Conroe, November 14 – Of all of the items on the Montgomery County Commissioners Court agenda for the November 14, 2017, 9:30 a.m. meeting, there’s one special item that wreaks havoc upon the victims, also known as “taxpayers.” It’s part of the secretive “consent agenda” which the members of the Commissioners Court won’t even discuss. County Judge Craig Doyal and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks (who oversees two secretaries when he’s awake) don’t allow for discussion of this item, because it’s just too important.
The most damaging item on the entire agenda is item 9A4, entitled “Consider and approve payment of accounts.” Unbelievably, the entire Commissioners Court, including Doyal, don’t pay any attention to the backup materials for this item and just approve it every time.
They suffer under the incorrect belief that, if an item is on the “payment of accounts,” they previously approved it, so it requires no review. That belief is completely false. The November 14 agenda specifically reveals why that belief is false.
What are the accounts?
The “payment of accounts” includes 107 single-spaced pages of spending items, totaling $17,487,249.27 of expenditures, roughly comprising six percent (6%) of the entire annual budget of the Montgomery County government.
The report divides the accounts by department and sub-account. The very first item is a $1.8 million payment to “TX CTY & DISTRI.” Doesn’t that tell you a lot about what your elected representatives are doing? Don’t feel bad. They don’t know what they’re doing either.
The next item in the report is $7,242.88 in payment to Graves Humphries Stahl, the law firm that JP James Metts and corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport have foisted onto the County for collection of fees and fines in four of the five Justice of the Peace courts. Since Graves Humphries charges on a percentage of collection basis, it would seem pretty important for the members of the Commissioners Court to review the backup for such a large invoice. They never look at any of the invoices. Metts, Davenport, and Graves Humphries can get away with anything, and Doyal, Commissioner Mike Meador, Commissioner, Charlie Riley, Commissioner James Noack, and Commissioner Jim Clark just approve the payments.
The report contains hundreds of thousands of expense payments to County employees, elected officials, and County Department heads. We’re not saying that there’s anything sinister in those payments necessarily, but it would seems as though the Commissioners Court ought to use their eyeballs (and minds) to review what’s happening with those large payments.
There are more than $4,000 of payments to the Courier blog. There actually is a much cheaper paper newspaper (as opposed to online such as The Golden Hammer) of record in Montgomery County to which the County could pay substantially less in notice fees.
The “payment of accounts” include over $400,000 in credit card payments charged on the County’s credit card. It’s pretty shocking that no one casts a glance to review those payments. Allowing credit card charges without Commissioners Court review would seem to beg for abuse.
Many of the payments to companies such as Lowe’s, Signs Etc., Texas Shredding Solutions, Hitouch Business, RH Donnelly, Dell Marketing, Staple’s, Sherwin Williams, and Johnson Supply, among many others are at full retail prices, even though several of those companies (especially Dell) offer government discounts. The members of the Commissioners Court don’t glance at the prices and don’t even know that they’re full retail.
There are dozens of pages of payments to attorneys providing criminal or civil defense. It’s really the job of Office of Court Administration Director Nate Jensen to check those payments. Fortunately, Jensen seems to be a pretty honorable person and also pretty sharp. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt for the Commissioners Court to glance over Jensen’s shoulder once in a while. That’s how smart financial operations work.
An example of a major problem with the “payment of accounts”
There are approximately nine (9) pages of payments to North West Pest Control Service. The Golden Hammer checked with the account manager at that company who confirmed that Montgomery County’s Commissioner Precincts 1 and 2 (Meador and Riley) utilize their services to spray for mosquitoes. Precincts 3 and 4 (Noack and Clark) do their spraying through certified County employees instead as a cost-saving measure.
There’s obviously a problem with the manner in which Meador and Riley account for the spraying. Meador places all of his bug-spraying invoices under his “professional services” account, which accounting nerds refer to as Account 612-7419 (meaning Commissioners Precinct 1, Account 612, and Professional Services, sub-account 7419).
Riley, however, who appears to have utilized far more bug-spraying services, accounts for precisely the same service and even the same vendor, North West Pest Control, under a totally different sub-account called “Equipment Operations” under 613-7357 (meaning Commissioners Precinct 2, Account 613, and Equipment Operations, sub-account 7357).
One might expect that the County Auditor, who is supposed to the County’s Chief Budget Officer, would require bug spraying to fall under the same budgeted account category from one department to the next. Of course, in Montgomery County, everything seems to be political first above integrity or doing the right thing.
Apparently, County Auditor Phyllis Martin has chosen to allow Meador and Riley to account for their departmental expenditures however they feel at the moment.
That’s precisely the reason that the Commissioners Court should review the “payment of accounts.” Since no one is really minding the financial store for the taxpayers, County Departments can spend money however they might feel at the moment, as long as they sweep their expenditures under some budgeted account category.
Montgomery County doesn’t have any independent accounting or auditing. County Auditor Phyllis Martin audits herself. The Commissioners Court, which should be overseeing the “business and operations” (to quote the Texas Constitution), doesn’t do much other than find new ways to spend money and tell the citizens how great a job they’re doing for us.
When Brown & Gay Engineers charges the Precinct 3 County Commissioner $11,331.33 for some engineering service, best practices would call for someone’s eyes on the Commissioners Court to oversee the expenditure. While we may all like and trust Commissioner Noack, good budgeting still requires someone else from the oversight body actually to oversee. That’s how smart operations work.