Three members of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court were indicted in June on Texas Open Meetings Act violation charges related to negotiations regarding the county’s road bond election in November.
County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark were indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury June 24 and have since been released on bond, Doyal’s attorney John Choate said.
Political consultant Marc Davenport, who previously worked on campaigns for Doyal and Riley, was indicted as well, special prosecutor Chris Downey said.
In addition, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended Doyal without pay June 28.
The first scheduled court date for Doyal, the commissioners and Davenport is Aug. 2, after press time.
“Any judge may be suspended from office with or without pay by the commission immediately upon being indicted by a state or federal grand jury for a felony offense or charged with a misdemeanor involving official misconduct,” the commission stated in the suspension order.
Riley and Clark were not suspended because they do not fall under the commission’s jurisdiction, officials said.
“Over the course of the past several months, the grand jury considered the testimony of numerous individuals and evidence obtained from a variety of sources,” Downey said. “They determined that probable cause exists to conclude that the three [officials]and Mr. Davenport violated the provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act.”
Doyal, Davenport and the commissioners are accused of negotiating details for the Montgomery County road bond election with each other and the Texas Patriots PAC via email.
The act mandates a quorum—or majority—of elected officials of a governing body must deliberate matters in an open meeting after posting a public notice 72 hours in advance of the meeting, said Kelley Shannon, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas executive director.
“For 30 years I have been involved in the public sector,” Doyal said. “I understand the open meetings laws. I did not violate the open meetings laws, nor did I conspire to violate open meetings laws.”
A TOMA violation is designated as a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by 1-6 months in jail, a fine of up to $500; or both, according to the Office of the Attorney General’s website. If convicted, Choate said Doyal, Riley and Clark could also be removed from office.
Road bond negotiations
Two iterations of the Montgomery County road bond referendum appeared on the ballot in 2015. The Texas Patriots PAC and residents of The Woodlands heavily opposed the first version, a $350 million bond referendum in May 2015, largely due to the inclusion of a Woodlands Parkway extension proposed by Precinct 2.
Voters instead approved a $280 million road bond in November after projects were removed from the bond following negotiations between Davenport, county officials and the Texas Patriots PAC. The TOMA violation charges stem from those negotiations.
Choate said county officials did not circumvent TOMA laws, adding Doyal only met with Riley and private citizens.
“If it is just two [public officials]or private individuals are involved, there is nothing wrong,” Choate said. “They are alleging that [the accused]had deliberations in secret and tried to circumvent the notice requirement. The only thing that was decided at the meeting between Riley and my client was to put [the road bond]back on the agenda. There was no legislation agreed upon. It was put on the agenda, and then it was [made]public.”
Choate said he and Doyal will challenge the TOMA violation charges in court, adding that he believes the accusations were politically