The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, March 7 – Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack has proposed removing several major duties of Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Pryor Bush for “incompetence,” but many grassroots conservative supporters of Bush, as well as the County Treasurer herself, oppose the move and call it political and even sexist.
Bush, in particular, has objected to Noack’s placement of the item on the agenda at this time without ever speaking to her about these issues. Bush yesterday told The Golden Hammer, “I would welcome anyone to discuss with me personally before placing such an item on the agenda to see what I know about these systems and what I know about my job.” Bush added, “If I’ve been incompetent, why were these issues not brought out in the fall or in December, so voters could have run someone else to run against me? Instead, the voters, re-elected me unopposed with over 53,000 votes.”
Bush concedes that she has been busy with other issues during the past two weeks, as physicians just re-diagnosed her husband, attorney Alan Bush, with cancer.
“There has been no communication about these issues with me whatsoever. After some of the problems arose, I emailed the Commissioners Court and County Judge and asked if they have any questions. No one ever asked,” Bush said.
Noack placed on the Tuesday, March 8, 2022, Commissioners Court agenda an item, “Consider, discuss and take action on removing all non-statutory or constitutional duties of the County Treasurer; including personnel responsible for such duties, physical location of the Treasurer’s Department, and the reassignment of said duties and personnel.” Bush currently manages and executes the payroll for the Montgomery County government as well as performing her statutory and constitutional duties, which primarily include managing the County’s funds.
In 1997 in a case involving the elected County Treasurer of Titus County, Texas, the Supreme Court of Texas held that a Commissioners Court may remove the non-statutory and non-constitutional duties of the County Treasurer and move those duties to another County official. In that instance, the Titus County Commissioners Court chose to move the Treasurer’s duties to the County Auditor, but that proposal suffers from legal problems as well.
Noack told this newspaper yesterday during an interview, “Melanie Bush has demonstrated incompetency in her role as County Treasurer. We’re trying to do the right thing for the employees.
Noack mentioned the following issues:
- Two hundred and thirty-six (236) Montgomery County Precinct 3 Justice Court jurors received paychecks by mistake drawn on Tarrant County’s (Fort Worth) bank account using that County’s routing number. Bush responded, “I have a letter from both Assistant County Attorney Amy Dunham and the Tyler Odyssey software people absolving my office of any responsibility…After we approved the correct bank account information and templates, Tyler Odyssey turned around and loaded another whole template without telling us. Tyler Odyssey covered all of the return check fees.” Bush provided the email from Dunham, which appears immediately below these bullet point issues.
- “Underpaid and overpaid County employees for a long time, with wrong W2s as well.” Bush responded, “There were two errors on W2s. One was a box 12 code DD, which is the Obamacare requirement for coding health insurance costs. We corrected those codings and reissued a W2C, which is purely information for the affected employees and didn’t affected their taxes owed or due. Another issue was that there were 92 or 93 employees whose first three checks of the year were not in the current system. The Information Technology Department was fully responsible for loading those checks into the system. No one has been able to find a consistent reason for the mistake in the IT Department. My office helped to fix the problem check by check.
- “She’s not there; there’s no oversight in place.” Bush responded, “I work long hours usually. There was one occasion when I worked 42 hours straight in order to help implement the County government’s new payroll phase II system. In the past two weeks, since my husband was diagnosed with cancer, I have missed some work hours.”
- “Bush missed 436 supplemental retirement plan deductions. She didn’t catch the full deductions.” Commissioner Noack attached two inconsistencies in the total amount of the supplemental retirement plan deductions between the February 25 and February 11 payroll periods as attachments on the Commissioners Court agenda. Bush explained that the Risk Management Department is responsible for setting up the supplemental retirement plan deductions and failed to set up the deductions properly.
The Dunham email stated the following:
Pursuant to Tyler’s incident report “… TJS determined to use a new “template” check report, one used in Tarrant County, which TJS had confidence worked consistently on similar printers and stock. In the course of modifying this template, TJS staff neglected to update the MICR line on the check report with Montgomery County’s bank information. This modified report was then installed into Montgomery County’s jury management system Test and Production environments. Montgomery County proceeded to test the updated report. However, TJS failed to advise Montgomery County that a new template had been used and so should be further scrutinized and a new, additional sign-off sought.” (emphasis added)
Tyler admitted fault for the disseminating Tarrant County’s MICR line information and for failing to advise Montgomery County of the changes to the check template (which had been previously approved and finalized by Montgomery County). Although damages are not addressed in the incident report, it is clear that Tyler is culpable.
Noack said, “We’re trying to do the right thing for the employees.” Noack has not proposed a specific County government department to which he would transfer the payroll responsibilities. Clearly, there is a problem with decentralization of the payroll programming in the County government. Some of the attachments to Noack’s proposal would suggest that he supports moving the payroll function to County Auditor Rakesh Pandey. Such a move to the County Auditor would be a terrible idea for two reasons: (1) the County Auditor, as an independent auditor, should not become involved in an executive function of the County government, for which his primary duty is to audit independently, and (2) the County Auditor is a member of the Judicial Branch of the County government, so there would seem to be a violation of the Separation of Powers Doctrine by allowing the County Auditor to fulfill executive duties.
At least three prominent conservative political activists criticized Noack and support Bush on social media. Magnolia’s Jennifer Eckhart said, “Looks like the start of a hit job on our County Treasurer, Melanie Bush, for trying to expose the truth behind our county government.” Republican activist Jon Bouche said in response, “I think you are exactly correct. We need people to go testify against this.”
Kathryn Ross said, “I don’t think the Commissioner’s Court would pull these shenanigans against a male, elected official. Every woman in this county should go and protest.”