To curb an anticipated $11 million-$14 million revenue loss to the fiscal year 2019-20 budget, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court approved a hiring freeze April 28. This action was expected to result in about $4 million in savings, County Auditor Ed Sturdivant estimated.

However, since this hiring freeze was implemented on April 28, the county has hired 57 positions—which includes two transfers, one promotion and five part-time to full-time job classification changes—according to a data as of July 10 provided by the county to Community Impact Newspaper. A list of these positions is available at the bottom of the article.

So far, eight job postings in the county’s drainage district department have been postponed to the next fiscal year, and two candidates offered new positions declined the county’s offers and were not included in the overall total of new hires.

Kent Edwards, the county’s human resources director, explained many of the 57 new hires were requested by county departments led by elected officials, such as the sheriff’s office, county attorney and district clerk.

According to a 2003 opinion from the attorney general of Texas, the Commissioners Court does not have authority to enforce a hiring freeze on elected officials, though these positions and departments are funded by the county’s budget, Edwards confirmed.

“It softens the effect of the hiring freeze,” Edwards said and noted the HR department was unaware of this opinion until mid-May.

Of the 57 positions hired in the county during the hiring freeze, 40 of them fell into this category.

Additional hires and postings

Of the remaining 17 positions that were hired during the freeze, two were grant funded at little to no cost to the county, one position was state funded at no cost to the county and another position was a temporary worker in the elections department, according to the data and Edwards.

The majority of the 13 remaining new hires included positions that were at some point in the onboarding process when the hiring freeze was put into place, Edwards said.

If the county had to backtrack on its accepted job offers, it would have caused legal issues, and the Commissioners Court approved these hires to continue through the hiring process, he said.

“In those situations, we made an offer to people, and I don't think the county ought to break its word,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers said at the May 12 court meeting.

Additionally, the county has posted a total of 66 job openings between April 28 and July 10, per the data. Of these, 20 positions were requested by elected officials or a board, 16 are grant funded, two are state funded, and one position was terminated and requires a replacement.

This leaves a total of 24 job postings that required and received court approval. This total does not include 17 temporary job postings that will not be recruited after a summer meal program was canceled, according to the data and Edwards.

Meyers pointed out the county has to find money somewhere to make up for the anticipated revenue loss.

“We’re in the hole $14 million—we’re only covering half of it,” Meyers said at the July 7 court meeting. “That means we’ve got to cover the other half in the 2021 budget. ... We’re starting the budget $7 million in the hole.”