As I have previously mentioned, when Brian Watts (auditor) said that he had outside legal expenses from the county attorney's office that were paid from Somervell County's general fund, I wondered what they were, did an open records request and found that the amounts were in regard to the lawsuit that the State of Texas has now lost 3 times. (ie, Paul Reed Harper v State of Texas ex rel George Darrell Best, which judgement is, not against Darrell Best, but against the State of Texas, ie, which means Somervell County taxpayers will foot that bill.)
It didn't occur to me at the time but did in the next month that I used to see all the line item budget transfers AS PART OF the agenda. This has happened for as long as I have been attending meetings, with Judge Walte Maynard and also Judge Mike Ford. And, looking at the posted agendas on the Somervell County website, it appears that the commissioners court under Danny Chambers ALSO started out by listing the budget transfers. Here's an example from the August 10, 2015 agenda, where, if you click on the amounts, you will see the specific detail of WHAT got transferred. Here's an example
IF, however, you look at the agenda from the meeting that is coming up on August 26, 2016, you'll see budget transfers but NO REFERENCES, NO LINE ITEMS and NO SPECIFICITY.
HOW is a person to know exactly what monies are being transferred and why, and why did this change after years of transparency?
The answer is in an open records request I had with Brian Watts (auditor). I asked him, on August 15, 2016
Maybe I am just missing this, but when I look through the documentation/board packet for the Somervell County CC meeting after that, I see an item for approving the budget transfers, but not any documentation for that that represents. In meetings in the past, there has been, on the agenda, specific items showing the amounts and what accounts they were being transferred between. Since it’s not listed on the agenda, at least not on the August 2016 one I’m using as an example http://somervellcountytx.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=14&ID=1230&Inline=1 where is the info that shows what specifically has been transferred with the detail?
He answered (and sent the budget transfer documents for the last 6 months)
Yes, you are correct. Previously, over 50% of the agenda items were “budget transfers” and it was really cumbersome…so we switched and I now prepare a budget transfer report for the Commissioner’s Court to review and approve. I send the report to them via e-mail usually on the Friday afternoon before the court session. Attached are the budget transfers for the current fiscal year
Thank you for anticipating that budget transfer reports would be wanted. I would like to request that the reports be made part of the board packet that is posted on the internet. Makes very good sense to get the information to the commissioners so that they have time to review before the meeting, and the other part would be the public that can then see what exactly they approved (or not)
Also…once the report is signed by the Court, it is filed with the meeting minutes in the Clerk’s office. Forgot to mention that. Sorry.
I will attempt to get that report in the board packet, but some months it is just impossible to accomplish with the agenda being published on Thursday and my financial reports are not finished being reviewed until Friday. Expediency vs Accuracy….I always want accuracy to win.
I didn't further discuss this with Brian but am here. The problem is this. Right now on the Somervell County Commissioners website under the *minutes* section, the minutes STOP at January, 2016. That means if someone wants to see those budget transfers, they MUST do an open records request or go ask for the minutes to be posted for the last 6 months or go down to the courthouse, etc. The second problem is that anyone attending the meeting CANNOT FIND OUT what the budget transfers even were UNTIL the meeting minutes are created and then voted upon. When does that happen? The next meeting. So, to put a fine point on it, if you go to a meeting, want to be informed and be alerted about what might be happening with your tax money, the very earliest, if you don't put in your own effort, that you can find out is at the next meeting in which minutes are approved. I believe that is ALWAYS at the next REGULAR meeting of the commissioners court, meaning if there are workshops or special sessions in a given month, the meeting minutes are not approved then, but the next month AFTER that.
Anyone else agree with me? Why should it be this hard to know what's going on with our money AT THE TIME it's being voted upon? I continue to want the budget transfers to be, at the least part of the board packet posted AT THE TIME of the meeting, not a month later.