The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, March 9 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted 4 to 1 to remove the payroll duties from Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Pryor Bush and turn those duties over to discredited former County Auditor Phyllis Martin whom the Board of District Judges fired as County Auditor at the end of 2018. Only County Judge Mark Keough voted against the proposal.
There’s no question that there are serious problems with the County government’s payroll operations. Those problems largely seem to have arisen as a result of the implementation of the disastrous Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) that has cost County taxpayers more than $17.5 million in contract fees alone and which still doesn’t operate properly.
The choice of Martin as the payroll clerk for the County government would seem to be rather strange for at least three reasons:
#1 Martin is largely responsible for the County government’s disastrous decision to purchase the ERP.
#2 The Board of District Judges fired Martin as Montgomery County Auditor after an independent accounting firm report found that Martin failed properly to perform her job responsibilities.
#3 Martin currently serves as the Chief of Staff for Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts whom voters just rejected, for poor job performance, in the March 1, 2022, Republican Primary Election. Metts gave Martin the job after the Board of District Judges fired her.
After a lengthy executive session, during which it later became obvious that the Commissioners Court had engaged in a discussion and deliberation which should have occurred in an open session, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack moved to take the payroll function away from Bush and put that function under a new County government department under Martin. Interestingly, Metts seconded the motion in order to give Martin a new job, as she would lose her job as his Chief of Staff at the end of the calendar year when Metts’ successor, Matt Gray, will become the new Precinct 4 County Commissioner.
Noack alleged that Bush was responsible for:
- Missing a direct deposit date to meet the County government’s payroll obligation;
- 600 employees being overpaid or underpaid;
- Failing to meet the County government’s federal payroll tax obligations;
- Issuing incorrect W2s for employees numerous times;
- Causing mismatches between emails to employees and W2s which didn’t match their paycheck amounts;
- Paying for improper overtime on numerous occasions;
- Paying many employees double or triple the amount of their appropriate wages;
- Paying some employees paychecks from two different County departments;
- Causing problems with deductions and amounts due for contract services;
- Leading to a “stack of emails from one month of people who had issues regarding their paychecks that have never happened previously.”
Upon making his motion to remove the payroll duties from County Treasurer Bush, Noack said, “The action is looking at is not done on some sort of whim or because we’re upset about something which happened…We’re taking this action, because our employees deserve to be paid on time, and their W2s should be correct…It’s not a fun thing to take duties away from anyone.”
Noack’s comments made it clear that the Commissioners Court had already come to a decision – illegally – during the executive session
While Bush briefly spoke in response to Noack’s allegations, and while she made it clear that almost all of the problems Noack enumerated sprang from implementation of the disastrous ERP software, the Commissioners Court didn’t appear to give Bush’s comments much credence.
Bush assured the Commissioners Court that the “kinks” with respect to the ERP and the payroll have been resolved. Interestingly, it became apparent that members of the Commissioners Court had not yet spoken directly with Bush about these issues, with the exception of Keough who had had a brief discussion with Bush over the past weekend.
Several citizens spoke for Bush prior to the executive session.
284th District Judge Kristin Bays provided a citizen comment at the beginning of the meeting in which she said, “I have no interest in assigning blame. There have been problems with payroll.” Judge Bays then described how some of her employees received overpayments on their paychecks, which created numerous tax liability issues.
Bays concluded, “Commissioner Noack, I appreciate the email you sent to the County about these problems. I came here to thank you for taking responsiblity for the payroll problem.”
Seventeen citizens, including Fort Bend County Treasurer Bill Rickert, spoke in defense of Bush. Rickert explained that all of the problems at issue arose because of the implementation of the ERP software. Rickert is also an officer in the Texas County Treasurer’s Association.