inside a County building to discuss this political matter was inappropriate. Mack said, “I don’t really care.”
After Fincher continued to spar verbally with Mack and Davenport for just over three hours, Mack finally jumped up and said, “I’m sick of talking about this stuff” and left the room never to return.
Fincher told this newspaper, “They were trying to bully me out of running in a race where I knew I had a lot of popular support as well as the endorsement of the well-liked incumbent who was retiring.” “Mack and Davenport had no business trying to push me around. Henderson shouldn’t have been in the room at all, but at least he didn’t say much.”
Fincher explained that he came forward to tell The Golden Hammer what happened after he saw that his experience was not the only time that the Davenports and Mack tried to bully people politically. “I’ve done police work for almost four decades, and I’ve done it at the top of the profession. A group of two-bit bullies wouldn’t have scared me from the race.
The Davenports’ childish ways
In late June, this newspaper reported the sordid details of how local political consultant Marc Davenport and his wife County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport utilize two primary methods of gaining competitive advantage over Davenport’s public relations competitors. Both Davenports threaten elected officials, such as Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and City Councilman Duane Ham, who dare even to socialize or communicate with people the Davenports don’t like. Those people whom the Davenports don’t like are, in their view, the “haters” to use Stephanne Davenport’s terminology.
A second method which the Davenports utilize to attempt to compete is far more disruptive to the operations and management of the Montgomery County government, however. In his own words, Marc Davenport, who sent a lengthy and very threatening email to the husband of one of his public relations competitors (with name of competitor changed to “PR Consultant” to protect the victim) on January 3, 2015, included the following threat:
“Stephanne and I have no social conflicts personally or professionally with PR Consultant and want none, as of right now we know of no conflicts or at least not with anyone close to PR Consultant. So if that develops PR Consultant caused it. People in government know you, not her. My clients will not work with her clients on any level or they will not be my clients. None currently exist that create this conflict. As long as she does not attempt to disrupt or insert herself, there should be no conflicts.”
The Davenports’ direct interference with County government operations is something the general public has glimpsed. The Davenports’ clients include Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden, County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts, Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace candidate Jason Dunn, and Sheriff Rand Henderson. They don’t work with or communicate with the “haters,” as the Davenports direct.
Here are some examples of Davenport clients threatening or blocking to aid the Davenports’ competitors for power and public relations work.
Davenport insisted on “nasty tactics” but when PR Consultant refused, those same methods fell against her
PR Consultant explained,
“It all started because I wouldn’ t listen to Marc [Davenport] when he wanted me to convince my candidate running for Conroe ISD Board of Trustees to do nasty tactics. I refused. He said his political allies were powerful and my candidate would win. I still refused. This made him angry. He called me on January 2, 2015, after Stephanne was installed [as Treasurer] and wanted to come speak with me in person. I refused to see him . The conversation was intimidating and I thought of calling Rowdy [Hayden, Precinct 4 Constable]. I didn’t know that Rowdy was one of his candidates at the time. He uses threats and intimidation freely and must be stopped.”
PR Consultant confirmed that Mack confronted PR Consultant at Mack’s first annual prayer breakfast and threatened PR Consultant for PR Consultant’s “friendship with Marie Moore.”
The intimidation tactics against PR Consultant continued, as she has explained to The Golden Hammer:
“In 2015, Mack [Wayne Mack, Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace] confronted me rudely at a Noon Lions Club meeting for having Marie [Moore] as my friend. Stephanne [Davenport] threatened me at a Montgomery County Association of Business Women meeting and told me to call Amy Doyal [County Judge’s wife] and make things right that day or I would suffer the consequences.”
Mack’s confrontation with PR Consultant at the Lions Club was approximately one year after his infamous threatening text message to Moore on April 8, 2014, in which Mack, a sitting judge, wrote:
“You need to give your heart to Jesus. Because the rest of you belongs to Marc [Davenport] and he wants his reputation back.”
Since The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, broke the story about Mack’s threatening text message, Mack has begun a Davenportesque public relations campaign to obfuscate his written threats against Moore and his verbal threats against Moore’s friends. Mack has never explained any rationale for his making threats against Moore in the text message he sent as a sitting judge to the longtime County employee. Mack has failed to explain any excuse for his threatening comments against Moore during 2015. Mack has failed to explain why he’d confront a competitor of Davenport’s in a hostile manner during a prayer meeting in order to threaten her. Mack has failed to explain why he’d confront that same Davenport competitor at other gatherings, such as the Lions Club, during 2015. In short, Mack has failed to explain why, as a sitting judge in this community, he felt he was justified to persecute others who failed to follow the Davenports’ political demands.
The bottom line
Davenport threatened, “My clients will not work with her clients on any level or they will not be my clients.” Apparently, Davenport’s clients tow that party line and actually won’t work with others in government and politics who are clients of Davenport’s public relations competitors.
Since reform in Montgomery County requires substantial reductions in wasteful spending along with well thought out increases in law enforcement funding, people within the County government should work together and not follow consultants’ childish demands placed upon them to try to force them not to fulfill some of their job duties, which include communicating with others inside and outside of the County government.
The Davenports’ obsessive and over-bearing demands upon their clients not to work with public servants who happen to utilize the services of Davenport competitors have made defenestration of the Davenports from the body politic an important point in any real reform agenda for the Montgomery County community.
Wayne Mack’s wheelhouse of inappropriate behavior in his court office
On June 19, The Golden Hammer received extensive information about the obscenity and pornography that are commonplace in Mack’s court office.
Wayne Mack’s Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Court, located in Montgomery and Willis, is a wheelhouse of inappropriate behavior and employee idleness that requires a good dose of the “servant leadership” Mack has promised to taxpayers when he’s run for election. A survey of social media posts of Mack’s three top-level employees – Missy Keene Ringo, Kim Wilson, and Ben Blair – reveals people who engage in publicly inappropriate behavior as well as constant distractions during the court’s business hours. It raises the question why Mack has not proposed a substantially lower budget for Fiscal Year 2018 than he has, since he has opted not to reduce employee expenditures at all.
Of the 1,400 largest private companies in the United States, less than 10% permit employees access to social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and others – during the business day. At many companies, engaging in social media activity outside of the company’s normal business can be a ground for termination. The County’s Public Library does not permit access to social media at all on its computers unless a patron shows photograph identification.
The Golden Hammer originally believed, along with many members of our community, that Mack was sincere in his public statements concerning his spirituality and wanting to be part of government that “people did not fear.” Mack’s own statements, many in writing, are highly disturbing and have obviously contributed to inappropriate conduct and idleness among the employees who work for him in the Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Court. County employees should not spend time posting personal messages on social media during County business hours. The taxpayers pay County employees to work for the public good.
After two of Mack’s employees began to engage in overt political activities on social media some of which occurred during County business hours, this newspaper began a survey of their social media posts. Missy Keene Ringo is Mack’s Court Coordinator. Kim Wilson is Mack’s private secretary and wedding scheduler. Ben Blair is a court clerk.
The official office hours of Mack’s County department are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays.
On Thursday, June 15, 2017, at 2:34 p.m., Blair, as part of a long sequence of inappropriate social media posts among Blair and Ringo, posted the following post on Facebook during the Justice Court’s Official Office Hours when taxpayers paid Blair to work for the public good:
The foregoing Facebook post would seem to be a direct violation of Section 3.3 of the Montgomery County Employee Policy Manual.
Before describing the continuation of the colloquy among Mack’s employees, which this newspaper has chosen not to publish due to the graphic nature of the photographs and statements which Ringo and Blair made for the world to see, it’s important to note the definition of “obscenity” in the United States since 1957. In Roth versus United States, the Supreme Court of the United States defined “obscenity” as material whose “dominant theme taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest…[to the] average person, applying contemporary community standards.” 354 U.S. 476 (Supreme Court of the United States, 1957).
The foregoing post between Blair and Ringo would seem to be a classic example of “obscenity,” because it portrays an excessive interest in voyeurism and sexual matters applying contemporary community standards in Montgomery County, Texas, even in 2017. If you don’t reach that point, ask yourself the question: would even Craig Doyal stop someone from reading that Facebook post out loud in the Commissioners Court, which appears live by video and audio, during a citizen comment?
Later that evening, Ringo and Blair continued their inappropriate colloquy which they published for the world to see on Facebook.
A survey of social media posts during the months of April, May, and June, 2017, has revealed that Ringo, Blair, and Wilson engaged in dozens of social media posts of a highly personal nature during the County business day on a regular basis. Because the matters are often highly personal, it’s incomprehensible that they’d post them on Facebook, which is a very public place.
Mack has claimed that he seeks to engage in “servant leadership.” A fundamental aspect of such leadership is to motivate and ensure that employees actually work doing their assigned tasks within the County government.
Mack has placed himself on a very high ethical pedestal, one which his personal behavior does not approach. Nevertheless, there are basic aspects of office management that should become the regular practice of Mack and his employees.
DA Ligon quashes “Video-Gate” investigation
District Attorney Brett Ligon and the Public Integrity Division of the District Attorney’s Office announced on June 9 that they would not pursue criminal charges against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal arising out of the “Video-Gate” scandal. Ligon told The Golden Hammer, “Rusty Hardin [Doyal’s criminal defense attorney] and I went back and forth about these issues. I ultimately decided that the law didn’t support bringing criminal charges against Doyal.” Doyal had filmed a campaign advertisement in which he asked for campaign donations inside of his County office on May 19. The Golden Hammer broke its story on Sunday, May 21.
Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code establishes a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail, for any officer or employee of a political subdivision who knowingly spends or authorizes the use of public funds for political advertising. The statute explicitly contemplates that the Texas Ethics Commission may render written opinions regarding conduct regulated under the Section.
In Texas Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion Number 443, the Texas Ethics Commission clarified that Section 255.003 specifically prohibits the use of facilities not open to the public for political advertising of the sort which Doyal filmed for the video. Doyal’s office is not a public forum open to everyone, so it is clear that he violated the criminal statute by using his office for the advertisement.
In Ethics Opinion 443, the Commission discussed the use of a teachers’ lounge in a school for the filming of a political advertisement and determined that such use of the lounge was prohibited and a violation of the penal law. Several Ethics Commission opinions have later supported the conclusion of Opinion 443 that political advertising in a non-public forum, such as a private office, within a public facility is clearly a violation of the Texas Election Code.
Ligon claimed he determined that there is no criminal prohibition against an elected official using his official government office to file a campaign advertisement on June 8 around 9 a.m. Interestingly, Sheriff Rand Henderson’s campaign website and Ligon’s own campaign website went down within a few hours and photographs and video of Henderson and Ligon working inside of their offices did not reappear on their websites when they returned.
Tropical Storm Harvey results in man-made disaster as a result of SJRA
From August 25 to August 31, Montgomery County and surrounding areas suffered through Tropical Storm Harvey, which brought rain in excess of 25 inches in some areas over an approximately four day period. SJRA estimated that the rainfall in the Lake Conroe Dam area at the southern tip of Lake Conroe northwest of the city center of Conroe on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River experienced 22.4 inches of rain from August 25 to August 29, 2017.
On Monday, August 28, 2017, SJRA was releasing 79,141 cubic feet per second of water (more than 500,000 gallons per second) through the Dam, even though its normal flow of released water from the Dam is 2,700 cubic feet per second. The inflow of water into Lake Conroe was 130,000 cubic feet per second at the height of the storm.
Massive and severe flooding of communities downstream began almost immediately upon SJRA’s release of the water which exceeded the maximum release out of the Lake Conroe Dam during the 1994 flood by 2.39 times.
SJRA provided little warning to downstream communities other than a press release it issued on Sunday, August 27, 2017.
Many people lost their lives and approximately eight thousand families lost their homes in the floods, according to estimates of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court during its Friday, September 1, 2017, meeting.
The flooding occurred in three primary areas moving approximately downstream:
- West Fork of San Jacinto River: River Plantation, Harpers Landing, Porter, and surrounding communities
- East Fork of San Jacinto River: Splendora, Patton Village, Roman Forest, and surrounding communities
- Confluence of the forks of San Jacinto River: Kingwood.
Former State Representative Steve Toth and many others have criticized SJRA for their failure to handle flooding property. Toth’s criticism of SJRA primarily consists of two points:
- SJRA should have provided real and substantial warning to the homeowners downstream that SJRA intended the massive release of water from the Lake Conroe Dam. “All they did was issue a press release. It’s completely disgusting. They should have gone into neighborhoods with sound trucks and warned people what was coming,” said Toth.
- SJRA should have begun pre-releasing water in larger quantities than the typical release rate well before the storm actually hit the San Jacinto River watershed, because this entire community had sufficient warning that Tropical Storm Harvey was on its way to southeast Texas several days before it actually struck.
SJRA is a state agency that is out of touch with the community around it. On June 12, 2017, SJRA presented a proposed $2 million engineering study by none other than the seriously conflicted Halff Associates, Inc., engineers, the firm of Bobby Jack Adams, best friend and business partner of County Judge Craig Doyal, and the son of former SJRA General Manager Jim Adams. The purpose of the study is to update flood plain information and enhance flood early warning capabilities in the region.
It’s unclear why SJRA with its massive budget and team of engineers would need to provide such a lucrative contract to an outside engineering firm such as Bobby Adams’ Halff Associates. Flood control and planning are parts of the core mission of SJRA. Flood plain information and early warning capabilities should have been a part of SJRA’s core operations a long, long, long time ago.
“It’s unclear why SJRA with its massive budget and team of engineers would need to provide such a lucrative contract to an outside engineering firm such as Bobby Adams’ Halff Associates. Flood control and planning are parts of the core mission of SJRA. Flood plain information and early warning capabilities should have been a part of SJRA’s core operations a long, long, long time ago.”
Amazingly, the proposed study does not include any analysis of the area around the East Fork of the San Jacinto River. Both Clark and his political opponent, Bob Bagley, who is running against Clark in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, have complained that SJRA should include East Montgomery County in the study as well. (Once again, East Montgomery County is receiving treatment as a second-class part of the community without any justification.)
In her award winning book (declassified and published in 1962), Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, renowned historian and RAND strategic analyst Roberta Wohlstetter wrote:
“It would be reassuring to believe that Pearl Harbor was just a colossal and extraordinary blunder. What is disquieting is that it was a supremely ordinary blunder. In fact ‘blunder’ is too specific; our stupendous unreadiness at Pearl Harbor was neither a Sunday-morning, nor a Hawaiian phenomenon. It was just a dramatic failure of a remarkably well-informed government to call the next enemy move…
“Surprise, when it happens to a government, is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that action gets lost. It includes gaps in intelligence.”
Wohlstetter, one of the great analysts of the twentieth century who spent most of her career from 1948 to 2002 as a military intelligence analyst at RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, concluded after careful study that the United States had sufficient information to foresee and predict the Pearl Harbor attack but failed to identify the signals (especially from signals intelligence) due to the background “noise” of the quantity of other facts.
Montgomery County, SJRA, and our entire community should pay heed to Wohlstetter’s points about Pearl Harbor.
While Tropical Storm Harvey brought a lot of rain, this community has witnessed increasing instances of major flooding events since the October, 1994 floods. There was another flood in February, 1995, that struck areas of Montgomery County. There have been major rainfall and flood damage events in this community each year in the late spring during both 2015 and 2016.
Each year that brings rain (which is every year!) the citizens of Montgomery County observe flooding that has progressively gotten worse and worse. The areas that have continuously suffered flooding most dramatically are the Splendora area of East Montgomery County, River Plantation and nearby neighborhoods.
As development of neighborhoods and roads to them continues, the area of the ground that can absorb rainfall rapidly declines, particularly in those areas where the development has occurred. Master planned communities such as The Woodlands (south central Montgomery County) and Valley Ranch (south east Montgomery County) must plan for drainage, detention, and retention of water as one of the first aspects of infrastructure development. Those communities must continually improve flood control as they develop and grow. The Woodlands experienced very little flooding during Harvey other than along Spring Creek and in Harper’s Landing. Valley Ranch had no flooding problems at all in either the commercial or residential areas.
To understand the terrible failure of SJRA, one must understand its history, because there is a common misconception that SJRA is only responsible for the management of the Lake Conroe Dam which sits on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. SJRA’s responsibility goes far beyond that.
“To understand the terrible failure of SJRA, one must understand its history, because there is a common misconception that SJRA is only responsible for the management of the Lake Conroe Dam which sits on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. SJRA’s responsibility goes far beyond that.”
There’s a great summary of the SJRA’s history in the Handbook of the Texas State Historical Association:
“The San Jacinto River Authority was established by special acts of the legislature in 1937 as the San Jacinto River Conservation and Reclamation District. Like many such agencies, it was charged with numerous duties and given a broad scope of operational latitude…The district was granted the power to levy taxes but never exercised this power. Its operating income came primarily from the sale of revenue bonds, the sale and distribution of water, and fees collected for the disposal of wastewater. The boundaries of the district embraced all of the watershed of the San Jacinto River outside Harris County, including parts of Walker, San Jacinto, Liberty, Waller, and Grimes counties and all of Montgomery County.
“As a joint project with the City of Houston and the Texas Water Development Board, in 1973 the San Jacinto River Authority completed the construction of Lake Conroe on the West Fork of the San Jacinto at a cost of $30 million. The 21,000-acre reservoir, which lay partially within the boundaries of the Sam Houston National Forest, provided the area a water supply and conservation facilities, as well as many recreational opportunities. The San Jacinto River Authority has provided water supply and waste water treatment to the MUDs at the Woodlands since 1975.”
As the SJRA has acknowledged on its website, its purpose under Article XVI, Section 59(a), of the Texas Constitution includes “the control, storing, preservation, and distribution of its storm and flood waters, the water of its rivers and streams, for irrigation, power, and all other useful purposes.”
Since SJRA’s creation by the Texas Legislature in 1937, during the New Deal era of government expansion, one of its “primary purposes” has been “to provide flood control.”
It’s critical to note that SJRA’s responsibilities and legal duties to provide flood control exist within the entire watershed of the San Jacinto River. Despite efforts by Doyal, SRJA’s General Manager Jace Houston, and others to try to deflect responsibility for flooding on the Lake Creek “watershed” that flows into the San Jacinto River watershed from the west, in actuality Lake Creek flows into the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and is a part of the San Jacinto watershed, as the United States Geological Survey map reveals immediately below.
It makes sense that Lake Creek is part of the San Jacinto River watershed over which SJRA has jurisdiction, because creeks flow into rivers (as most individuals with a third grade education level ought to understand.)
As the Supreme Court of Texas made clear in a 1945 opinion in a case between SJRA and the Texas Attorney General, SJRA’s jurisdiction and responsibility embraced taking public action to prevent public calamities including recurrent devastating flood in the valley of the San Jacinto River. For 80 years, “the boundaries of the…[SJRA] embrace all of the watershed of the San Jacinto River, except that portion thereof lying within the bounds of Harris County,” as the Supreme Court explained.
One of SJRA’s most highly-developed functions is making money by selling water. Since 1975, SJRA has had a deal to sell groundwater in The Woodlands to the Woodlands Joint Powers Agency and the municipal utility districts in the master-planned subdivision.
SJRA makes most of its money, however, through selling surface water for which it charges mightily. That’s how SJRA has become involved in the controversy over the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD). SJRA’s Jace Houston has a board seat on LSGCD and seems to control that board and entire LSGCD.
LSGCD has adopted some extremely conservative and dire prognostications of groundwater shortages in order to justify stringent regulation of groundwater usage in Montgomery County through groundwater reduction plans (GRPs). By limiting groundwater usage, guess who LSGCD benefits most directly? You got it: SJRA, which can then force water utility companies, municipalities, and other water users to buy water from it under exorbitantly-priced arrangements.
That’s the reason that SJRA, LSGCD, the City of Conroe, and several large groundwater producers are involved in at least two major lawsuits where the City of Conroe and the groundwater producers claim that the GRPs are based upon “junk science” and “arbitrary and capricious” regulation.
In short, SJRA has focused on making money through surface water sales and failed to prosecute its core mission of preventing public calamities in the form of devastating floods in the San Jacinto River’s watershed.
Sadly, Montgomery County just experienced its own version of the Pearl Harbor attack when Mother Nature brought heavy rains to this community without SJRA providing the “flood control” of its core mission under the statutory scheme that created the entity.
SJRA has provided virtually no flood control or planning for East Montgomery County at all. It’s persona non grata around the communities along the East Fork of the San Jacinto River, such as Splendora, Woodbranch, Patton Village, Roman Forest, or Plum Creek. Its team of engineers could have provided municipalities, real estate developers, and road planners with substantial design and planning support along with the truly vast financial resources of SJRA.
SJRA doesn’t need to spend $2 million on paying Bobby Adams’ Halff Associates for a flood plain study when SJRA has the engineering data and resources inside its own computer servers (and in the publicly-available databases of the United States Geological Survey). SJRA should do its job and provide the aforementioned planning to assist communities and transportation developers with flood and drainage control. A good survey crew could assist SJRA in updating the data on the ground for a lot less than $2 million.
SJRA had certainly received the “signals” that catastrophic flooding was on its way, just as the United States had received “SIGINT” prior to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
SJRA should have developed a strong early warning and communication system with communities, homeowners, municipalities, real estate developers, elected officials, volunteers, and just plain nosy busybodies in order to ensure that massive releases of water from the Lake Conroe Dam would not occur without substantial warning. Incredibly, even business owners near the Dam, such as Vernon’s Kuntry Katfish, a community icon, had little or no warning of the devastating flood.
There’s another aspect of planning where SJRA completely failed and that’s the failure to engage in substantial “wargaming” of flood events.
Before Wohlstetter published her book on Pearl Harbor in 1962, the great strategic minds inside of the RAND Corporation and the United States Air Force had engaged in extensive wargaming scenarios to ensure that strategic surprises, such as Pearl Harbor, would not go unnoticed again. Some of those strategic minds included Herman Kahn and Henry Kissinger (both of whom were models for the title role in the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), Wohlstetter and her husband Albert, Thomas Schelling, James Schlesinger, and Herbert Goldhamer (arguably the father of modern wargaming).
It seems incredible that SJRA did not engage in wargaming of storm and other flooding scenarios in order to prepare for situations very similar to Tropical Storm Harvey. RAND’s Goldhamer always included “Mother Nature” as one of the military teams in any wargaming. The United States Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment even today still includes “Mother Nature” in many of its wargaming scenarios.
Since SJRA’s core mission includes “flood control,” not just selling water for high profits, it would seem that SJRA would devote substantial portions of its internal resources to “wargaming” scenarios so that SJRA is never caught by surprise again.
An early warning system and wargaming scenarios for future circumstances seem quite obvious necessities for SJRA.
Most importantly, SJRA should quietly work with those in the business of changing the geography and topography of our community to try to make it even better in order to provide the flood control and planning throughout the entire San Jacinto River watershed (not just restricted to the pretty view immediately outside of the opulent SJRA offices).
September 5 budget disaster
On September 5, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a $328 million budget, on a 4 to 1 vote, in the middle of the Tropical Storm Harvey disaster, without meaningful review and without a fair chance for the public to participate in a public hearing with the proposed budget before them. Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark took the heroic step of voting against the County Budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
The September 5, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting exhibited a strenuous effort by four of the five Commissioners Court members to exclude the public from participation in the budget process. Worse yet, since County Auditor Phyllis Martin had only filed the “Proposed Budget” on August 31, 2017, less than two business days prior to the meeting, it was apparent that the Commissioners Court members had little understanding of the content of the 365-page document on which they voted.
Pandemonium in the Commissioners Court
The purpose of the Commissioners Court meeting was to hold a public hearing where the members of the Commissioners Court could discuss the “Proposed Budget” with members of the public. The Commissioners Court never made the “Proposed Budget” available to the public until approximately 10 a.m., Thursday, August 31, 2017, even though County Judge Craig Doyal made clear that the budget was available to him and to County Auditor Phyllis Martin since early August.
The first citizen who attempted to speak was Bob Holden of Willis whom Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley treated with the utmost rudeness.
Holden commented that the “budget was not cut sufficiently…only 1 commissioner has been able to reduce his budget.” Holden further said, “there was actually a budget and tax increase, because property appraisals have gone up significantly.”
When Holden dared to speak about the massive amount of general revenue funds that the Commissioners Court has voted to spend Doyal’s and Riley’s pet $73 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 Tollway at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County planned to go into vacant pastureland which some of their favored political contributors happen to own, Doyal and Riley couldn’t sit still.
Doyal interrupted Holden, “This hearing is about the tax rate and budget, not roads.”
Riley then interrupted with the comment, “Jesus Christ, this is so sad.”
Holden kept his composure, even though Riley and Doyal did not, and continued, “You know who pays the revenue bonds, we do? By the way, I’d like to make an offer on your [Doyal’s] house at county appraised value.”
Riley then used the Lord’s name in vain again, “Jesus, this is so sad.”
Doyal then agreed with Riley’s invocation of the Lord’s name in vain, “It is sad.” Apparently, Doyal and Riley believe that it is “sad” when citizens dare come to speak to them and challenge their elite decisions.
The loss of all sense of propriety among Doyal, Riley, and the Commissioners Court continued.
Doyal then said, “That appraisal on my house was just the lot value.” (Of course, Doyal didn’t mention that he had moved into the completed palace of a home prior to the beginning of the calendar year, so the full home value should have been in the appraisal.)
Riley agreed with himself, “So pitiful.”
The next speaker was Eric Yollick, the Publisher of The Golden Hammer, who merely asked some questions to the Commissioners Court. Here are the questions Yollick dared to ask the great and power members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court:
“Account 496 Budget Office”
“How can you establish a budget for this department without establishing any of the department’s goals or purposes first?
“Why can’t you establish a 0 dollar budget for this department and pull its necessary operating funds out of the County Auditor’s budget by budget amendments with the Board of District Judges approval?
“Why does the budget office require three employees?
“Could you please explain why the budget office requires a water cooler?
“Why does the budget office need $6718 for travel expense and professional development when it doesn’t even have goals or a purpose yet?
“How could you know that budget office requires $1000 for business cards and forms without establishing its purpose?
“What association dues does the budget office need that don’t directly overlap with the County Auditor’s budget?
“Aren’t you double-dipping from the County Auditor’s budget?
Sheriff’s Deputies make below average salary, while County Judge and Commissioners make far above normal
“Account 400 County Judge
“The counties to which we often compare ourselves are Collin, Fort Bend, Denton, and Williamson. Our County Judge earns almost $30,000 per year more in salary than the closest of those counties’ judge. The average of those four County Judges makes $126,000 per year. Our County Commissioners earn $47,000 more per year in salary than the highest of those four comparable counties.
“Meanwhile, our Sheriff’s Deputies make less than the average of those four counties.
“Could you please explain why the County Judge and County Commissioners salaries are so high and why have you not addressed that problem in this year’s budget?
“Does the County Judge Department consisting of 4 people two of whom are secretaries really need a $2,297 cell phone budget?
“Could you please explain why we have $500 budgeted for printing when the actual expenditures under that category are 0?
“Account 4011 Civil Service
“Why is $3,300 budgeted for professional expenses when the last actual expenditure amount was $1,082?
“What precisely are the supplies to which you’ve budget $1,000?
“Account 402 Risk Management
“Why do we have $3,000 budgeted more than we’ve actually spent on blood borne pathogen compliance?
“Precisely what is the capital outlay budget for in this department that is precisely the same to the dollar what last year’s budget was for the same sub-account.
“The Risk Management Department head make $21,674.32 than the national average for a risk management director in private industry; why are we not addressing that overpayment in the budget?
“There are four employees within this department who perform identical functions – risk analysts. Their duties are all identical and basically in writing are required to ‘ensure productive results’ according to the PDQs. Why do we need four people performing exactly the same function?
“Have you analyzed the “situation” numbers to determine if there is a necessity for this much overlap of duties?
“Why cannot these functions fall within the HR department as most Fortune 500 companies keep the HR and Risk Management functions together?
“Account 404 Court Collections
“By continuing to allow Graves Humphries to collect JP assessments, the county is losing over $755,651 per year that could offset the tax rate and tax assessments instead. Why does the Commissioners Court not step in and unify the four JP courts into the County computer system and collection system?
“Are you aware that the county has spent over $130,000 on network problems arising from the use of NetData as well? Would you consider saving those funds?
“Account 407 Purchasing
“The Purchasing Department head makes $71,998 more than the average purchasing director for a Fortune 500 company. Has he assured the County that we’ll have more than that in savings in comparison to his predecessor?
“What precisely is the $4,500 budgeted for travel expenses for the purchasing department?
“Has anyone on the Commissioners Court examined why our county purchasing department has a budget $195,000 more per year than Fort Bend County’s?
“Account 409 Non-Departmental
“In 2016, the County spent $661,658 in postage which was $90,000 less than budgeted. Why are we budgeting more than that amount this year, $712,000, when the use of postal services is rapidly declining?
“The Commissioners Court never voted to approve the MCAD budget. In fact, the motion failed for lack of a quorum. Wouldn’t it be helpful to the citizens of Montgomery County for you to vote to disapprove the budget
- since that meeting two months ago, have you closely examined the MCAD budget which includes a major increase in salaries and personnel?
- Why would you vote to approve those increases?
“You have budgeted $100,000 even for ‘professional services’ while the last actual expenditure in that category was $42,379 (FY 2016). Why are you budgeting that higher amount and what is it for?
“The $60,000 in association dues includes a substantial payment to the Texas Association of Counties which has lobbied against property tax reform. Why are we continuing to pay those association dues contrary to the citizens and to the resolutions this Commissioners Court passed earlier this year?
“We’re paying $3,458,000 in retiree health benefits, even though less than 9% of Fortune 500 companies provide for such benefits and a much lower percentage of all private companies provide them. Have you considered phasing out those benefits and why not?
“Account 503 Information Technology
“What efforts have you made to determine whether the 30 people in this department do not have functions that overlap more than they should?
“Why is the software budget (73911) more than twice what actual expenditures have been?
“Why does an IT department need a $86,820 professional services budget, particularly since it only spends about half that amount actually?
“Account 50313 Information Technology-Renewal and Replacement
“On the enterprise software, what efforts have you made to price the software competitively and why is it costing approximately 12 times the same system would cost for private companies, including Fortune 500 companies?
“Account 497 County Treasurer
“Why does this department have employees whose functions duplicate each other by 4 times? Have any of the members of the Court examined the PDQs for this department?
“Why does the County Treasurer need $3,500 in travel expense?
“Why does the County Treasurer need $750 in association dues? Does the association support the goals of taxpayers to reduce government spending and increase efficiency?
“Why is the supplies budget for the County Treasurer more than the actual expenditures have ever been?
“Account 4995 Tax Assessor/Collector-Economic Development
“Why are we paying $3,000 for “economic development” through the tax collector’s budget? Traditionally, that’s been a payment to a chamber of commerce for a program sponsorship. Why would the government pay for such an expenditure?
“Account 665 Extension Office
“The Extension Office has 11 employees. Has the Commissioners Court examined what the functions are of those employees and whether there are too many?
“Account 509 Building Custodial Services
“During the week of the budget workshop, this department head made clear that she didn’t believe her department could afford to reduce services at all for fear of public health hazards. But immediately after the workshops ended, she actually reduced services throughout the county. Has the commissioners court examined whether the taxpayers could therefore receive a substantial salary reduction in this department?
“The director of this department receives a salary of $107,962, which is $42,961.43 above the national average for this position. Why is the Commissioners Court paying such an exorbitantly high salary for this position?
“Why are janitor supplies budgeted more than $20,000 higher than actual expenditures?
“Why are we paying $52,400 for professional services in this department?
“What sort of association do we need to pay dues for for this department?
“Has the Commissioners Court examined why we’re paying almost twice for janitorial services than comparable counties including Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, and Williamson?
“Account 510 Building Maintenance Services
“This department has more nepotism in it than any other. Has the Commissioners Court as a whole taken a hard look at whether the nepotistic employees – Angela Ford, Bill Meador, Craig Case, and the Wright family – perform actual functions that contribute productively to the county in excess of their high salary amounts?
“Since Craig Case works as a welder directly for his father, why have you assigned his salary to the County Engineer?
“Account 513 Civic Center
“When the Commissioners Court conducted a study whether to build the Civic Center, you concluded that you’d build the Center based upon the assumption that it would pay for itself. Now the taxpayers are losing about $450,000 per year on the civic center. Have you considered either shutting it down or allowing a private company to run it entirely, while zeroing out the taxpayers’ budget for this department? Why or why not?
“Account 5131 Fairgrounds
“Since the last actual expenditure was 0, why does this account have a budget of $50,000 per year for “contract services”?
“Account 6511 Memorial Library
“Since usage of the Library has gone down dramatically, why has the budget of this department steadily gone up?
“Why has staffing actually increased to 120 FTEs and 19 part-timers?
“Why does the Library require $15,499 for travel expense?
“Account 661 Historical Commission
“Why do you not require that the Historical Commission be self-sufficient from charitable donations?
“Accounts 612 to 615 Commissioners
“Why was the Commissioner Precinct 4 able to reduce his budget when no other Commissioner did so?
“Account 6291 Airport Maintenance
“Why does the County continue to subsidize the Airport at all?
“Why can we not use some of the land to store materials and debris from the flood, as they’ve used IAH previously?
“Why can we not privatize the Airport entirely by leasing the entire operation out?
“Why can’t we insist that it break even immediately?
The Commissioners Court’s answers?
Doyal, Riley, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack ignored every single question.
Interestingly, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark did not ignore the questions.
Republican Precinct Chair Ginger Russell of Magnolia explained to the Commissioners Court that she had had very little sleep the night before the meeting, because she was helping as a volunteer to assist flood victims.
Russell noted that predictions that the Commissioners Court would only allow publication of the “Proposed Budget” a few days before the actual public hearing and vote were correct.
Russell told Doyal, Riley, Meador, and Noack, “It’s despicable and deceitful. That’s why I have such a disdain for government. We’re in the midst of the worst disaster in U.S. history right here in this county and I have to be here this morning. You should put off this budget hearing for 2 weeks. It’s very’d deceitful to bring this hearing today.”
“It’s despicable and deceitful. That’s why I have such a disdain for government. We’re in the midst of the worst disaster in U.S. history right here in this county and I have to be here this morning. You should put off this budget hearing for 2 weeks. It’s very’d deceitful to bring this hearing today.” – – – Ginger Russell, GOP Precinct Chair.
Pandemonium broke out
Noack asked County Attorney J.D. Lambright, “Can you address when the budget has to be adopted?”
County Auditor Phyllis Martin interjected, “Before October 1…you’re following a calendar proposed since March.
For some reason, Noack was unwilling to take a stand on deferring the budget vote until a later date. Instead, he merely asked, “Knowing there’s some interest by members of community to defer, is there any interest among members of court to do so?”
County Auditor Martin, who shifted her tone from informative to dictatorial, responded, “We filed proposed budget by August 31. We can’t wait 2 weeks.”
Clark noted that, since he’s been working on disaster recovery operations in East Montgomery County, he hadn’t even had an opportunity to review the “Proposed Budget.” In response, Doyal chided Clark, “You sat through the budget workshops. You know what’s in the budget.”
Riley chimed in, “You don’t have a couple of weeks to work on this. Jesus!”
Meador then added, “This has been a several month long process. We’ve been through workshops.” (Of course, Meador didn’t mention that Doyal barred the public from participating in the “budget workshops.”) Meador added, “I’d just as soon vote on the budget today.”
Clark held his ground, “I’ve heard some valid concerns [from the citizens]. It doesn’t look good for budgeting $100,000 for something when we’ve been spending $20,000 for that account every year.”
Riley responded, “You should have brought that up during the budget workshop if we’re overspending.” (Of course, the citizens weren’t allowed to raise these issues before September 5, because (1) Doyal barred the citizens from the budget workshop, and (2) Doyal, Martin, Riley, Meador, and Noack hid the “Proposed Budget” from the public until August 31.)
Meador moved to adopt the budget and the current tax rate (which means citizens will suffer a tax increase as a result of increases in property tax appraisals). Riley seconded the motion.
The precipitous vote on the single most important matter before the Commissioners Court during the entire year was 4 to 1:
Noack YES (disappointing and shocking)
Since Doyal, Martin, Riley, Meador, and Noack won’t listen to anyone but themselves, and since they purposefully work to exclude citizen participation in a process where only the citizens seem to pay attention to the details of the information, the Commissioners Court simply has no ability to reduce spending.
Here are the numbers which reveal that Doyal, Riley, Meador, and Noack voted for the HIGHEST OPERATIONAL EXPENDITURE BUDGET FOR THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY GOVERNMENT IN ITS HISTORY: