Victoria Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor is concerned the county did not properly spend Hurricane Harvey-recovery money.
In a Nov. 7 letter to Victoria County Commissioner Kevin Janak, O’Connor wrote that, as the duly elected sheriff, he is responsible for the operations of the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office. Part of that responsibility, he wrote, is “ensuring that expenditures for work completed or otherwise related to this office are authorized and paid in accordance with the Texas Local Government Code.” The Advocate received a copy of the letter Monday.
O’Connor said Monday that he felt compelled to write the letter because it is his responsibility to ensure sheriff’s office matters are in compliance. He said the sheriff’s office was told after Harvey that “some things were paid for and some services were rendered, but in fact, they were not.”
“Typical protocol is to have services done and then have them paid for, but we have found when looking into work at the sheriff’s office and jails that work we’ve been told was paid for has not been completed,” he said.
In the letter, O’Connor requested multiple documents and records, beginning with an itemized list of all work related to Harvey completed at the sheriff’s office and jail at 101 N. Glass St. and the 1940 jail building at Glass and Constitution streets. He also requested a copy of all work orders, with signatures, acknowledging completion of any of that work.
Additionally, O’Connor requested a copy of all documentation related to any Federal Emergency Management Agency or insurance claims, as well as money received, for Harvey damages at either location; a copy of all payments made for work completed or otherwise at either location since Harvey; and a copy of the itemized accounting of where the money that was supposed to be utilized for the repair of either location was spent or deposited for further use.
In his letter, O’Connor wrote he is requesting “specific data” as it relates to the facilities, “not mere ‘scope of work’ documents that provide little value for ensuring that we have done our due diligence on behalf of the taxpayers of Victoria County.”
County Commissioner Gary Burns, who has continued to push for the formation of an independent task force to review the county’s management of Harvey recovery money, said he thinks the sheriff is doing his due diligence to request this information. He said he thinks it’s a “very reasonable request, and something that needs to be answered.”
“I don’t think this issue is going to go away. People still have a lot of questions,” he said. “Hell, it’s not just the sheriff; every taxpayer deserves these same answers.”
Burns said the sheriff’s letter is something the court should take note of when moving forward.
“This is an opportunity to learn,” he said. “We need to get the answers out there and make sure there’s never a point we get to where there are questions like this again.”
Aside from the sheriff’s office and jails, numerous Victoria County buildings are still burdened with damage and await considerable repairs after Harvey. O’Connor also requested a copy of listed work that is scheduled to be done at the sheriff’s office and jails and a schedule, including the start and completion dates for that work.
Commissioner Kevin Janak has been leading a group of county employees who have been working to fact-check information and review invoices and work performed on county buildings after Harvey since the spring. He commended O’Connor for his request Monday but offered no timetable for when the information would be available.
“Hats off to him – he’s a great sheriff, and he’s doing his job,” he said. “And we’re still doing our job as well.”
Janak said he has not yet answered O’Connor’s request but plans to do so. He said the “work group is continuing to do their work,” and will update each county department, including the sheriff’s office, as well as the public, when it has a finalized report.
Members of the public have continued to ask when the report will be ready, including at a weekly Victoria Economic Development Corp. partnership meeting Nov. 12.
At that meeting, County Judge Ben Zeller said he has no control over when Janak’s report will be ready. He did not return a request for comment about the sheriff’s letter Monday.
Janak said when the work group is finished, he will take the time to sit down with the sheriff to go through each specific item listed in his request.
“I owe it to him and to all department heads, and most of all, we still owe it to the Victoria County taxpayers,” he said. “And we will come through.”
O’Connor said he doesn’t want to yet “get into who was paid when, what or how,” but wants to focus on accountability. He said he hopes his inquiry to Janak brings clarity and detail to what was paid for.
“We’ll work with the county and commissioners court,” he said. “I’m sure they have a full explanation either way, and as I told Commissioner Janak, we’ll await the response.”