Montgomery County commissioners ask for apology from The Woodlands Township over theft accusation

Montgomery County commissioners discussed an accusation of theft due to Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding during a March 9 meeting. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County commissioners discussed an accusation of theft due to Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding during a March 9 meeting. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Montgomery County commissioners discussed an accusation of theft due to Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding during a March 9 meeting. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Members of Montgomery County Commissioners Court on March 9 asked for an apology after an accusation of theft was leveled at the county at a Feb. 24 The Woodlands Township board of directors meeting.

During a March 9 meeting, County Judge Mark Keough said there have been criticisms against the county from governing entities within its boundaries for how it distributed federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds for COVID-19 relief. Keough characterized the remarks as "misinformation ... publicly concerning the county and its distribution of [CARES Act] funds."

At its Feb. 24 meeting, members of The Woodlands board criticized Montgomery County, saying the $244,000 the township received out of the $6.1 million it requested from the county in CARES Act funds was a "slap in the face" compared to the $55 per-capita payment it received from Harris County. Members also questioned whether Montgomery County had reimbursed itself for expenses already covered through contract payments.

Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said the comments stem from a mistaken impression the county would consider taking a contract payment and reimbursing itself for it.

The commissioners played a clip from the township's Feb. 24 meeting, where Gordy Bunch, the chair of The Woodlands board of directors, questioned whether the $50 million the county used to reimburse itself for public safety expenses included the $10 million that was already paid for through a contract with the township.

“If we do find out the $50 million is covering the $10 million that we paid ... that’s just theft,” Bunch said at the Feb. 24 meeting.

Keough denied the charge and denied arbitrarily holding funds from the township, stating the county does not have to transfer funds to smaller entities within its borders. He said if the county does disperse funds to smaller entities, the funds cannot be for revenue reimbursement, and the requests must be audited.

Keough said another criticism is the county has not been operating within the spirit of the CARES Act. He said its use of funds has been within U.S. Treasury Department guidelines.

"When you think about the use of these funds, it is incumbent upon us that we use them properly," Keough said. "As I looked at that, the Treasury has provided us guidance."

Keough said the county received around $104 million in federal CARES Act funding because it has a population of more than 500,000.

"However, 55% of the total was sent to the state," Keough said. "The state then is then responsible to fund political subdivisions of less than 500,000. ... The state should distribute ... to local governments with a population of 500,000 or less."

In discussion, the commissioners agreed an apology for the accusation should come from the township.

After a recess for executive session, a member of The Woodlands board spoke to the court during its public comment section.

"We are interested in receiving the rest for our residents; we think it is due to them," Shelley Sekula-Gibbs said, noting counties of comparable size to Montgomery County allocated funds to jurisdictions at a rate of about $55 per capita. "They were supposed to hand it down to qualified municipalities and jurisdiction."
By Andrew Christman
Andrew joined Community Impact Newspaper in early 2019 after moving from Indiana. He is a 2015 graduate from Indiana State University, where he received degrees in English and journalism. He has written for a number of small town publications throughout his career as a reporter.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.


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