The ordinance under consideration would change the court’s meeting schedule to the first, third and fifth Tuesdays of each month at 10 a.m. beginning April 4. The current schedule has the court meeting every Tuesday at 10 a.m.
While County Judge Tim O’ Hare was alone in wanting to vote on the matter during the court’s Feb. 21 meeting, the other members were not necessarily against changing the schedule. They wanted more time so that they could work out a few issues when it comes to paying the bills.
“I’m not opposed to this,” said Roy Charles Brooks, the longest-tenured commissioner on the board. “I would like to see how the auditor’s office is going to function. A delay [in voting] until next week is necessary to see how both pieces of this deal work together so we can see what we’re voting on.”
The court heard from County Auditor S. Renee Tidwell on how changing the court’s meeting schedule would affect paying bills that would require the court’s approval.
“For electric bills, water bills and various other bills, we can push them forward and present them when we know you’re going to meet,” Tidwell said. “We can negotiate contracts that require short turnarounds or use procurement cards. I think this will work for 90-plus percent of all that we do.”
Brooks pushed back with his concern about how the county would pay small and minority contractors that work on building contracts.
“When we don’t pay those contractors in a timely manner, we put them at risk and the building program at risk,” Brooks said. “I will not vote on something that I do not see.”
Commissioner Alisa Simmons mentioned she was aware that Harris County meets every three weeks. She asked Tidwell if she knew how other counties paid their bills.
“In Dallas, the auditor meets with the treasurer and one commissioner to determine which bills are paid, and then that list is ratified by the court,” Tidwell said.
According to Tarrant County’s website, the office of county treasurer was abolished and the duties transferred to the county auditor in 1983. As the county auditor, Tidwell is the chief financial officer. She has worked for the county for over 25 years.
Beyond being an auditing issue, changing the court’s meeting schedule would be a benefit for staff members, according to Simmons.
“I talked to a number of senior staff, and it seems like each week they are chasing the agenda, doing lots of research and getting it ready by the time we receive it Friday afternoon,” Simmons said. “I spend the weekend emailing staff, and they’ve got to take time on the weekend to answer questions so I have the information on Monday and am ready by Tuesday to discuss it.”