TOP TEN MOST POWERFUL PEOPLE IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY #8: PHYLLIS MARTIN, COUNTY AUDITOR.
The 8th most powerful person in Montgomery County at the present time is Phyllis Martin, Montgomery County Auditor, whom the Board of District Judges just reappointed to serve through December 31, 2018.
Martin derives her power from three factors: (1) the weakness of the officials around her, (2) statutory duties of the County Auditor and the choice of the County Commissioners Court not to disperse those duties, and (3) her high level of proficiency and competence. Bureaucrats can and do amass vast power, especially when elected representatives of the people and the citizens allow that to happen.
In most private companies and even most other governmental organizations, accounting and audit duties are separate for the obvious reason that the auditor should audit the accountant, and can’t objectively audit herself. The Government Auditing Standards require such separation. Martin’s power and duties go one step further into a conflict of duties: she serves as the Chief Budget Officer of Montgomery County.
The failure of County Judge Craig Doyal and the County Commissioners to engage in budgeting and oversight has created a power vacuum into which Martin has stepped. In the County’s budget process, at Commissioners Court meetings, and in informal meetings between County officials, Martin runs the County government in several respects. She creates the County’s budget and works directly with County Department heads to develop their budgets. She approves or disallows many expenditures. She supplants the County Judge in many respects, because he does not fulfill those leadership roles. In the open Commissioners Court meetings, the County Judge and Commissioners regularly defer to Martin’s rulings.
The Texas Local Government Code sets Martin as the County’s chief budget officer, accountant, and auditor, three functions which conflict with each other under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”). Under at least two Attorney General of Texas opinions, the Commissioners Court has the ability to transfer some of those functions. For example, Montgomery County has a competent County Treasurer, Stephanne Davenport, whose office logically should handle the County’s accounting (duties which that office has performed in the past). The County Judge should act as the chief budget officer and should have at least Martin’s level of knowledge concerning the budget, if not substantially more.
Furthermore, the County’s independent auditors (an outside CPA firm) should provide an independent audit, but they don’t. Instead, Martin prepares most of the audit report, while the outside auditors take her report, conduct some tests, and provide an opinion blessing Martin’s work. The Board of District Judges should provide oversight of Martin’s work. They don’t presently do that, but several of the District Judges have expressed a desire to provide more oversight of the County Auditor.
The net result has been that at least two of the County Commissioners seem genuinely frightened of Martin. County Department heads must seek Martin’s approval for funds and programs. The buck stops at Martin’s desk for many County policies.
It would be unfair to Martin not to mention a third source of her power. Phyllis Martin is an immensely intelligent, competent, and patient lady. She received the vast majority of her knowledge through on-the-job-training. Martin is not a CPA, a weakness that is glaring in a $381 million per year governmental organization. She does, however, have a master’s degree in accounting and possesses substantial knowledge of many accounting practices. She currently serves as president of the Texas Association of County Auditors (“In God we trust; all others we audit.”) Martin is also the Second Vice President of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association, an organization that has grown immensely in its political influence in recent years. Martin’s sister, Elections Administrator Suzie Harvey, heads one of the County Departments, which Martin is supposed to audit.
It’s impressive that a lady such as Phyllis Martin can wield so much influence inside of a County government under the thumb of the “good ol’ boys” system. Congratulations to her for making the Top Ten List.
CURRENT TOP TEN MOST POWER PEOPLE IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY LIST:
#8 Phyllis Martin, County Auditor.
#9 Bobby Adams, Civil Engineer.
#10 Rand Henderson, Sheriff-Elect.