Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Judge's flight of fancy calls for micromanagement

Commissioners rein in travel expenses

Waco – County Commissioners continue to micromanage the spending habits of Justice of the Peace Jean Laster-Boone.

In a Tuesday morning appearance, she struggled with the math in trying to explain how adding a 180-mile round trip detour by driving to Dallas to catch a plane to San Antonio for a continuing education seminar would actually save taxpayers money instead of driving straight through from Waco to the Alamo city.

Mileage reimbursement paid to county officials traveling on official business would pay $183 round trip – compared to a $203 bill to fly Dallas to San Antonio and return. But there the logic seemed to escape the judge when Commissioner Ben Perry explained that there are airport parking fees, the increased cost of Waco to Dallas driving, and the like.

Like a mighty battleship steaming full-speed ahead, the judge continued to chew on the rag about how she would not have any taxi fees to pay because the hotel furnishes a shuttle bus to the conference center.

No one seemed to see the logic in that argument, so she eventually gave up when Commissioner Kelly Snell said, “Why don't we just give her $183 and let her do whatever she wants with it?”

That's what they did. In another matter, they approved a $3,528.10 raise for a court clerk recently hired to assist in the court's functions. She replaced an employee who left and collected several hundred dollars in overtime pay unaccounted on weekly time sheets.

In tagging the episode of the travel expense request, County Judge Scott Felton mentioned that there is no progress in readying the downtown Courthouse Annex jail for occupancy – a factor that would present a substantial saving by taking overflow population out of the Jack Harwell Detention Center, a for-profit jail operated by a New Jersey corporation that has yet to show a profit on the operation, which was built at taxpayer expense with the proceeds of a revenue bond issue approved by the Court, and without the approval of voters, as in a General Election.

The county government experienced 300 percent cost overruns for “outside care” in paying $45.50 per inmate per day to house them in a jail built at taxpayer expense while the 5-story 300-some-odd bed building right next door to the courthouse sits empty – for no discernible reason. Officials of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards insist the jail has a fully functional operating permit. - The Legendary 

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