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Image: Daniel Kramer

Standing before the Montgomery County Commissioners Court in August 2016, Eric Yollick brandished his golden hammer, an actual gold-painted hammer, for the first time. The prop was there to drive home his point as he railed against officials who “hammer the taxpayer”—in this case, by paying County Attorney J.D. Lambright more than $190,000 per year, the largest paycheck of any elected official in the entire state.

That day, the commissioners hardly acknowledged Yollick. (Later, the attorney would issue a release stating that his salary recognizes substantial legal experience and the county litigation he handles himself, saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars.) But when Yollick showed up at the court’s very next meeting—hammer in hand—that was it. Yollick stayed in the meeting, but a security guard confiscated his prop.

After that, Yollick focused his energy on the internet, where, on his Golden Hammer Facebook page, he spoke out against Montgomery County’s spending and accused officials of misusing their power. Then, in January of last year, he launched a WordPress site, thegoldenhammer.net, dubbing it “Montgomery County’s leading newspaper” with the idea of positioning the site as an alternative to mainstream local media. He even started running Associated Press articles after negotiating a monthly rate with the wire service.

Yollick himself is a lawyer who went to Princeton before earning his J.D. at Southern Methodist University. He squeezes in blog posts between cases involving homeowner associations and easement disputes, running the site from his Woodlands-based law office. Always interested in politics, he calls himself a “classical 19th-century liberal,” adhering to an obscure, libertarian-adjacent ideology that, essentially, demands as little government as humanly possible. (He would even eliminate county libraries if he could). 

While he doesn’t claim to be a trained reporter, Yollick says he did take a class on espionage at Texas A&M and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. It’s practically a second job. “I control the message entirely,” he points out, “and I’m learning new ways every day to increase the number of people I reach.”

More than a year after launching, Yollick’s one-man operation churns out dozens of posts each month, sounding off on everything from government spending, to proposed highway projects, to the county’s flooding problem. He occasionally breaks news. In July, he dug into a 2006 sexual-harassment case involving Montgomery County Justice of the Peace James Metts, which was settled for $45,000 in taxpayer dollars. Both Fox 26 and The Courier, Montgomery County’s 125-year-old paper of record, followed up on the story. (Metts weathered the controversy and will challenge the incumbent precinct commissioner in this month’s primary.)

Summer Harlow, a UH professor who researches citizen journalism, cautions that figures like Yollick walk a fine line between adding texture to the public conversation and delivering straight-up propaganda. “When it’s done right, it’s journalism,” Harlow says. “If it’s done wrong, it’s just a citizen spouting off. We all need to make sure we understand the difference.”

Yollick’s site and Facebook page, which boasts about 2,000 devoted followers, do wade into journalistic gray areas. He never misses a chance to rag on Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal for various alleged scandals, sometimes without much regard for the facts, and lambasts the The Courier as “little more than a pro-establishment, pro-Doyal, fake news blog” at every turn.

In June 2017, Yollick posted an article claiming Doyal and other county “glitterati” were on a free trip to Louisiana, enjoying “great lodging, fishing, gambling, hunting, boating, all the liquor you can hold (and more),” all paid for by LJA Engineering, a county vendor. But the county judge wasn’t on the four-day trip; he instead could be found discussing mosquito abatement at a Montgomery County Public Health District meeting (which, by the way, you can read all about—in the Courier).

“Anybody reading Eric Yollick’s blog should find something better to do with their time,” Doyal told Houstonia recently. “He’ll take one smidgen of truth and smear it beyond recognition, and it’s sad, quite frankly.”

Courier editor and publisher Andy DuBois, who’s covered the county since 1999, takes a more nuanced approach. “Journalism on social media is a lot different than the standards that maybe had been in place for print in years past,” he says, adding that he always welcomes another news source—even one that bashes his paper. “I let our work speak for itself.”

For his part, Yollick invites readers of all persuasions to give his site a try. “Even if someone reads the Golden Hammer and they are for some reason in favor of government spending and more government intervention,” he says, “I still think they can take away some pretty interesting information.”

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