County treasurer candidates discuss enterprise resource planning, transparency at Montgomery County Eagle Forum

The Montgomery County Eagle Forum is hosting a series of candidate forums throughout January.

The Montgomery County Eagle Forum is hosting a series of candidate forums throughout January.

Montgomery County Treasurer candidates Melanie Bush and incumbent Stephanne Davenport discussed transparency, ethics, efficiency and enterprise resource planning, during a forum hosted by the Montgomery County Eagle Forum, held Jan. 18.

Each candidate had the opportunity to answer questions from audience members during the evening. Here are a few of the discussed topics:


On transparency and ethics:
Bush:
“I think that transparency is obviously very important—that’s one of the four tenants of openness in my campaign. In order to do that I do think that we should be voluntarily putting our check register online like Travis County does—one of the most liberal counties in our state.

In addition to that, I think that you should be able to ask me any questions and know that I am completely independent of any other elected officials or beholden to anyone—that is very important to me and ethically, as someone who is handling the finances for our county, we need to maintain that independence.”

Davenport:
“I think a lack of transparency creates distrust. Transparency is listed in the Republican Party platform—it’s very important. It’s important to me just like it’s important to you. So I agree, I think that we need to be as transparent as possible…Our department accounts for all moneys in and all moneys out so we have to keep all that information available to you on the website, which we do. So yes, I agree, transparency is very important—it’s one of the things we work hard to accomplish and to accommodate in our department.

We respond to open records requests in a timely fashion and we always try to respond with the information they are requesting and if we don’t have the format they ask for it in, we try to work with that as well so that we can provide it the way they need it.”





On changes in the department since Davenport took office in 2013:
Davenport:
"
There are many changes to the department. One is, like I said, I reduced my staff by one—that’s reducing my staff by 18 percent ad I accomplished that through… getting the depth in the department through team exercises through training and cross-training to allow us to… spread knowledge throughout the department. I brought investments back to the department.

When I took office, the investments were being handled by the county auditor—they were being managed by the county auditor. [My predecessor] had stated that she felt overwhelmed by that so that statutory responsibility was taken away from our department—I brought that back and now we manage the investment portfolio.

When I took office, we generated revenue codes to process cash receiving—before my tenure, everything was basically dumped into one bucket and then the auditor divided all those allocated amounts accordingly. Now, we do the allocating and the auditor audits our work.

My budget has increased but that has been through cost of living increases that were granted by the commissioners court. You reward your staff for performance and I’m very impressed and happy with my staff and I believe they deserved it.”

Bush:
“From talking to other people, there doesn’t seem to be much change in the way the processes are handled. While [Davenport] has put those processes in writing, no one has actually seen them as of yet. I know that the county attorney did not get but a small sample—that was one of the things I wanted to look at in order to know what has changed.

But I do know that the processes, the financial system we’re using have not changed. Mrs. Davenport ran on a platform of modernizing this office, she’s had four years to do that and that has not happened.”





On enterprise resource planning:
Davenport:
"
I serve on the ERP committee, I co-chair that with the county auditor, [and] I’m really excited about what’s to come. I can’t give a whole lot of detail because by statute, we cannot discuss vendor negotiations until the contract has been awarded. But we are ready, we are prepared to talk to [the] commissioners about this and we are providing them all of the information.

Where you hear that we fall short in technology, I believe that we do and in the interim, my department has implemented many processes to shorten the time that it has taken to process payroll. Part of the reason I was able to reduce my staff is because we have reduced the time it takes to do payroll by about 10 percent, which is huge whenever you think about the fact that we run payroll for 2,500 employees.

We also do an annual payroll workshop where we bring in all the departments, the elected officials and their admins who work with payroll and we help keep them up on all of the IRS regulations or any codes that have changed, any risk management having to do with benefits, any changes there so that people aren’t trying to do it the way they’ve always done it. We’re reminding them to utilize the intranet, make sure you’re utilizing the latest and greatest and all the forms we have. So it’s not just a one and done, we’re constantly looking for ways to innovate even with an antiquated system. So it’s a constant struggle but we make it work.”

Bush:
“I’ve heard the system is $30 million, I’ve heard it’s $10 million, I’ve heard it’s $7 million—we won’t know until they take the contract before commissioners court, as Mrs. Davenport said, due to statute.

I do know that they are in the process of starting to build out some space next to the county attorney’s office to house the implementation team, so there’s a cost that is depending upon that, that’s maybe not factored in. In addition to that, it’s going to take 26 months to implement this system and I know when other counties have implemented other ERPs if not the same one, the implementation has actually stretched on longer than that. Travis County is currently on year eight of implementing their ERP and that’s something that we need to avoid as a county. We don’t need this to linger, we need to make sure that we get up and running as effectively and efficiently as possible and so that staff time may also not be presented as factored into the $30-, $10- or $7 million cost that keeps being battered around.”





On efficiency:
Bush:
“I’ve done a lot with my clients’ businesses and also with mine. We’ve sat down and taken a long hard look at things and created procedures, but then you don’t stop there—we are constantly evaluating, with our clients and internally, we are looking at our procedures either on a weekly, a monthly or [seasonally], when we have things like federal tax deadlines and 1099s which is right now, we’re looking at those processes before we head into that next season. So it’s not a one-time thing, it’s a constant evaluation of processes to ensure that we are being the most efficient that we possibly can.”

Davenport:
“I believe that it is a constant effort. You are always looking out for the future; you’re never stuck in today. In my department, we always say ‘just say no to status quo’ and ‘it always has to be right.’ You don’t always achieve perfection, but you always strive for excellence, so you’re always looking for what you can do to improve upon what you’re already doing, which is part of how the creation of the procedure guides came about. That and from a conservation standpoint, the procedure guides ensure that we’re always going to be able to watch over and safeguard your funds.”


By Hannah Zedaker

Editor, Spring/Klein & Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood

Hannah joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In March 2019, she transitioned to editor of the Spring/Klein edition and later became the editor of both the Spring/Klein and Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood editions in June 2021. Hannah covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Hannah served as associate editor of The Houstonian, interned with Community Impact Newspaper and spent time writing for the Sam Houston State University College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication and The Huntsville Item.



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