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Some's Hot, Some's Not 

by B.K. Carter
This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time and phone number.

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 different parts.

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 George Clooney).

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 Bend's.

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 people.

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 story!

B. K. Carter is publisher of the Fort Bend Star. You can e-mail her at

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   Last Update:  March 19, 2003