Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sacked budget man - 'I felt I was on my own'

Blames jail issue for loss of job

Waco – As moments go, it was an emotion-laden slice of time, an unusual happening for a numbers-crunching bean counter.

Adam Harry had the unenviable and self-lacerating task of presenting a critique of his performance as county budget officer. It was his last presentation before a tribunal that eliminated his job, his entire two-man department, and put it under the control of the McLennan County's state district judges.

It was nothing unusual, according to Mr. Harry, who acknowledged that he has often been met with implacable hostility from the Court, evidenced by their silence on important matters -  matters such as how much money they wish to devote to specific items, and whether they would like to track changes in budget plans on their laptop computers, or on photocopies of spread sheets.

The resulting confusion that reigned during last summer's budget planning workshops was supreme; the uncertainty of all but the fact that the taxpayers' wallets were hemorrhaging red ink was paramount above all other issues.

In the future, the budget will be prepared by a 16-person staff that is heavily laden with accountants under the supervision County Auditor Stan Chambers.

Mr. Chambers reports directly to State District Judges, and not the McLennan County Commissioners Court.

Taxpayers and business interests rose up at election time in full-throated protest of a proposed 3.6-cent tax hike that would have raised the additional $4 million necessary to balance the deficit in the coming fiscal year – a problem everyone laid at the door of the Sheriff's Department and continuing problems financing a new jail built with revenue bonds, to be operated by a for-profit New Jersey corporation hard-pressed to make a profit off the operation.

According to officials at the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, on any given evening, there is a 20,000-bunk surplus of county jail space in the state. 

Bad day at Black Rock. Bad year to build a jail.

The matter has caused budget overruns of as much as 300 percent for care and feeding of prisoners by the corporation, and similarly massive expenses for such basic items as courthouse security, an essential for judges hearing controversial criminal and civil cases in their courtrooms.

Throughout the 2011-2012 budget year, officers from local police departments were paid $30 per hour to perform the function in place of the Sheriff's Office.

One may hear Chief Deputy Sheriff Matt Cawthon's summation of the problem, and his intentions of how to deal with it, by clicking here:

And then the Tea Party raised its voraciously virago voice and pointed out that their best analysis shows an unerring 16-percent “fluff” factor built into yearly budgets, money budgeted, collected from taxpayers, and then left unspent on line items because no budget line items exist to claim the funds. The use of the money?

It is transferred to contingency accounts to cover other areas of profligacy.

One may listen to an audio report from the budget hearings to get a picture of the resulting clamor by clicking here. CLICK

It's a “living budget,” Mr. Harry often told the Court. When questioned about transfers and other adjustments,  he often said, "I don't want to get all accountant on you, but..."


His voice halting, in his Tuesday morning exit interview, Mr. Harry pointed out to the Court that he asked repeatedly for “budgetary guidance” from the elected officials, and, “The response I got...was, basically, silence. I felt like I was on my own...”

Listening in, one could almost feel the lump in his throat as he described a skull session with the City of Waco's budget director and newly-appointed Tax Assessor-Collector Randy Riggs, a former City Councilman.

The two gave Mr. Harry some lessons on how to make budget projections, he said.

What he left unsaid is that, at one time, he worked at the Riggs family's accounting firm.

Commissioner Lester Gibson demanded his ouster, and all but one of the members of the Court went along with the move. Commissioner Kelly Snell said he would prefer to keep the two-man department, which consists of Norm Fulmer and Mr. Harry, with an entire budget amounting to $176,000, under the control of the Court. The Auditor's office has sixteen employees and an annual budget of $1.26 million, according to Mr. Chambers.

One may hear an audio report of Mr. Harry's remarks by clicking here: CLICK


  1. Adam Harry was a sitting duck waiting to be shot when he accepted the job of Budget Director. He was in a lose-lose job and served as a shield for the Commissioners Court - so they could have a handy scapegoat. They groused about not having control over the budget preparation function for years, and then when they got it (in the form of a budget officer answering to them) they were clueless as to how to prepare a workable budget. Adam had the gonads to put together a budget that was balanced and provided sufficient tax revenue to sustain the County's operations - and they threw him under the bus. All I can say is that Chambers better put on some extreme body armor a helmet, because he's next to stand on the very windy mountaintop, and the wind blows at hurricane force on that mountaintop. Oh, and by the way if the budget process goes south, its always the fault of whoever prepared the budget. If the budget process goes well, it is because the Commissioners Court is comprised of "geniuses", because it was "their" budget.

  2. A sitting duck is very true but understated. The silent treatment goes well with the county scapegoat theme.