Thursday, January 19, 2012

Payroll flip flop throws flustered junta for a loop

Kelly Snell standing alone to save dough

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” - Kurt Vonnegut

Six Shooter Junction – It's one of those governmental snafus that moves from a slow rolling boil to cooler periods, goes on and off the boil - then brews up into full-fledged feud material all over again.

It's all about the kind of Monday morning hassle bosses often face with their lower-paid, more economically challenged employees – the one about how they will have to learn to manage their money, he's not a bank, etc., etc. No, they can't have an advance on next week's pay. They have to work before they get paid, not get paid before they work, and all that jazz.

The pitiful thing is that it's got area business men scratching their heads and wondering how and why an organization like McLennan County needs to pay people for work they have not yet performed, overtime hours they may or may not have worked, and vacation and sick leave time they may or may not be eligible to collect.

A frustrated small business man named Eddie Pribyl spoke to the issue following the McLennan County Commissioners Court's suddenly slow motion decision to spend $58,000 to reverse a previous decision made during budget workshops over the Spring months to reverse a long-standing policy they already spent huge amounts of money to correct.

In May, the Court voted to go to a 26-week pay system after an expense of nearly a half million dollars to install the new software on a $6 million main frame computer.

That would have resulted in county employees who make less than $30,000 per year receiving an average of about $85 per pay day less than what they had been getting. Somehow, folks got the idea that meant they would be getting paid less.

It's not necessarily so; they would just be getting less on each check, but the same amount for the entire year. The problem is that it would cost the same amount of money to buy the new software solution to the old problem to try to alter the new old system – and the software engineers aren't really sure it would work, according to the Information Technology department head, Robert Wasson.

Under the new old system of a 24-week pay schedule, people are often overpaid in error, leave their employment with McLennan County before the Treasurer's office catches the mistake, and become the subject of court judgments to collect the money.

“I don't know of any other business that pays people for hours they haven't worked before the time keeper has a chance to verify they have worked them,” said Mr. Pribyl, who lives at McGregor while he operates his place of business in Waco.

He was one of a committee of three – the number of the classic junta - who meet private sector payrolls who went to a meeting with three of the members of the Court and the County Auditor back in July to try to hammer out a solution to what they saw as an alarming situation, this business of pay folks before they actually do the work for which they are paid.

At a meeting between Commissioners Kelly Snell and Ben Perry, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Mashek listening in on a speaker phone and his Administrative Assistant Susan Nemmer in attendance, they extracted a promise that the majority would vote to keep the new system, one in which the time keeper in the County Treasurer's office gets a chance to look over the overtime, compensatory and vacation time claims, and verify the payroll before that office cuts the checks.

Under the old system, employees are paid for periods of anywhere from 14 to 19 days. In many cases, the end of the pay period falls on a weekend, and the time keeper does not get a chance to audit the time sheets until after the pay is disbursed.

Why not go to the new system?

“They kept telling us 'What you don't understand is that these county employees are taxpayers, too,” said Mr. Pribyl when reached for comment on the Court's Tuesday decision to pay Edoc Technologies, Inc., $20,000 to design a payroll system to account and calculate pay under the old system of a 24-week pay schedule.

In addition, they voted to pay a $31,500 maintenance schedule over the next seven years to maintain that new old system. The resulting price tag is in excess of $50,000.

Mr. Pribyl and his colleagues are incensed, burned up, and apoplectic because, he says, County Auditor Stan Chambers pointed out during the July meeting that the Attorney General has issued an opinion that it's not really legal to issue pay checks without first auditing time sheets.

Mr. Chambers is as puzzled as the business men.

“They need a system of time clocks for each employee to punch in at the barn or at the courthouse...The system could be activated by a personal code, no matter the location they are at when they punch in,” said Mr. Pribyl. Employees have complained repeatedly that they sometimes have to report to work at their stations at the precinct barns, sometimes at the Courthouse, and sometimes on the road to other assignments.

You can't get there from here, they say.

The businesss men say they're wrong. Tom Ramsey, who operates a temporary placement agency named Total Placement, is on record saying he and his employees are able to do just that on a daily basis while he verifies and audits their actual hours in advance of their pay days.

When the vote came on Tuesday, Commissioners Joe Mashek and Ben Perry changed their position and voted with County Judge Jim Lewis and Commissioner Lester Gibson for the new old system that will cost in excess of $50,000 to stay with the now old new system of paying overtime and sick leave, vacation and compensatory time - without first auditing the time sheets.

“We asked them, 'Do you run that operation, or do the employees run it?'” said Mr. Pribyl, speaking from his desk in a busy automotive location in suburban Waco.

Will he say it on camera?

“Let me get your number. I'll get back to you,” he replied.

Some days, the dragon wins.


  1. Can you post the invoice for a 6 million main frame or do you just not care about the facts. 6 million dollors being attached to a project is a major fact.

  2. I have spoken with Mr. Chambers about this matter twice. Both times he assured me that it is a material fact that McLennan County has invested that much in a main frame computer system. Suppose I am in error, and it's only $1 million, after all. Hell's bells, let's make it a meaaly $100,000. I put it to you, sir. Is it a good use of what resources are available, be they worth $6 million or two bits, to ignore the fact that the money has been spent for a purpose and then turn around and subvert that very purpose? I put it to you, sir. It's the very principle of thing that that is at stake, here, sir. That ought to hold you, Mr. Anonymous. That ought to hold you. Why don't you post the invoice for what it really cost and leave me in peace? How about that? There's an idea for you. - The Legendary

    1. So let me get this straight.... YOU post bad information, YOU get called out on it and because of it YOU try to throw it back in the persons face instead of admitting you were wrong.... wow

    2. Yes, let's do get this straight. You are very belligerent and you are in a very ignorant mood, so you begin to berate me about something I have confirmed to the best of my ability. You call this calling me out? I haven't been called out by an anonymous mouse, hoss. Far from it. Step up here into the light, let me see your face, and we'll see about that, okay? You ain't called out anyone, Mr. Anonymous. What's that name, dude? You got one? You got two? Huh? - The Legendary Jim Parks

  3. Click here for the minority report:

    - The Legendary

  4. Well if he told you that then he is wrong and I cannot prove a negative so if you or Mr. Chambers won’t or cannot produce an invoice showing McLennan County purchased any-kind of mainframe at any price to run the new software on I have to give up quest of correctiing error here and assume all the facts in the rest of this blog could be just as wrong.

  5. Buddy Skeen put time clocks in his department when he came into office. Why can't Commissioner Snell put them in for his office and road crew?

  6. Neither 24 nor 26-week pay schedule will not put the county payroll into arrears. This can only be done through county policy. Do you know if Commissioner Snell is going to place a draft policy on the Commissioners’ Court agenda for debate?

  7. What the Legendary has exposed is clear admission by three commissioners that they participated in an illegal meeting by having three commissioners present in deliberations via phone or in person. The fact that Mashek was "just listening" on the phone while his administrative assistant was active in the meeting makes no difference under the open meetings act. These guys were trying to conduct deliberations in an illegal meeting, and you, the white knight of transparency, just ignore their actions and hold them up as heroes.

    1. The report is the recollection of one man. The ultimate vote of commissioners does not support the allegation. In fact, it contradicts the recollection of Mr. Pribyl. While I don't doubt that that is his recollection, it is pretty sparse evidence that a crime occurred.

  8. The real fact, despite what readers are being told in this fairy tale being spun by Snell and Chambers is that County employees are paid AFTER THEIR WORK HAD BEEN PERFORMED. When a County employee comes to work on the first day of a month he/she is paid on the 16th for the first half of the month. It amazes me how anyone can spin that into a statement that employees are paid before they do the work. When disinformation is printed as fact in a news or blog organ, credibility quickly disappears - and the only asset you really have is credibility - don't take whatever Snell or Chambers says as a fact.

    1. The treasures office has stacks of lawsuits where employees are sued by the county to recover pay they were not eligible for. Technically, the pay date is after the fact but the net result is the same. Employees received pay they were not due because after the time sheets were audited, it was discovered. While the argument above is semantically correct, the net effect is the same.

  9. Commissioner Snell is holding his own meetings in secret while championing transparency? Isn't this just like when he spoke out against special interest groups only to turn around a allow Johnson Roofing, that was currently bidding for a county contract, to throw him a fundraiser? Commissioner Snell seems to be a big believer in "do what I say not what I do." Where do I go to request the minutes for Snell's secret meeting? I guess the tape was running during this meeting since the newspaper man wasn't there.

  10. I think the Legendary missed the real crime. According to the Open Meetings Act, Mr. Snell's meeting was illegal. If a quorum of Commissioners are present and discuss county business, even if one is on the phone, it is considered a called meeting by law. The meeting is illegal in that there was no public notice posted 72 hours before this called meeting. There are no public minutes that can be reviewed of this meeting since the County Clerk's Office wasn't present at the meeting, I'm sure because they didn't know about it either. So it would seem the actual crime isn't the Commissioners spending money, but that Mr. Snell betrayal of public trust in calling a clearly illegal meeting. Good work on uncovering Mr. Snell's illegal activities!!

    1. Even if the recollection of one man is correct, the commissioners made every effort to comply with the law as Commissioner Mashek was not present at the meeting. Only Commissioners Snell and Perry. That is not a quorum.

    2. Mashek's telephone call constitutes a "walking quorum" according to the Open Meetings Act. This part was set forth in the case of Esperanza Peace and Justice Center v. City of San Antonio in 2001. It was found that by trying to avoid having a quorum by using the telephone violated the spirit of the law since the telephone use was intended to circumvent the Act's requirements.

    3. Mr. Hancock - Read pages 17-18

    4. From the pub Pg. 18 - deliberately meeting in groups less than a quorum in closed sessions to discuss and/or deliberate public business, and then ratifying their actions as a quorum in a
      subsequent public meeting.

      Clearly, the action here complained of is in conflict with the opinion in that the reported actions were not "ratified". Said lack of ratification being the chief complaint of the Mr. Prybil.
      From the same page - “when there is no intent to avoid the Act’s requirements.”
      No evidence exists that it was their INTENT to subvert the act. Evidence of intent is required.
      Do you believe the only reason this law is rarely used is because "everybody" but those accused in this matter obey the law?
      McLennan County has a bulldog District Attorney who would be all over this if any true violation had occurred. The DA not only is aggressively pursuing charges against Buddy Skeen but also the associates of Mr. Skeen.

  11. If your readers want to know the truth about what equipment, the Munis software is running on they can fine the Tyler Munis ASP contract in the Commissioners’ Court minutes “1-11-11”.

  12. Ben, if you review the Opinions of the Attorney General of the State of Texas you will find one, not that long ago, that states that a member of a governing body who is present at a meeting via a telephone device IS considered to be present at that meeting. Yes, my friend, according to the Texas Attorney General, the meeting with Snell, Perry in person and Mashek on the speaker phone was definitely a quorum. And the purpose of the meeting, as attributed to Snell was to round up three votes for his issues. Additionally, there are other AG opinions that prohibit a commissioner from sending a proxy (i.e. their administrative assistant) to other commissioners to try to coerce their vote on an issue. Obviously it is OK for a third party, on their own to visit with each commissioner individually - but not if that party is a proxy of another commissioner. It's all about transparency folks and deliberation in the public arena - and everyone has to remember that transparency is a double edged sword. One cannot say it applies to them and not to me.

    When the Commissioners put themselves and their administrative assistants in the same suite of offices, they made a very dangerous move, because such a physical arrangement makes it very difficult to NOT have illegal meeting situations. Even if the illegal meetings never happen, they produce the public perception that they do happen. They would have to be super humans with unbelievable self control to avoid such meetings - and after awhile they get easier and easier until they become the norm. It's just human nature to talk to your suite mates.

  13. Mr. Hancock, you might want to check out Attorney General GA-0863 - read the body of the opinion and not just the summary - you will see how he AG feels about all the sneaky little ways board members / court members / council members try to get around having a quorum. It amazes me how such members think they are the only ones who have ever thought about all the little tricks of avoiding a quorum. The AG looks at intent and essence rather than the loopholes little geniuses in many local governments think they have figured out.

    Doesn't have anything to do with Chapter 551 Texas Open Meetings Act. It's about the Ethics Commission.

  15. Suppose you're right Mr. Hancock. That would mean that by Mr. Perry and Mr. Mashek not keeping their alledged promises to him, I say alledged since there was no record made of Mr. Snell's secret called meeting, they would technically be breaking the spitulation of it being an actual meeting. And Mr. Snell is upset that they spared him of illegal action? I guess no one would want to do Mr. Snell any favors.

    But I will still maintain that Mr. Snell violated the Open Meeting Act by calling his illegal meeting. Since the Commissioners are in such close proximity, they why didn't Mr. Mashek simplely step down the hall to Mr. Snell's office? Instead he stayed in his office and brought in his Assistant to witness the call. That my friend makes a strong case for his intent to avoid having a quorum, and is the exact kind of action that the court has already ruled as being considered a "Walking Quorum" which is illegal. DA Reyna, we hope you will take as swift action against the illegal activities of Mr. Snell and perhaps Mr. Mashek as you have with Mr. Skeen.

  16. "That would have resulted in county employees who make less than $30,000 per year receiving an average of about $85 per pay day less than what they had been getting. Somehow, folks got the idea that meant they would be getting paid less." The author apparently doesn't know how they initially attempted to implement the new pay. In October or November, I don't remember, they were going to switch to the two week pay rate, but they were NOT going to start paying every two weeks until after the new year started in January. County employees were to be paid twice a month at a lower rate for two or three months. That would be where everyone got the idea they were getting paid less, because they were. Getting paid at the same frequency for two or three months, just getting paid less each time.

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