Commissioners abolish OMB

PRESIDIO COUNTY – Presidio County commissioners on Wednesday voted unanimously to abolish the Office of Management and Budget saying the move was a cost-cutting measure.

However, OMB Director Katie Sanchez, county attorney Rod Ponton, and incoming Commissioner Buddy Knight said it appeared the move was political retaliation on the part of county Treasurer Frances Garcia and her supporters on commissioners’ court against Sanchez, who twice ran against Garcia and lost. County Judge Cinderela Guevara also voiced her support to keep OMB.

Lame duck Commissioner Loretto Vasquez placed the item on the agenda – Knight defeated Vasquez in the March primary election and takes office in January – and Guevara introduced the measure with a brief history of the office. It was created several years ago by commissioners when the county was going through some rough financial times, including an adverse opinion on fiscal audits and problems with a large law enforcement grant. The County’s accounting was in such bad shape prompting State District Judge Roy Ferguson to appoint a county auditor to help address the county’s woes, and while the auditor works with county officials, Auditor and CPA Patty Roach reports to Ferguson.

While there was no smoking gun that the move was political, Guevara and Ponton noted that since both treasurer elections, there has been a lot of contention and animosity between Garcia and Sanchez in the halls of the courthouse.

It was also pointed out that in April, a month after the Democratic Party primary election in which Garcia defeated Sanchez for treasurer a second time, that Garcia sought to discuss Sanchez during a commissioners’ court executive session until Ponton pointed out that Garcia didn’t have the authority to discuss personnel from another office. The discussion wasn’t held.

OMB performs the critical duties of grant management, compliance, and inventory and risk management. It was unclear which department would take over those duties now that OMB has been axed.

The treasurer oversees human resources, pays the county employees, and pays the bills.

Vasquez said the county will still have two budget overseers, the auditor and treasurer. But Ponton noted the roles of each department are different.

The auditor’s role is to provide independent assurances that the county’s risk management, governance and internal control processes are operating effectively. Additionally, the auditor has a professional duty to provide an unbiased and objective view.

She isn’t paid to do the treasurer’s job or the job of OMB.

Both Vasquez and Bentley said few, if any, other counties in the state have an OMB, and Vasquez, Aranda, and Bentley said constituents brought up the county’s three financial departments as duplications when they were on the campaign trail.

Ponton warned commissioners that letting go of Sanchez in this way may lead to her filing a civil rights suit against the county if she argues her First Amendment rights were violated by this alleged political retaliation.

Bentley replied that many decisions commissioners make are subject to scrutiny, and abolishing the office has nothing to do with Sanchez.

Knight said that if OMB is abolished, make sure that the grants are taken care of, adding that this “does have the appearance of political retribution.”

The county emergency management coordinator, Gary Mitchke, also said he’s dealt with grants and they are hard to maintain so that duty must be kept.

Sanchez spoke last. She said she works in a hostile environment because of Garcia, who “can’t let (the elections) go” even though she won both races.

The retaliation is never-ending and exhaustive, Sanchez said and claimed that Garcia has yelled at her and Guevara and has told others she would give Sanchez “four more years of pure hell.”

Sanchez said that her co-worker Jeannie Hall was promised continued employment in the county but because of the situation resigned earlier on Wednesday.

Bentley remarked that Guevara has an opening for an administrative assistant.

“My family has suffered,” because of the hostile work environment that she must take home, Sanchez said, adding that she has a constitutional right to run for office and not be retaliated against by her opponent. Sanchez also raised two particularly troubling issues as to why some county officials and employees may be retaliating against her: a Road & Bridge Department request for two sets of truck tires for the same truck that she questioned; and more serious, the appearance of an illegal meeting among Commissioners Bentley, Vasquez, and Aranda during a Road and Bridge Department holiday party in Presidio last year.

According to Sanchez, the three commissioners – a quorum – decided that the employees attending the party would be paid for being “on call,” that is, in addition to regular work hours, those employees would be “on-call.” When on-call, employees are usually not performing any work-related tasks, but if they are called to work they must respond accordingly.

The “on-call” pay was approved by commissioners at a subsequent meeting where Bentley was absent, leaving Aranda and Vasquez to take the fall if the “on-call” pay was ever questioned. Garcia sat quietly throughout the discussion and declined to make a comment after the vote other than to say what Sanchez said was “baloney.”