• Not A Witch Hunt

  • More like a Scapegoat

  • Peer Review Audit that Never Happened

  • Recommended Checklist that was never used

  • TEA PARTY BLITHERING IDIOTS

  • What CPAs think

Part  1   Part 2   Part 3

Today we present Part 4 of the series of features called What’s Wrong With The Montgomery County Auditor? In the last installment we promised to reveal what CPAs think of the Montgomery County Auditor, and we will, but first ~

The several aspects of the professional life of the current Montgomery County Auditor Phyllis Martin reviewed so far  were made necessary by the emergence intense but poorly justified criticism trained on Martin smacked of a traditional Witch Hunt that we obviously alluded to in Part 1 where we posted the  scene by way of analogy from  the The Hunchback of Notre Dame where an innocent person faced execution at the hands of a crooked Judge.

Thanks to Carlson for this perfect illustration.

Not as a Witch Hunt

Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Robin heads up the Board of District Judges statutorily charged with supervising the the County Auditor. In an email reply to Eric Yollick on March 29th thanking him for the “very fair article ( he ) wrote” Judge Robin explained her commitment to an unbiased review of the County Auditor,

You can be rest assured that I look into things from the same eyes as an attorney and a judge—I want proof, not words. There is nothing Phyllis Martin could say that will take the place of the actual evidence I want to properly evaluate her, whether that evidence ends up in her favor or against her.

Thankfully Judge Robin is making clear to Eric Yollick that she is only interested in clear objective evidence and we hope harbors no pre-judgement.

Judge Robin make it a point to emphasize their is no malice towards Martin or axe to grind on her part.

I have candidly told her that I intend to look into things thoroughly, not as a witch hunt, but as an investigative body that wants real proof and evidence of what is actually going on in that office, and whether it is performing at optimum standards.

More like a Scapegoat

Phyllis Martin does should not have to endure a witch hunt style prosecution  for merely doing her job, yet the statement made by the judge does imply she is trying to defuse that very kind of sentiment as mentioned in previous installments of this report. Whether in response to resentment or  backbiting Robin felt it necessary to reassure an anxious Eric Yollick…


No one is getting cozy with Phyllis Martin. I had one meeting with her to obtain documents that I wanted, and to ask questions
about the changes due to the budget office.

Having laid to rest the notion of witch hunts mounted against Phyllis Martin there is plenty of evidence of a different kind of exercise underway, that of scapegoating.

In the absence of evidence that Phyllis Martin is  in cahoots with unknown plunderers within the county or has EMBEZZLED  MILLIONS into Swiss bank accounts its leaves us room to speculate about where blame truly lies in terms of administrative deficiencies when it comes to county finances, Yes we have a County Auditor, one who to all intents and purposes runs a tight ship, ( Barring any revelations to the contrary once a desired External Peer Review Audit is performed. But more about that later).

But again, the County Auditor has supervisors, namely the Board of Judges. Has the Board of Judges fallen down on the job they are tasked with?

Peer Review Audit that Never Happened

No, I am not about to scapegoat Judge Jennifer Robin who had only recently come to the bench and more recently assumed the roll of Administrative District Judge who is reviving an important function of the Board as overseer of the County Auditor and even she can be led astray. Like When Judge Robin made her presentation to the County Commissioners regarding the County Auditor and the requirement for a External Peer Review Audit every three years. at around the 8 min mark on the video below judge Robin asserts that “other counties ,Harris County, they do this” . So how was Judge Robin led astray? Open records request to Harris County Auditors office made by countycitizen revealed that Harris County has never contracted to have such an audit performed, although they plan to do so. Apparently, some exuberant government employee, motivated by fear or pride or embarrassment misinformed our Judge of the facts.

When advised of the error judge Robin stated,

” If I was mistaken in that regard, and if they are only going to have one this year, it was an honest mistake.  However, it does not invalidate any arguments that were made on that date.  Their commitment to have a peer review this year is in line with Government Auditing Standards.  “

Don’t blame judge Robin for this. I only make the point because again we have an instance of an impression be made, and a very powerful one at that, in open court that somehow the Montgomery County Auditor has harmed us or is not doing her job compared to other counties. ( Please review the previous report where I demonstrated to the contrary, Montgomery County has excelled in financial matters for many years against Harris County.  If blame is to be laid perhaps we have to look no further than the Board of Judges as a body that has failed to perform its proper duty as overseer possibly for decades. Our understanding of the issues is nowhere near the exhaustive understanding that Eric Yollick brings but even a lay person can unearth a simple example of that failure.

Recommended Checklist that was never used

The State office of Court Administration ( OCA ) published the COURT FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT HANDBOOK 2006 a comprehensive document produced specifically for District Judges who oversee county auditors .

 

The COURT FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT HANDBOOK 2006 contains a handy evaluation checklist beginning on page I-28, a rule 12 request by countycitizen answered by Nate Jensen revealed “ there is no evaluation checklist developed or used specifically for or by Montgomery County.” 

Can the Board of Judges have reappointed Martin and her predecessor repeatedly and yet have never performed an objective evaluation??

I hope no one believes in the apotheosis of Judges once they take the bench, they are simple humans who have shortcomings like everyone else but lets hope they will take responsibility and blame where they have fallen short especially in their role as overseer of the county auditor rather than sit by while someone else performs a blame shifting trick on the public.

It’s good to note that the OCA even cautions ” No auditor is flawless, and perfection should not be expected from him/her.”

 

TEA PARTY BLITHERING IDIOTS

As for Eric Yollick, we all appreciated the very valuable work he has done exposing an array of troubling examples of waste, cronyism and abuse in the county. When he started out in 2016 he had the Courts themselves in his sights, then they were lazy clock watchers who leave the courts as quite as a tomb on Fridays and maybe more.

Then the County attorney was singled out as the highest paid elected plunderer in the State of Texas who spend his days order trivial luxuries  for his office on the public purse , equipment like ice machines. Now he is considered a reformer?

Then it was nepotism, then it was the consent agenda at commissioners court and then something else.There was even the time when the Yollick called on the Tea Party to change its name to Liberal Democrat and denounced the 8 board members as Blithering Idiots!

While the targets and rhetoric constantly change there remains no doubt that all these thing must be addressed and corrected, it will take time. But its wrong to desperately grasp for a scapegoat to atone for all the wrongs of other players in the county.

When it comes to spending the Auditor does not control what any manager or elected can an can not buy. The commissioners approve the purchases. The Auditor enforces that it is done lawfully and under proper approval. i.e. The Auditor can not tell JD Lambright he can buy his stupid ice machine, she can only block the purchase if it was not approved on the commissioners court agenda.

The biblical scapegoat was instituted by the Lord and a method of substitutional atonement that prefigured the atonement for all sin made by Christ in Leviticus 16:21

And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness

 

All the bad deeds and bad action of government to not fall on the head of the County Auditor. Phyllis Martin need not be scapegoated to atone for other men’s errors.

Again, if Phyllis Martin is  in cahoots with unknown plunderers within the county or has EMBEZZLED  MILLIONS into Swiss bank accounts we want to know and I hope that the highly vaunted External Peer Reviewed Audit will be the definitive answer to that question. But let’s not jump up and down over irrelevant details like the County Auditor is not a CPA.  Being a CPA is not all its cracked up to be as a recent case in Beaumont ISD where the external Auditor , a CPA and Beaumont ISD’s “former auditor failed to follow state rules in testing the district’s internal controls that could have prevented employees’ embezzlement but was not negligent in his audits of the district’s finances and should be allowed to continue working, an Austin judge has ruled.” where the CFO and other embezzled over $4 Million.

We hope now as we did in 2016 that  Yollick return to ~ one of the strongest arguments in his campaign to be elected by Montgomery County as Judge for 9th District Court, namely the administrative efficiency of the District Courts even down to the utilization of court rooms and workload of the Judge.

What CPAs think

Finally, what do CPAs think of the Montgomery County Auditor? Apparently they think quite highly of Phyllis Martin.

No only does Phyllis Martin possess  academic qualifications that equal or exceed those of her peers and completes the very same continuing education requirements for county auditors as her CPA certified colleagues.

Not only has Phyllis Martin continued the unbroken professional recognition earning a record setting number of awards of the  Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting of which  Board of Judges can be proud.

No only have Phyllis Martin acquired many years of auditing experience in in a noted fast growing county with a faster growing budget, not only that.

Phyllis Martin has served other County Auditors and her chosen profession statewide.

Phyllis Martin has served in every position available with the Texas Association of County Auditors (TACA) including Secretary, Treasurer, Vice President and President.

Martin currently serves as  Immediate Past President. Martin was elected as President of TACA by a show of hands that included dozens of CPAs who serve as County Auditor or Deputy County Auditor across the state. It’s difficult to get County Auditors on the record because of well, the politics related to their position under their own Board of Judges.

One peer County Auditor and CPA  spoke enthusiastically of Phyllis Martin, whom they said had creditably represented the profession speaking before legislative committees in Austin, that Martin possessed comprehensive knowledge and proficiency internal auditing and financial controls, grants and all aspects of Financial Management.  This person also made the point that Montgomery County enjoyed an top credit rating with the bond rating agencies in large part owing to Martin’s proficiency and diligence in financial management and reporting. A factor noted and envied by TACA members.

While there are many County Auditors who possess CPA certification there are far more who do not based on one list obtained from the comptrollers office which can be accessed online.

Below video is of The 58th Annual County Auditors Institute  Friday, May 6, 2016 led by Phyllis Martin, the entire video is useful but we’ve cued it to the presentation of El Paso County Auditor and CPA Ed Dion who shares insight into transitioning his office to accommodate addition of a budget office, a process presently underway in Montgomery County.

 

Phyllis Martin is a qualified professional the nature of the position requires the county auditor to regularly face many challenges in the performance of his/her duties. while, maintaining Independence ,mastering diverse functions and tactfully avoiding Politics.

From a list of DO’s & DON’Ts extracted from a 2011 County Auditors Institute I reproduce the “Dont’s” list which in my experience with Martin over many years typifies the circumspect professionalism of Phyliss Martin..

DON’T

Embarrass your district judge(s).

Embarrass yourself or anyone else in public or private.

Argue with any public official in any public meeting.

Refuse assistance to any reasonable request.

Bad-mouth any official, employee or department at any time.

Don’t try to tell them what they can and cannot buy if what they are doing is legal

Encourage gossip.

Abuse your authority.

Ignore staff recommendations and ideas.

Overlook any details related to the public business of the county.

Compromise your principles or ethics.

Procrastinate on or ignore any issue placed before you.

Lose your composure under any circumstance.

GUESS!!!


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