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Victoria County Commissioners Court

A new committee approved by Victoria County commissioners Monday will examine all aspects of the county’s spending and procurement practices and write a policy that will act as a guide for county officials to follow.

County Judge Ben Zeller recommended the appointment of the new purchasing policy committee, which he explained in a memo comes as an effort to improve county operations and better serve the county’s residents.

“Our goal is to ensure that the county’s process for purchasing is consistent, is transparent and is built on best practices rather than simply the way we’ve always done it before,” he said during Monday’s meeting.

The committee will create a policy that covers all aspects of county purchasing, from the purchasing of routine office supplies to the oversight of large-scale, complex capital improvement projects, Zeller said.

The policy will include processes for competitive bidding, guidelines for bid exemptions, vendor selection and contract evaluation criteria, work verification protocols and best practices for reviewing accounts payable. The purchasing policy committee will also evaluate any possible need the county may have for a purchasing agent.

“The goal is for us to have a more consistent, uniform policy county-wide,” Zeller said.

Zeller’s recommendation for the committee comes after the Advocate reported that Victoria County commissioners authorized hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments for work that did not go out for bids after Hurricane Harvey.

The county exempted itself from legal bidding laws to handle repairs immediately after the storm, rather than operating under the standard legal procedures, which state that all projects worth $50,000 or more must go out for bid.

Though a representative from the county’s insurance carrier said they were nearing the end of the emergency services phase less than two weeks after the hurricane hit, the county continued acting under the exemption and went on to authorize hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to companies that did work without the standard bid process.

County Commissioner Gary Burns said Monday he liked that the committee will evaluate what county purchases appear as individual line items on the commissioners’ weekly agendas, which are each discussed in open court. He said previously it seemed like the commissioners “had an open checkbook” in regards to approving payments for work after Hurricane Harvey.

“That’s what messed us up in the hurricane,” he said Monday. “So much of that was sent through and it wasn’t a line item, and all these years it always has been.”

County Commissioner Kevin Janak said the policy will not only benefit the county at the present but will assist the county’s leaders decades down the road.

The committee will plan to present a draft of the policy within the first quarter of 2020, Zeller said.

The committee is just one part of multiple county initiatives and priorities moving into 2020, which will be a “year of modernization and improvements across the county,” the judge said.

Other initiatives, which he said will be discussed in specificity in the coming weeks, will include the county’s consideration of new budgeting software to make tracking capital projects easier and more effective, new agenda software to enable the county to send meeting agendas more easily to the public, a new way for people to search through meeting agendas by keywords, and a better cybersecurity policy for the county.

People who have agreed to serve on the purchasing policy committee include Zeller; Chief of Staff Caitlin Weinheimer; County Commissioner Danny Garcia; District Attorney Constance Filley Johnson; County Treasurer Sean Kennedy; County Auditor Michelle Samford; and County Engineer/Project Manager John Johnston.

Zeller thanked the individuals who have agreed to serve on the committee, saying it isn’t a “fluff, feel-good committee.”

“The recommendation that we come up with, if approved by the court, will dictate and, I think improve, how the county does business,” he said.

Also Monday, Burns asked Janak if there was an update on his internal review of invoices, completed and incomplete work and other matters related to the county’s recovery after Harvey. Janak and a small team have been working on the report for more than six months.

“There’s still no time frame,” Janak said. “We continue to be working on it.”

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, or on Twitter

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