By Landan Kuhlmann
Odis Jones has wasted little time making an impact on Missouri City’s government.
Two months after being selected as city manager in a contentious 4-3 vote by the Missouri City Council, Jones brought eyebrow-raising allegations to light during a special city council meeting Sept. 8. He told the council he had forwarded information to Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton regarding the alleged misuse of city funds prior to his hiring as city manager.
Jones said an initial internal control audit showed at least $20,000 from Missouri City’s public, educational and government (PEG) fund was instead used for hotels and flights. He did indicate which city employee or employees had allegedly misused the money.
“I wanted to make sure to bring that to (city council’s) attention so that you were aware of that as I promised I would,” Jones said.
According to federal law, an entity’s PEG fund is only allowed to be used for expenditures related to costs for production equipment or computer software for public access TV stations, such as the technology Missouri City uses to stream council meetings. Jones said the alleged illegal activity occurred from October 2018 through February 2019, and that the DA’s office is investigating it as a potential federal crime.
Wesley Wittig, a spokesperson for the DA’s office, said it “does not confirm what they are or are not investigating until such time as criminal charges are filed.”
Before the Sept. 8 council meeting, the city hired accounting firm BDO USA to conduct an independent control audit to search for any further potential misuse.
“I just want to make sure we move the dollars over and fix it because we need to be in compliance with federal funds,” Jones said.
The announcement was not entirely well-received as council members Jeffrey Boney, Anthony Maroulis and Floyd Emery all expressed apprehension.
Boney said he was blindsided by the revelation, and that no city council member had viewed the documentation that Jones said he sent to the district attorney’s office.
“I’m just baffled by why council as a whole has not seen the alleged documentation,” Boney said. “It’s not something that we should be in the dark about, especially if it’s about alleged illegal activity. I need to know what’s going on.”
Maroulis, meanwhile, questioned the timing and purpose behind Jones’ revealing of the investigation.
“I find it interesting that this is the first find in an internal audit – it sure appears that somebody tipped you to this direction … and that this is a target,” Maroulis said. “We’ll see what the outcome is. I appreciate you wanting to make the money right, but it just doesn’t feel right.”
Jones responded by saying, “If somebody tipped me off, I would tell you. This was just a matter of us having a preliminary view, and it came our way.”
Once BDO’s audit is complete, which Jones expects to be done in October, he said the firm will update city council on the results and determine how they would like to proceed. If council would like, Jones said, a motion can be taken to conduct a forensic audit – though he said that would cost the city at least $50,000 to undertake.
“If you want to go deeper, I can,” he said. “We can quickly pivot and augment their work if you guys would like.”
Amidst the concerns expressed by Boney, Emery and Maroulis, council member Vashaundra Edwards brought up one of her own related to their objections.
“I find it concerning that the only concern I’m hearing is why it was the first thing that’s being brought up. It’s concerning because we’re not concerned about actual mismanagement of funds, but with why it’s being brought up,” she said. “Let’s continue to be focused on who we’re serving, and that’s the people of this community. … Let’s allow (BDO) to do their job.”
Boney responded by saying his concern was not strictly about the topic’s discussion, but having been denied access to what he called “key information.”
“I’m concerned about doing my job, and that’s representing the people. I can’t do that if I’m left in the dark,” Boney said. “This is not about my confidence in the city manager. It’s about the fact that I have not seen key information provided to the district attorney relevant to the city of Missouri City. It’s very disturbing to me.”