Conroe, September 17 – On Friday, September 14, 2018, the Board of District Judges, all seven of them, voted not to renew the contract of Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin and sent the strong message that the Board intends to take its oversight duties over County finances very seriously in the future. The Board passed a budget for the County Auditor that the Board recommended, not that the County Auditor wanted. The Board of District Judges instructed Montgomery County Human Resources Director Dodi Shaw to post the County Auditor’s job, including on national job search sites, in order to attract a strong field of candidates.
The Montgomery County Auditor’s job pays $145,000 per year plus outstanding County benefits that total approximately another $60,000 per year more. The best candidate would be a Certified Public Accountant who has the independence of Robert Mueller, the seriousness of Brett Ligon, and the accounting background of 20-year or so auditor. It’s a great opportunity for the right person for at least two major reasons.
First and foremost, the Board of District Judges enjoys a new energy as a result of the seriousness with which Chief Administrative Judge Jennifer Robin and her colleagues have taken the responsibility to oversee County Finances under the Texas Local Government Code. The Judges are not to involve themselves in the daily operations of the County government nor should the County Auditor. The County Auditor is, however, a judicial officer and a member of the Judicial Branch of government who should take financial auditing very seriously, report ethic problems inside of the County government, and include those problems in full disclosure in financial audit reports. Let’s face the reality: when nepotism, conflicts of interest, or corruption occurs, it impacts the County government financially.
As a result, of the seriousness of the Board of District Judges, the new County Auditor will have a wonderful opportunity to define a new and important role in cleaning up what is arguably the most corrupt County government among the 254 counties of Texas.
Second, and, perhaps as importantly, the next County Auditor will face the challenge of (1) applying auditing standards for the first time and (2) bringing the concept of internal audit independence to Montgomery County for the first time at least in 40 years and possibly forever. While an auditor should never involve herself or himself in daily operations of the County government, there’s no question that an internal auditor’s no-holds-barred findings can become vital tools for government reform to people such as the Budget Officer Director or the next Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, who are reform-minded and are involved in the daily operations of bringing about governmental reform.
Let’s just briefly examine two infamous examples in our County government. First, in October and November, 2016, the taxpayers suffered the “Riley 2-Step” where in two Commissioners Court meetings Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, first, created a new position for his wife in the Precinct 5 Constable’s Office, because incoming Sheriff Rand Henderson had made it clear that Riley’s wife, Deanne, would not have a job in the remade Sheriff’s Office beginning January 1, 2017. In the second step, Precinct 5 Constable David Hill interviewed no one for the new position even though several people had applied for it. Rather, Hill, who is very close to the Rileys politically, worked with Riley himself to put Deanne Riley into the new $58,000 per year receptionist position. Deanne Riley misses a substantial number of work hours during regular County business hours to attend political functions with her husband, the County Commissioner. Riley even spent many hours during the regular County operating day in her work to organize a political fundraiser and event for Commissioner Riley. While a true internal auditor would not have the ability to prosecute that misconduct, she or he would have every ability to report it along with other nepotism in notes to the County’s annual financial statement. Secondly, the business partnership between County Judge Craig Doyal and Bobby Jack Adams, the Regional Vice President of Halff Associates, Inc., the engineering firm that received a lucrative multi-million dollar “project management” contract for the TX 249 Tollway, should have appeared in every annual financial report of the County government.
Nepotism and conflicts of interest that are so easily identifiable should always appear in financial disclosures of the County government, as the Generally Accepted Auditing Standards promulgated by the United States Government Accountability Office make clear.
Third, if the crazed $14.8 million decision to purchase Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software holds, Purchasing Director Gilbert Jalomo, External Quality Assessment lead Temika Jones of Postlethwaite & Netterville accounting firm, and Denton County Auditor James Wells, C.P.A. (who spoke with 9th District Judge Phil Grant), have all made the point that the ERP implementation should result in substantial reductions the County workforce. Effective internal audits can contribute vital information to the study and analysis of specific inefficiencies which the County government may eliminate.
The next Montgomery County Auditor will enjoy an outstanding group of supervisors, face serious challenges the solution to which will positively impact the efficiency of Montgomery County’s government, and have the personal satisfaction of applying auditing standards to complex processes which have never had to suffer such scrutiny. Those challenges will come with excellent compensation, amazing benefits, and the opportunity to work in the single greatest County in the greatest State of the greatest Nation on Earth.