Editorial: Board of District Judges should strictly enforce Texas Constitution’s “separation of powers,” bring County Auditor’s political involvement to swift halt

County Auditor Phyllis Martin insulted Montgomery County taxpayers with publication of a public-service announcement which she calls the “PAFR.” It places Martin’s gross conflict-of-interest on public display. More significantly, the PAFR is a clear violation of the Texas Constitution’s “separation of powers” doctrine.

Eric Yollick, The Golden Hammer

For at least 32 years, Montgomery County taxpayers have had to go it alone without any independent audit of County government finances. That’s led to disastrous consequences, such as massive overspending, a County Auditor acting as an advocate for Commissioners Court spending programs, nepotism, conflicts of interest, favoritism towards certain citizens over others, favoritism towards certain County Commissioners or elected servants over others, and even the tragic death of one County Commissioner.

Currently, Montgomery County taxpayers suffer a County Auditor who doesn’t conduct true audits under the Generally Accepted Auditing Standards, who has lobbied for a $14.8 million software spending program, plans to work closely with all 80 County government departments to implement the software program to meet their needs whether they’re financial or not, and openly advocates for County government spending in a taxpayer-funded publication she has entitled the “Popular Annual Financial Report” or “PAFR” which is little more than a pro-spending caricature of similar publications for other Counties’ Auditors who actually respect the limits of their jobs.

On Tuesday, five District Judges, under the leadership of 410th District Judge Jennifer Robin, who is the Chief Administrative Judge, appeared in Commissioners Court to complain that the Commissioners Court, part of the Executive Branch of Texas government, overstepped its bounds when it voted to reduce the Budget of Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin, who is clearly a part of the Judicial Branch of Texas government, which is the reason the Board of District Judges oversees her job performance. After Judge Robin explained the serious nature of what she and the other District Judges unanimously felt was a part of the Judicial Branch of government, the Commissioners Court voted to step backwards from its allegedly wrongful action.

Two important statements should come to the mind of every citizen of Montgomery County today, whether you happen to serve on the Board of District Judges or not:

First, in Texas, the Texas Constitution makes the doctrine of “separation of powers” even clearer than it is in the United States Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, appropriately entitled “Separation of Powers”:

“Sec. 1. SEPARATION OF POWERS OF GOVERNMENT AMONG THREE DEPARTMENTS. The powers of the Government of the State of Texas shall be divided into three distinct departments, each of which shall be confided to a separate body of magistracy, to wit: Those which are Legislative to one; those which are Executive to another, and those which are Judicial to another; and no person, or collection of persons, being of one of these departments, shall exercise any power properly attached to either of the others, except in the instances herein expressly permitted.”

Second, then Montgomery County Attorney D.C. Jim Dozier wrote a clear legal opinion about the County Auditor, as a member of the Judicial Branch, overstepping her bounds into the everyday workings of the County government, which is the Executive Branch:

“The role of the Auditor, then, as it was originally conceived, and as it still exists under the law, is one somewhat removed from the everyday workings of county government…An Auditor who is involved in the everyday workings of government cannot properly function as part of a system of checks and balances. In the capacity of paying bills for the County [specifically referring to Montgomery County], the Auditor is asked  to perform a particular task and, as Auditor, to maintain oversight of the same task. In essence, then, the Auditor is required to audit himself, and this puts him in an untenable position.”

Montgomery County, in practicality, has no County Auditor. Instead, Phyllis Martin is a politician involved with politics, the everyday workings of the County government, and auditing herself. Her actions are as bad as if you were stopped by a policeman for speeding, you denied that you went over the posted speed, but when you appeared in court to contest the ticket, you discovered that the police officer who wrote the ticket is also the judge.

What Phyllis Martin does everyday is no different. Martin insists upon keeping the financial accounts and books, even though a competent County Treasurer, such as Melanie Bush, could easily do as good a job. Worse yet, Martin then claims to audit her own accounting and bookkeeping with essentially no independent oversight. Martin sits with the Commissioners Court and often injects herself into policy discussions and even debates points with the members of the Court. She advocates spending and, in the so-called PAFR, specifically propagandizes those expenditures to get the public to support them. With the ERP and her intended hiring of a “project lead” to work under her direction, County Auditor Martin plans essentially to involve herself with the everyday operations of all 2,500 County employees. The ERP contract reflects that it has a 2,500-seat license as part of its exorbitant price. That would be for every single County employee! Apparently, the County Auditor intends to become involved with the operations of custodians who work in the Custodial-Janitorial Department mopping floors.

This madness must end. The Board of District Judges should acknowledge that the “separation of powers” goes both ways. The County Auditor, a member of the Judicial Branch, should have no involvement in the everyday operations of the County government, as Dozier made clear in his written legal opinion. Martin came up through the training of former County Auditor Linda Breazeale, who fashioned herself as a super-chief-executive-officer of the County government almost. Nothing could happen in Montgomery County without passing through the hands of Breazeale.

That’s not what an auditor should ever be. She should be a quiet person, distant from operational maneuvering, and removed from the social and political happenings of the government operations.

A Certified Public Accountant would understand that. Clearly, Martin and Breazeale did not.

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