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Commissioners Discuss New Bill Payment Approval Procedures

September 8, 2017 - The Shelby County Commissioners' Court met Thursday, August 31, for their first special meeting to review weekly expenses.

The new weekly meeting schedule of the commissioners' court is due to an opinion given by Texas Attorney Ken Paxton indicating the county would be liable for payments not specifically authorized by the commissioners.

Bills to be paid before the next meeting were presented to the commissioners.

The commissioners began going down the list of bills for examination and for use as an example Roscoe McSwain, Commissioner Precinct 1, selected a bill for vehicle repairs submitted by Robert Hairgrove, Precinct 5 Constable.

"That's what I disagree about this system that we're embarking on is if they've got it in the budget they're going to go ahead and spend it anyway. But, once they expend it, if we don't agree with paying it we're going to get sued for it. It's kind of a backwards setup," said McSwain.

McSwain proposed if the county is going to "micromanage" everything, then permission should be sought for such expenditures. He said he's uncomfortable with the procedures they're now having to go through and he doesn't see the benefit.

"If the budget approves the payment, you know, expenditure we're going to have to approve to pay. Only thing I can see is this would help if somebody paid something that wasn't in their, bought something that wasn't in their budget," said McSwain.

Judge Harbison said the reason they are having to go through this process is because of the law and the Attorney General's opinion on the issue making it so the treasurer cannot write the check for bills without first being approved by the commissioners.

"Even though it's in their budget and it's allowable for them to use it within their budget, the whole process is it has to be approved by court before she can," said Allison Harbison, Shelby County Judge.

McSwain questioned how they know when any item presented is the best deal there could have been in making the purchase.

Clint Porterfield, Shelby County Auditor, explained for the commissioners his and the treasurer's duties. He said when the bills come through, his responsibility is to make sure that what is presented is budget appropriate.

"I'm not looking at the amount, I'm not looking at who it is, I'm just looking to see what it is and make sure that it is a county appropriate, prudent expenditure," said Porterfield.

The treasurer's job is to disburse the funds and make certain they are available. He said the process of verifying what the county will or will not pay for is a different matter.

When a budget is prepared it is within statute the budget is prepared by line item. A that time whoever the vendor may be is not known, only that the expenditure is a possibility in the future.

"The point is well taken if we're going to have expenditures like this, then maybe we need discuss it in court first before the expenditure takes place," said Porterfield.

Porterfield explained that procedure would be to have a purchase order and present that to the court, before the service or purchase is completed.

Shelby County does not have a purchasing department and he suggested that was the scenario which fit with what McSwain was proposing.

"You also have to remember, because you're dealing with elected officials, you know you're giving them and they have the discretion to run their office as they see fit, " said Porterfield. "Your responsibility is to make sure that it's a prudent expenditure that fits the budget and we have the funds available for it and go from there."

Further discussion was had on the issue and even the possibility of establishing a purchasing order department was something that may be investigated. Porterfield proposed, to save the county money, to advise any county officials or departments to bring any purchases which may be out of the ordinary before the commissioners for consideration before moving forward.

A motion carried to approve paying the weekly expenses.