Editorial: District Judges must continue to oversee County Auditor, who must remain independent of Montgomery County politics

Eric Yollick, The Golden Hammer

Corruption comes primarily from two sources.

First, there is active corruption where individuals, such as Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, or incoming Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts, work to cover up their wrongdoing through secrecy or obfuscation.

Second, there is passive corruption where individuals allow wrongdoing to occur but just look the other way to allow it. There’s a lot of that inside of Montgomery County’s government but the hub has clearly been the Office of the Montgomery County Auditor.

Linda Breazeale and Phyllis Martin, the two most recent County Auditors have allowed financial corruption and other forms of lawbreaking to occur right before their eyes, while looking the other way. By avoiding full examination audits of the County government by the outside independent auditors, the County government – which is a financial operation of approximately a half a billion dollars per year – has gotten away with all sorts of legal violations:

  • Slush funds;
  • Hundreds of violations of statutory requirements for government budgets each year and dozens at each Commissioners Court meeting;
  • Nepotism and hiring and promotion of individuals with whom County Department Directors are romantically involved;
  • Sexual harassment;
  • Severe conflicts of interest, some clearly in violation of the Texas conflict of interest statute and some less so;
  • Licensing violations;
  • Payroll law violations; and
  • Behavior that is objectively unethical.

Under Generally Accepted Auditing Standards and under the Institute for Internal Auditors’ standards for internal auditing best practices, an internal government auditor has an affirmative duty to ascertain those legal violations and to disclose them in his or her audits.

Under Generally Accepted Auditing Standards and under the Institute for Internal Auditors’ standards for internal auditing best practices, an internal government auditor should avoid politics, policymaking, or developing social relationships with the object of his or her audits. When the auditor arrives, Department heads and employees should avoid interactions and allow that person to conduct their business.

With decades of corruption and a complete failure to run the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office properly, the new Montgomery County Auditor, Rakesh Pandey, C.P.A., will face challenges from the subjects of his audit work (the County Commissioners and Department heads who are very used to corrupt practices) and from the employees who work directly under him (who are also very used to those same corrupt practices).

Rakesh Pandey, C.P.A., will begin as the new Montgomery County Auditor on January 1, 2019.

The citizens should certainly benefit from the fact that Pandey is an outsider who did not obtain his position through politics. On December 14, 2018, the Montgomery County Board of District Judges appointed Pandey as the new Montgomery County Auditor to begin on January 1, 2019. Pandey, who presently lives in New Caney but also owns a home in Katy, will be the first County Auditor, which Montgomery County has enjoyed in approximately four decades who has not come up through the “good ol’ boys” network. Pandey has not previously worked in Montgomery County.

The Board of District Judges finally fulfilled their job duty to provide a robust review of the County Auditor and the County Auditor’s Departmental budget. When the full review occurred, it became apparent that Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin simply was not doing her job. The fact that she’s going to work for one of the subjects of her audits, James Metts, and one of the most corrupt among them, reveals the complete absence of independence in Martin’s work.

Martin was one of the “good ol’ boys.” She worked closely with Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador and with Doyal. She injected herself in policy decisions all the time. Goodness, she even sat at the dais with the Commissioners during their meetings!

Pandey should view himself as a judicial officer. Judges don’t socialize and interact with the public regularly, because they must sit in fair and honest judgment of the public regularly. Pandey, as County Auditor, will probably be the most important judicial officer in Montgomery County.

Pandey will have two masters: the law and the Board of District Judges. While the Board of District Judges has not formal duty to oversee or audit the Auditor, implicit within the provisions of Chapters 84, 112, and 115 of the Texas Local Government Code is an expectation that the District Judges will ensure the Auditor is not guilty of gross misconduct or dereliction of his duties. For the first time, possibly ever, the Montgomery County Board of District Judges must maintain the practice of oversight of the County Auditor and make it clear to him that he is a judicial officer accountable to them.

The success of Rakesh Pandey will fall squarely on the shoulders of eight individuals: Pandey and the seven District Judges.

 

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