Conroe, January 30 – At the behest of Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, the County Auditor didn’t sit with the Commissioners Court dais alongside the Court members for the first time in many years. Instead, Montgomery County Budget Director Amanda Carter, who actually does work for the Commissioners Court within the Court’s policy functions, sat with the Commissioners Court instead.
Additionally, County Judge Mark Keough became involved in the issue. Keough explained to this newspaper, “As the presiding officer, I was consulted about this issue. The result of which at my direction she was directed to sit there.”
Where someone sits might not seem like a big issue, but, in fact, it’s a gigantic symbolic gesture for the Montgomery County government.
For years, Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin, who actually worked as an appointee of the Judicial Branch of government for the Board of District Judges, would sit at the Commissioners Court dais and regularly involve herself in policy discussions. Martin would go so far as to suggest motions for policy matters, debate with the members of the Commissioners Court, and interrupt them when she disagreed.
In 2018, the Board of District Judges terminated Martin as County Auditor, in part because she had failed to maintain independence as an internal auditor, failed to abide by internally-accepted auditing standards, and received worse than mediocre ratings in an External Evaluation by an genuinely-independent accounting firm. Citizens had become actively involved in the failure of Martin to perform her duties independently, when local “Sage,” Bill O’Sullivan, and another citizen appeared before the Montgomery County Grand Jury to request that they conduct an independent audit of the County’s finances. The Grand Jury ordered the independent audit which was not complete by the time Martin lost her job as County Auditor.
Prior to the January 29 meeting, Noack approached the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office and spoke with Assistant County Attorney Amy Dunham and County Attorney J.D. Lambright to request that the new County Auditor, Rakesh Pandey, no longer sit with the Commissioners Court but replace him in that position with Carter.
Pandey told the County Attorney’s Office and Noack that he was “delighted” not to sit at the dais with the Commissioners Court, because he could maintain his independence as an auditor better with the perception that he was not involved in the political processes of the Commissioners Court as the Executive Branch of the County government.
Noack explained to The Golden Hammer in an exclusive interview, “I didn’t want the County Auditor sitting with the Commissioners Court any longer. We created a Budget Office in part to separate the policy functions of the budget from the independent audit functions of the County Auditor, who technically is a member of the Judicial Branch. I appreciate the cooperation of the County Auditor, the Budget Director, and the County Attorney in making this important symbolic move happen.”
During the corrupt era of Craig Doyal as County Judge, terminated Auditor Phyllis Martin regularly involved herself with policy matters in violation of Generally Accepted Auditing Standards. When hired, Pandey made a commitment that he would follow those Standards, respect the independence requirements of the Standards as well as Texas law, and would follow the recommendations of the External Evaluation which had resulted in Martin’s firing.
The citizens should applaud Noack, Lambright, Keough, Pandey, and Carter for this important move.