Taking a fall for the Nav District’s Record Keeping Inadequacies

By Jack Wright

 

There have been some interesting happenings at the Navigation District that started last month. Bear with me while I set up the story. On July 4, while we were spending time with our family in the hill country, my wife received a call on her cell phone from a woman looking for me. I will not identify her because of the nature of the information she provided to me. I will call her Jane Doe for purposes of this post. I asked how she came to find me since the call came in on my wife’s phone. Google was her answer.

Jane Doe asked me if I was going to be at the Navigation meeting the following morning, July 5. I was not as we were vacationing all week. I asked why. She said the District was planning to approve the annual Audit and she knew from past meetings that I had asked for some financial information through an Open Records Request.

Jane asked me if I knew that Nelda, the District’s secretary was fired. I did not, but was not surprised as I expected the District to throw her under the bus over the extremely poor record keeping with respect to financials, budgets, minutes etc. that should have been on the District’s website. In defense of Nelda, the information I asked for was not only missing from the website, the District didn’t have any of the reports because they simply don’t do them, don’t know how to do them, or don’t consider them important enough. That is their M.O. I do not know if it’s arrogance or ignorance. The official position according to one Commissioner who spoke with me is that Nelda simply retired.

Jane asked me if I knew “they” fired Ann Smith, Nelda’s replacement, after only 90 days plus or minus on the job. I did not. Jane told me that Ann was a good friend who was aware of some financial improprieties and felt that was why Ann was fired. Jane thought I might be able to review the audit and help find whatever Ann was speaking about. I confessed that something like that would take time and was unlikely to be discovered during the course of a meeting. I also felt that the Auditor would not make a rookie mistake. If anything was improper, it likely occurred this calendar year and not within the scope of the audit to be presented.

Jane said Commissioner Tommy Moore came in the District office on Friday July 1, confronted Ann, and fired her. Oops, I said. Tommy does not have that authority I explained, as the Commissioners only have the Harbor Master as an employee and the Harbor Master is responsible for all other employees. That is the same structure as the School District, the Appraisal District, and the City of Rockport.

By Tuesday morning July 5, Jane said the District was busy walking back the firing of Ann. Tommy denied that he had fired Ann and that she was still employed, but she was placed on administrative leave. The employees were told that anyone inquiring about Ann should be told that she was out sick. I told Jane that I would really like to speak with Ann if she felt comfortable and the three of us could have lunch and go through all that had happened.

I returned July 11 and called Jane Doe to see if Ann was willing to speak with me. Jane told me Ann was too fearful of retaliation. Jane said the District had hired an auditor to go through the audit just approved to find what Ann spoke of. I told her that was highly unlikely that the District would hire another auditor to review the work of the District’s official Auditor. If anything was improper, I explained that it likely had occurred since January 1 of this year. The official position I later confirmed through a sitting Commissioner was to train Ann in proper accounting procedures. I was able to confirm that Ann is back on the job before completing this blog.

The Commissioners have held some closed sessions to talk about what has been officially dubbed as an internal Human Resource issue. Talking about items discussed in Closed Session outside of Closed Session is at best improper and at worst, illegal. However, Commissioners talk to their family and friends and information gets out. The story making the rounds because of it is that there is possibly some missing or misallocated money. The dollar figure being discussed is low six figures. I am not saying that any money is missing or if any money is misallocated because I don’t know. I do know that the District does not produce a monthly balance sheet and income statement as they should and they do not compare actuals to budget at any time during the year. Not performing these essential functions leaves the door wide open for honest mistakes and dishonest mistakes. The only financial reports they produce is after their fiscal year end. That is not new; they have been doing this for years. No For-profit Business, no Non-profit business, no Government agency waits until after the end of the fiscal year to determine where it stands financially. Even the little girl with a lemon-aid stand doesn’t wait until the end of the summer to count her money, but the Aransas County Navigation District does. This is completely inexcusable and unacceptable. The public needs to hold them accountable.