Conroe, February 19 – If government acts (outside of law enforcement or national security), government usually does it badly. As a result, conscientious and reform-minded Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Bush and her team in the County Treasurer’s Office have faced snarls in the County government payroll, as a result of the terrible systems and work culture disgraced County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport and fired County Auditor Phyllis Martin left in their wake of destruction.
The Friday payroll snafu
Around 5:30 a.m., Friday, February 15, 2019, Montgomery County Treasurer Melanie Bush noticed that her County paycheck had not reached her bank account. She quickly arrived at her office and discovered that Woodforest National Bank, which processes the County government’s payroll, had not delivered the direct deposits into employee accounts, even though Bush and her staff had submitted the payroll data to the Bank timely late Thursday afternoon.
Bush sent an email to all County government employees at 6:26 a.m. Friday morning:
At 7:41 a.m., Bush provided County employees an update:
Several dozen Montgomery County government employees had checks bounce and direct debit payments fail by approximately 8 a.m. that morning and began to call Bush’s office to complain. In response, Bush sent out the following email:
By lunchtime on Friday, several County Departments experienced major problems, because numerous employees had no money even to pay for their lunches. At least two County Department Directors purchased lunches for their entire departments so the employees would have food to eat.
By the end of the day on Friday, February 15, 2019, Woodforest Bank and County Treasurer Bush had resolved the problem and completed the payroll deposits to all Montgomery County government employees.
Why did the problem occur?
In an exclusive interview with The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, Bush explained the problem in a nutshell:
“The bank allows us to submit through Thursday at 8 pm to have direct deposit ACHs in the employees accounts on the next day…
“As it stands right now, we have not been released by Audit to submit on Wednesday due to numerous issues as I outlined in my post on the Montgomery County Treasurer’s page. Most of them stem from Risk Management’s deduction issues that are not getting properly entered for employees and we are having to correct the mistakes. In speaking with the head of Risk Management, these seem to be a problem with their new electronic benefits system and the old finance system not communicating well. They are working on a solution for this.
“The problem Friday was a problem with the file processing on Woodforest’s end. They then turned around and did Same Day ACH payments and even called other banks to get them to pull down the information from the Fed to get our employees paid promptly.”
Fundamentally, the problem arose – and other payroll problems have occurred for several months and long before that – because of the difficult process which must occur to put the payroll together primarily through the work of three County government departments, the County Treasurer, the County Auditor, and Risk Management. As Bush intimated, it’s a cumbersome system.
Base salaries and benefits are set through the County’s schedule, as amended every two weeks through Payroll Changes in the Commissioners Court. That aspect of the County Payroll is actually fairly simple, because it’s static.
Where the problems arise, however, is in deductions and garnishments. County government employees have certain garnishments, such as mandatory payroll deductions for child support through court orders, which may fluctuate quite a bit from one month to another among the more than 2,600 County government employees.
The other complexity to the payroll operation is the deduction of County benefit payments. County employees receive a match from the County government for their retirement contributions, but the amount employees contribute, for example, pegs the amount of the County match. Those deductions occur quite frequently.
As a result, the County government’s Risk Management Department, until recently, manually determined payroll deductions for employee benefit reductions and for garnishments. In late 2018, the Risk Management Department, which suffered from poor management already, changed to a new financial system for payroll deduction calculations. There have been enormous problems with the payroll deductions the Risk Management Department has submitted to the Treasurer’s Office, and, of course, the new Montgomery County Treasurer, Bush, inherited those problems, because former County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport failed to do her job hardly at all during her last nine months in office (after Davenport lost the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election by an approximately 70-30 landslide).
After the Treasurer’s Department prepares the payroll with the data from Risk Management, Bush’s team submits the proposed payroll to the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office. Often, the Auditor’s Office will catch problems with the Risk Management deductions. After the Auditor’s Office approves the payroll, Bush’s Treasurer’s Office will catch additional problems which both the Auditor’s Office and the Risk Management Department failed to identify. When that occurs, Bush must re-submit the payroll to the Auditor’s Office for approval.
As a result of all of these internal problems, and multiple layers of bureaucracy, the County government payroll is rarely ready to submit to Woodforest National Bank until the afternoon of the Thursday, one day before the payroll. Bush has utilized the budgeted salary of a vacant employee in order to compensate some employees who have had to work overtime in order to complete the payroll, the County Treasurer explained to this newspaper.
Bush has tried to minimize overtime, while, confidential sources inside the Sadler Administration Building, have confirmed that Davenport would actually encourage her employees to run up overtime charges (especially Doyal’s daughter).
“There are serious problems that we inherited with the County payroll when I came into office seven weeks ago. My team and I are working to fix those difficulties as fast as we can, although it’s partly outside of our control due to the involvement of other departments,” Bush said.
As a result, food truck operators may want to stay away from County offices on payroll Fridays for a while to come.