Friday, November 4, 2011

Purchasing travel, roofing, hotels, registration...

It 'all adds up' when you budget for the future

Reporting by R.S. Gates
Story by The Legendary Jim Parks

Waco – When an executive of Johnson Roofing made an emotional presentation to the McLennan County Commissioners' Court, he did it out of a need to defend the honor of his company and the reputation of Commissioner Kelly Snell.

Yes, Johnson Roofing hosted a fund raising get together for the freshman member of the Court - to aid with his re-election efforts.

No, there was nothing improper about the matter, he assured members of the Court in pear-shaped tones of utmost respect.

Certainly, he did not mention in passing that the new roof his outfit is building onto the courthouse started out as a $750,000 rehab and has run so far to a cost of $1.6 million.

He had other fish to fry. He was there to present the Court and its members with a replica cast aluminum head of an eagle just like the zinc ornaments that once adorned the rim of the double dome of the fancy old building - $400 the copy.

It was a moment, one in which the man felt called to answer the challenge because of the editorial comment of the daily newspaper published in this city, a statement that pointed out these facts.

Without making any allegations of wrongdoing, the scribes merely pointed out a correlation between fixing the leaky old roof at cost plus rates and spreading the kind of cheer and good will it takes to keep the wheels in motion when it comes to helping a friend at court get himself re-elected.

The moment is duly recorded herein:

Then there are the continuing travel and continuing education inquiries which continually cause at least one squaky wheel to get the attention of County Judge Jim Lewis.

“It all adds up,” the judge has said, on more than one occasion, in regard to travel and education budgets.

That's how Tax Assessor-Collector Buddy Skeen wound up on the agenda earlier this week.

Mr. Skeen had requested a budgeted expense item for himself and three others to travel to College Station to attend the V.G. Young School for County Tax Assessors and Collectors. There, they will be hearing all about such subjects as the key note address, “Making the Media Work for You,” “Delivering Super Hero Customer Service,” and “Vehicle Sales Tax: Legislative Update.”
Mr. Skeen is under the scrutiny of the Texas Rangers over an alleged discrepancy in which he traded in a pickup to a local auto dealer that belonged to his office, then applied the credit for the trade to the sales tax for a personal vehicle – another pickup – which he bought for himself.

The gentlemen and ladies of the press pounced upon the practice with all paws a'flashing claws at first word, sign or smoke signal of the controversy to come.

Total cost for the continuing education junket is a registration fee of $85 per person and an unspecified original request for hotel accommodations at a hotel. For three successive weeks, the Judge deferred taking any action, asked for more information until his questions were satisfied, and demanded that Mr. Skeen make a personal appearance to explain his request.

An angry Buddy Skeen confonted him in Court on Tuesday. “This is political!” he shouted. “This is ridiculous!”

His travel expense requests and vouchers for continuing education registration fees had been budgeted in advance, proclaimed in earlier budget workshops which at least one member of the Court has described as vociferous, vituperative and voluminous. The upshot is that once budgeted, the County Auditor need merely cut a check for the item, and that is that, according to law, saith Mr. Skeen.

Mr. Skeen recently changed his party affiliation to the GOP after multiple terms serving as a Democrat.

On the other hand, there is the practice of placing such requests on the “consent agenda,” an item in which all such requests are lumped together and only one vote is required for their approval.

Here are the highlights of some requests that just sailed on through the swinging doors of the courtroom last Tuesday.

Phillip R. Pierce, the administrator of the Criminal District Attorney's office, requested and got ratification of the employment of a newly hired Victim Services Coordinator, Delana D. Gordon. The position requires training at a special course held once a year, this time in Houston. No registration fee is charged, but there are expenses involved for mileage, parking, meal and room rent of $100 per night.

An interesting lecture title is, “How to Persuade When You Don't Have A Hammer.”

Precinct Three Justice of the Peace David Pareya requested and got approval for a $180 registration fee to attend the Annual Texas Vital Statistics Conference at Austin, described as “Piecing it all together: Promoting Partnerships for a Healthy Texas.” His room will cost $104 per night at the Renaissance Hotel on Arboretum Blvd.

David A. Maler will be attending a training course on serving Civil Process at Rockwall at the rate of $100 tuition and a room rent of $52.50 per night. The subjects, “Professionalism and Ethics” and “Citations and Evictions,” and “Discussion of Writs,” for the first two days will be follwoed by a more ominous sounding third day lecture titled “Executions Discussion.”

A similar jaunt to Austin will cost $100 registration and a $15 fee for the clerk certification exam to be taken by Veronica Perez of Justice Court Precinct 1. Room rent is $59.50, plus tax.

Numerous members of the staff of the Sheriff's Department will be headed for Austin and San Antonio to study everything from data processing to “Multimodal Biometrics,” voice and iris recognition security gadgets, hostage negotiations, the care and feeding of jail inmates, and other cheerful subjects, all of which were approved by a single voice vote as a “consent agenda” item, and thence to adjournment.


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