MONTGOMERY COUNTY – Monte Lane’s campaign brochure calls him “a man of honesty and integrity who is true in all things with which he is entrusted.” The lengthy mailout, or handout, contains extensive promotional information about Mr. Lane and is fraught with overstatements and exaggerations. However, what it does not say may be more significant, particularly considering the responsibilities of a county commissioner.
In a recorded interview on February 9, Monte Lane stated he currently works as a real estate consultant and a recruiter for the US Census Bureau. He refused to respond when asked what being a “real estate consultant” entails. While the definition of the Census recruiter job sounded fairly obvious, it was a blatant lie.
Bill Bowen, spokesman for the US Census Bureau, said as of February 4 Monte Lane no longer worked for the US Census Bureau, was aware of that fact, and had no right to present himself as a Census Bureau employee at any time after that date.
When confronted about claiming to work for the federal agency five days after his employment ended, Lane claimed he was not lying on February 9, because he supposedly took “a leave of absence” and planned to return after the primaries.
A management source inside the Census Bureau, however, confirmed that Lane was “fired” for “campaigning on Census time.” The source also expressed being appalled at Lane’s disregard for the rules by which he agreed to abide and said depending upon just how far he went, post termination, in misrepresenting himself as a current federal employee, his actions could be criminal.
Bill Bowen said the 2010 Census ethics rules for employees includes the following:
1. Do not use your official title, or Government resources (duty time, computer, email, access information , fax, copier, vehicle) for personal activities.
9. Do not engage in political activities while on Government premises or during duty hours.
A further search revealed the Census Bureau’s rules for employees has a section called, “General Restrictions concerning Engaging in Political Activities” which states:
“You may not engage in partisan political activities while on Government premises or while on official duty.
You also may not use the authority of your Government position or Government resources, including equipment, services, or your official title, in connection with partisan political activities.
In addition, you may not:
– accept or receive a political contribution;
– personally solicit political contributions or host a political fund-raiser;
– run as a candidate in a partisan election.
Bowen said a violation of any these rules would be grounds for termination. Published sources quote Lane as saying he never stopped running for office following the 2006 election, when he was defeated by the incumbent he is again challenging.
Legalities aside, workers at the Friendship Center in New Caney are also appalled at Lane’s behavior. The Friendship Center is a place where senior citizens gather for a hot meal, to visit with one another and play bingo. For some, it is their only social activity and all they have to look forward to from week to week.
Workers and volunteers are very protective of their seniors, but Asst. Director Belinda Hackleman said when Monte Lane asked to talk to them about the Census and potential temporary jobs with the agency, she had no idea it would lead to anything more. He did address the crowd in his official capacity on the microphone, she said, but that was only the beginning. When Monte Lane appeared to visit with the seniors personally, Hackleman and Director Kathleen Costine said they thought little of it.
In the kitchen at the back of the building where they could see the approximately 150 guests, but couldn’t hear conversations at the tables, Hackleman and Costine assumed he was discussing the Census as he went from table to table. But Hackleman noticed something she found troubling.
“He was giving out the Census Flyers and he brought shirts that day too,” she said.
When asked if she was referring to his campaign t-shirts, Hackleman said he did that “a couple of times.”
Something else caught Costine’s attention. She says Monte Lane was having people sign a paper that was attached to a clipboard, and he was handing out campaign t-shirts. Some of the attendees told Hackleman and Costine Lane needed their signatures to avoid paying the $1,250 filing fee to become a candidate. He failed to get enough signatures.
Nita Hines, a senior and widow who attends functions at the center and helps out part-time told the same story. She and Costine were concerned that Lane approached a mentally challenged man named Tommy and had him sign the form.
Hackleman, Costine, and Hines said there was no question whether anyone would realize Tommy had the mental capacity of a child.
“He brings a coloring book,” Hines said. “And if he wants to play Bingo, somebody has to sit with him and watch his cards.”
All three ladies told how Tommy believes he works at the Friendship Center and they sometimes let him help hand out milk. Costine and Hines said they saw Lane approach Tommy holding t-shirts and his clipboard and after Tommy signed, he received a t-shirt. That was when Hackleman and Costine began to ask questions, since they knew Tommy couldn’t be signing up for a Census job.
Hackleman said she finally spoke with the regional director who told her absolutely no campaigning was to take place inside the Friendship Center. Until then, she had no idea she could ask him to leave. Hines has been enjoying the Friendship Center for many years and said incumbent Ed Rinehart has never used it as a campaign platform, though he often visits and provides needed items, along with informing the seniors of which roads are under construction and that sort of thing, she said.
“Ed really does put forth a lot of effort,” Hines said. “Anybody can stop by once.”
“Ed tells us he likes to come down here because he’s going to be one of us soon,” she laughs.
According to Hines, until the last calendar year which is when Lane threw his hat back in the ring, he was not seen at the Friendship Center.
It is unknown whether Lane’s job with the Census Bureau ended because of activities at the Friendship Center or somewhere else. However, a source with the Flying J Truck Stop chain says Monte Lane is no stranger to being fired and was also terminated by that employer. Lane became angry three weeks before Election Day, when asked if he was working at the Flying J last year. He demanded to know why the reporters are digging into his personal life.
In the same February 9 phone interview, Lane said he also works as a real estate consultant and that his license was inactive, but he would only have to find a broker to have it made active again. According to the Texas Real Estate Commission, that was also a lie.
Their rules are clearly stated. If it were simply his decision to not pursue real estate sales for a while, he would submit a form and pay his fees regularly. He would not be expected to complete Mandatory Continuing Education course until his status was again active. There is clearly more to this issue. As for working as a “real estate consultant,” a spokesperson for the Texas Real Estate Commission said no one with an inactive or expired license “should be doing any kind of real estate business,” and it would be completely inappropriate. Since those with inactive and expired licenses are not required to complete the updated courses, they could easily give someone incorrect information. She also double-checked Lane’s status and confirmed that his license expired about a year and a half ago.
In the final tally, it is difficult to understand how Monte Lane supports his family. He boasts about being a successful business owner for 11 years, but has admitted he was referring to a paintball gun range off of FM 1485 which he abandoned.
These are just a few examples we will explore as we examine the overstatements and exaggerations in Monte Lane’s campaign literature, his campaign and personal finances.