Ranger investigation targets use of county funds
By STERRY BUTCHER
PRESIDIO COUNTY – A Texas Ranger investigation is exploring the use of county funds during a payroll period earlier this month.
“It involves the county clerk’s office, the treasurer’s office and my office, because I tried to improve the communication among the others,” County Judge Paul Hunt said on Tuesday. “It will get sorted out and we will get back on task.”
May 10 was a pay day for county offices, but checks didn’t go out that day due to what Hunt termed “a disagreement” between Treasurer Mary Lane Williams, whose office issues the checks, and County Clerk Virgie Pallarez.
“Payroll was held up for what amounts to a disagreement between the department head and treasurer over the interpretation of the employment policy,” said Hunt. “It was about whether a department head had a certain independence within their budget to direct payment for someone who was on leave.”
Hunt intervened and said the issue came to a positive conclusion. Pay checks were handed out the next day.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “someone filed a complaint – I don’t know who –and it went from being an internal county matter to a criminal investigation.”
The complaint led to an investigation by Texas Ranger Jeff Vajdos. Neither Vajdos nor District Attorney Jesse Gonzales could be reached by press time.
The issue has underscored the need to standardize the county’s existing employment policy, said the judge.
“There’s a certain autonomy within a department for an elected department head to manage their budget,” he explained. “There’s a realization by department heads that the county’s employment policy was not necessarily uniform in the way that it could be. In order to get to that state, we’ll have to have an agreement of department heads to participate in defining the policy. I believe everyone is understanding the need for that agreement.”
Standardizing the employment policy may come up for discussion at future county meetings. As for the criminal case, Hunt said it’s up to the district attorney.
In an unrelated matter, Hunt was asked this week about allegations that Commissioner Felipe Cordero had billed his worker’s hours to the county when that worker was on a private plumbing job. The judge had heard the story, too, and proclaimed it false.
“Commissioner Cordero uses some of the same personnel on his private crew as he does for county work,” said Hunt. “He’s confident that he’s properly segregating those functions – he’s adamant about that segregation.”
Hunt had also heard that Cordero was allegedly using county equipment on private jobs. This, too, was inaccurate, he said.
“Some people had complained to me he was using county equipment but that is not the case,” Hunt said. “Every time I looked into it, I came away satisfied that it was not true.”