Saturday, July 30, 2011

Purchase of baubles, bangles contrary to policy

Continued scrutiny shows irregular procedures

Waco – Each year the McLennan County Commissioners' Court presents county employees with service pins for long term service.

As it turns out, the jewelry items – pins which are decorated with diamonds for longer terms of service – are obtained from a jeweler doing business from a Waco residential property that is homesteaded to an owner aged over 65.

Virginia White does business as Robert Cox Jewelry at 3225 Brannon Dr., a property appraised at $114,610 and taxed at the rate of $1,315.80 with current exemptions. The total tax burden on the property is $3,176.47.

The business has no advertised telephone listing, no way for members of the public to learn of its merchandise or services.

Ms. White sold an employee in County Judge Jim Lewis' office 39 of the pins at a unit price of $204, for total cost of $7,956 and an additional 32 diamonds at $42 each for a total of $1,344. The grand total – tax free - is $9,300.

Contrary to the county's purchasing policy, the purchase involved the issuance of no purchasing order number, no purchase order, and no consultation with Purchasing Officer Ken Bass. A requisition for the items is marked with the notation that the purchase order number is “N/A.”

Furthermore, no effort to obtain other bids were carried out to determine if there was a better or cheaper source of the same items.

When questioned last week by Commissioner Joe Mashek, the judge could only recall that “someone in my office” handled the matter.

He referred to the transaction – at just less than $10,000 total – as a matter of “housekeeping.”

But a check of the record shows that this is all contrary to purchasing policies previously adopted by the Court. According to a taped discussion held earlier this summer, purchasing policy published on the the county's website and in the County Handbook shows:

“Purchase Between $1,000 and $9,999: Will receive a minimum of three informal verbal quotes when deemed economically appropriate and is in the County's best interest to do so. Purchase must have prior approval of the Commissioners' Court.”

In an acrimonious exchange between County Judge Lewis and Commissioner Mashek last Tuesday, July 26, an argument erupted about whether a road commissioner should get a purchase order number to replace a radiator hose on a county vehicle. As it turns out, a check of the published policy shows this:

“Purchases $999 and under: Will receive verbal quotes when deemed economically appropriate and is in the County's best interest to do so. Purchase does not require prior approval of the commissioners' Court. Departments must send a requisition to the Purchasing Department to initiate a purchase.”

In a taped discussion regarding the purchasing policy, Judge Lewis and Purchasing Director Bass are to be heard discussing a “budget amendment” in which $2,000 was moved to the account of the County Court at Law earlier in this budget year. After the request by then County Auditor Steve Moore had been approved, the purchase order was issued for the item slated for purchase.

The Court passed a motion unanimously to review purchasing policies at their next meeting.

Correspondence between the purchasing director and the Court shows that on May 31 of this year, “The Auditor's Office would like Purchasing to convert to using Blanket Orders.”

An explanation is included that says a reserve order “does not encumber any funds. The New Financial System does not have a PO Reserve feature.”

The concept is defined in this way. “A blanket order is defined as an order which allows multiple delivery dates over a period of time with predetermined prices. It is normally used when there is a recurring need for expendable goods. Hence, items are purchased under a single purchase (P.O) rather than processing a separate P.O. each time suplies are needed.”

Mr. Bass recommended that departments turn in requisitions estimating the amount of expense for “no more than 1 week.”

“In an emergency, purchasing will initiate a purchase from a phone call with the understanding the department will follow up with a written Requisition.”

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