I have been immersed in this audit since I saw some preliminary text a few weeks ago. I am certain that now that I have hashed it over and over again within my head that I will leave a few things out, and will also refer to things I have already written about in this blog, particularly within the findings section.
I think it's really important to state that bringing the County's finances up to standards is a choice each department head will make. To fix the problems as a whole and bring the County up to a higher level will take resolve and teamwork. As Doak Painter said at the Commissioners Court meeting, if one department head refuses to cooperate with disclosure, especially with regard to asset counting and tracking, the reform is doomed to fail.
The big minus about the numbers in this 2014 audit is that beginning balances and asset valuations are grossly inaccurate. Since the beginning of FY 2015 an asset valuation and tracking company named RCI has been tagging and tracking assets by location and department. I know of only one department that has vehemently resisted access to RCI and that would be the Sheriff's Office. Make no mistake that the edicts that steer the SO's direction come directly and unequivocally from the elected supervisor, the Sheriff himself. It's my understanding that things may have improved since then, but the County department that consistently resists transparency, intra-governmental or publicly is always the Sheriff's Office. Let's hope that over time this corrects itself; and if not, public pressure may assist.
For next year I expect to see a much more accurate Audit, insofar as real numbers. Mr. Painter has done what he can with numbers provided, which is his obligation, but has insisted the County improve across the board if he is to agree to be retained as auditor again. The Commissioners Court Office of. Management and Budget has been, in tandem with the new Treasurer Frances Garcia, a responsive and responsible instrument of change and improvement. With the recommendations set forth by Mr. Painter in the audit in hand, only by resistance of either department heads or overly-compliant County Commissioners will we face the same gravity of issues. This sounds easy, does it not? Unfortunately I am not confident in the resolve of several of our Commissioners when faced with having to deliver hard truths and bad news, especially when it comes to pressure from long-term colleagues. Citizen pressure on Commissioners can go a long way; they usually only hear feedback from within County government.
A good example of the unresponsiveness to issues by Commissioners Court is displayed in the problems down south with the Stonegarden Grants. Conflicts of interest and fraudulent grant reimbursements through PISD, a "friendly force" that now, through opacity, loyalty to its internal power players and general intransigence to outer sponsoring authority, may destroy our ability to receive grants, have been known about tacitly by Commissioners Court and have been tolerated. The fact that someone from outside the County administration has to call us on this shows a lack of leadership and accountability from within. This situation should be remedied immediately and an example set; Presidio County should operate by honest and non-corrupt standard and practices,regardless of who foots the bill. Employees should be properly supervised and supervisors should be held accountable when they neglect to supervise.
General accounting and reconciliation of bank accounts should not be so hard from this point on as County OMB has put systems in place to remedy these issues and has offered training as well. With some continued focus on following County policy county-wide and with requisite training whenever policy is changed, I see no reason why the vast majority of issues can't be resolved within this FY 2015 and completely resolved for the FY 2016.
Completing asset inventory and clarifying, as per The Texas Attorney General's opinion, should stop County officials from doing things such as "gifting" vehicles to other government entities instead of auctioning them off (yes, that is happening!) and should give citizens looking for ways to help us improve efficiencies and service to the constituents by identifying waste and outdated practices. Liquidation of unnecessary assets would save money on maintenance and insurance and would generate needed monies into the General Fund.
This, of course, takes citizen involvement and also takes citizens that don't feel like they have to worry about retaliation from powerful people. County officials using the power of their offices to intimidate outspoken citizens should be called on it. This will be determined by not just those in power, but those who care to watch over us and exercise their rights to speech, question and, most of all, vote.
I recall an argument I had with several constituents when I was on Marfa City Council and the city was deeply in the red. The Marfa ISD had recently been approved for millions of dollars of loans to build multiple sports facilities on their grounds and had budgeted presuming the city would forgive their building permits, et al, saving them several thousand dollars. When they came to present to council, they countered our questions with the rhetoric that we were going to stifle their plans, since out of the millions they had, they had already budgeted every penny on amenities. Simply put, they used their leverage as a school district to pressure us to drop our fees, which we desperately needed, and employee work was done in exchange for with regard to issuing permits, etc. We did not drop the fees and instead told them to find a small sliver of the millions they had to pay. Citizen outrage that taxpayer money " is all the same" and that we were being evil ensued. I stand by my opinion that different governmental entities have THEIR OWN budgets and responsibilities and should cooperate only when it is clearly to the benefit of all parties and at no cost to either. That was surely the original intent of cooperating with PISD on getting them access to federal dollars, but that has proven to be a threat to the County's financial (and ethical) health.
I would implore Presidio County to break our toxic-to-us-alone policy of dealing with PISD as sub-recipients of grants that are now declared to be fraudulently operated by one of our own shared employees. Our County does not have extra dollars to risk or spend on anything be it more and more new trucks to park along the Courthouse perimeter, or to help enrich our own employees in their own side-work.
I look forward to the leadership of our new County Judge as well as our other elected officials in standing tall and resolving, as stated in the newspaper, to be better and change for the permanency of the betterment of the people's asset- your County government. Please pay attention. I will continue to post my notes from meetings and ruminations on goings-on here from this point on. This I can promise.
Sincerely, David Beebe