The honeymoon is over ..... County Judge
Bob Hebert had been in office a little over three months and those
were my words to him when he flew into my radar last week.
It started out with an invitation for
"Breakfast with Bob." First, I don't do breakfast with ANYBODY;
second I wondered why he needed to have a fund-raiser this early
in his term of office; and third, it ended up (though not his
fault) on the front page of the newspaper, along with a quote from
him that he had asked all county department heads to cut their
budgets by at least 4 percent.
So after I whined at reporter Barbara
Fulenwider for writing the story in the first place, and editor
Jean Sandlin for running it on the front page, I called County
Judge Bob Herbert about his 4% reduction request. I wanted to know
if he was going to talk the talk, was he also willing to walk the
walk, i.e., make a 4 % cut in his own department. He assured me he
was and I then asked him how that squared with a new job posting
for his department to hire a "technology information analyst."
Judge Bob then told me about his belief that
technology, including software, were capital improvement items
that required lots of investment and the right decisions about
what to buy. He said the county was sitting on aging programs or,
in some cases, no programs at all, and that he didn't understand
all the geek speak so was going to hire someone, part-time, for
six months, to review all the county computer programs and explain
to him in plain language what the county needed to do and how much
it would possibly cost them and what would happen if they
postponed the purchase of some of the computer stuff.
"I don't know where we are, and I don't know
where we need to be, in terms of technology," he said. He said he
wanted someone who was not tied to any department, wasn't working
or wouldn't work for a vendor, knew what he/she was talking about,
and could explain it to him and the commissioners. He likened his
trying to find out where the county was from department heads with
the adage about blind men describing an elephant by feeling of
Judge Bob then informed me that he had the
money budgeted for this year because he was not paying an
expensive "chief of staff" like the former judge had budgeted.
"And I have money left over," he said.
He told me the 4% was not mandatory; it was
strictly a goal at which to aim. And he had sent an email to the
department heads this early in the budget process so they could be
thinking about it.
Okay, all that sounded good to me so the
honeymoon was back on as far as I was concerned. Juanita kept
mumbling about why the need for a fund-raiser since Hebert had so
much money to start with and how he was being arrogant to try to
tell other elected officials what to do.
But of course Juanita wouldn't like a
Republican county judge if he walked on water (or looked like
But that's not all ...... I've been
threatening to look at Budget Officer Jim Edwards' office for some
time. The office was created in 1997 and in five years, we went
from the county judge and commissioners doing their constitutional
duty and planning the budget (with help from the auditor) to an
office of budget planning with three full time employees.
My question to Edwards was what in the world
does his office do after that three or four months they spend
working on the budget. He informed me that they administer the
budget all year long, handling requests for changes in the budget
and continual updating the long-term comprehensive plan. He said
the amount of employees in Fort Bend's budget office were
comparable to other counties of like population.
So I checked. Fort Bend has a population of
381,000 and three employees. Nueces (Corpus), population
312,000-auditor does budget without extra help. Montgomery
(Conroe) population 315,000-auditor does budget without any help.
Collin (up there somewhere near Dallas), population 541,000-budget
director has five employees but also supervises investments and
law library. Denton (ditto above) population 466,00-five
employees, budget office does about the same things as Fort
Wish I had checked closer ..... I was in
error last week when I complained that the judges had hired an
administrative court coordinator for up to $70,000 with grant
money. They supposedly had the same type of questions I did so
they only voted to hire an assistant administrative court
coordinator for $35,000 and see how that works out.
Toga's and fig leaves optional ...... No
wonder elected officials get the big head. The Fort Bend Bar
Association had an "unveiling" this week in the rotunda of the
courthouse, complete with catering by Sandy Magee. They were
unveiling the new County Judge's portrait. Now the bar association
pays for all of this, including the portrait, but it sure seems
silly to me and guaranteed to puff up the ego of a servant of the
I thought she was just teasing ..... Tax
Assessor/Collector Marsha Gaines was in Washington, D.C. last week
at some national county officials meeting. She reported back to me
that she visited our newest Senator John Cornyn offices, and they
were in a trailer. I could hardly believe it, but then several
days later I saw a big story in the Chronicle about it. Humph, old