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Edwin Harrison

Raycraft to retire

Dick Raycraft, who’s been a fixture in county government forever, is calling it a career.

Dick Raycraft, a trusted adviser to generations of Harris County leaders who has wielded so much influence over county policy he earned the nickname “the shadow commissioner,” has announced he will retire at year’s end.

Raycraft, 72, who has worked more than 43 years at the county, will spend his last meeting at the Commissioners Court dais on Tuesday. For the last three decades, he has served as county budget officer, most recently crafting the county’s $1.5 billion operating budget and overseeing billions more in debt.

He also has served as Commissioners Court’s top troubleshooter, called upon to fix mismanaged county departments, settle disputes between department heads, and provide policy reports on everything from jail overcrowding to the implementation of a regional crime lab.

[…]

Under a plan to be considered by the court on Tuesday, Raycraft’s position would disappear on Dec. 31, along with his Management Services Department.

In its place would be a Department of Financial Services & Planning, led by Jack Yuran in a role similar to his current one, and a Department of Budget Management, led by Bill Jackson, now in charge of the E-Business team.

[…]

County Judge Ed Emmett said Raycraft’s departure leaves a “giant hole.”

“There is no question in my mind that not having Dick Raycraft will make all of our jobs harder,” Emmett declared. “All of us got in the habit of, ‘If you have a question, go ask Raycraft.’ ”

I salute Dick Raycraft for his many years of dedicated service, and I wish him all the best in his retirement. I’ve no doubt that he will be greatly missed by the county. At the risk of sounding churlish, however, I have to note that a few months ago Judge Emmett was pushing for this to happen in the aftermath of the Edwin Harrison debacle. I’m not sure why that wasn’t mentioned in this story. I hate to be a killjoy, but it is relevant information. Be that as it may, again I wish Raycraft all the best. He did a great job for a long time, and people like that are hard to find.

Emmett goes after Raycraft

This will be fun to watch.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, spurred by revelations about former finance chief Edwin Harrison’s business practices and personal conduct, is calling for Harrison’s boss — longtime budget director Dick Raycraft — to produce a reorganization plan for his department and prepare for retirement.

In a meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board Thursday, Emmett unloaded a wide-ranging critique of the county system as managed by Raycraft, a 43-year county employee who has controlled the budget process for nearly two decades.

Emmett said Raycraft had proved “unwilling or unable” to police Harrison’s actions, even after being informed that Harrison liked to meet business associates at what he and friends dubbed the “North Office,” a strip club north of town.

“If you were his friend you got business. And ‘friend’ was defined as, did you do the things he wanted you to do,” Emmett said, noting that “numerous” financial professionals approached him with these concerns. “I would take that to Raycraft and say, ‘This isn’t right,’ and Dick would say, ‘Well, I’m told that he stopped that.’ ‘I’m told’ — that’s been the line all along.”

I have not followed the Edwin Harrison debacle – the revelations about him began at the end of the legislative session, and there’s only so many hours in the day – but it’s bad news. Here are some of the Chron stories about this:

Law firms repaying thousands to county Questionable travel expenses turn up in audits

Ex-financial chief retires amid probes Bond dealings questioned; man, wife also indicted in unrelated case

County in talks with bond sellers Brokers cited with overcharging on investments”

County ex-finance chief grabs FBI’s attention Team in town to investigate his investments HARRISON: Emmett glad FBI involved

ABUSE OF POWER Mai Tais and minibars – on your dime Uncovering Harris County’s losses took a whistleblower and two audits

You get the idea. Call me crazy here, but the idea that the boss of the employee who’d been doing all this stuff for more than five years might be held responsible for his lack of oversight seems perfectly reasonable. Apparently, it’s too much for the Commissioners to contemplate:

Other members of Commissioners Court responded coolly to the judge’s remarks.

“Emmett needs to understand he’s one of five,” Commissioner Jerry Eversole said. “As far as I know, there’s not another member on court that has problems with Dick Raycraft.”

Eversole and Commissioners El Franco Lee and Steve Radack said a closed executive session of Commissioners Court is the proper forum to discuss personnel matters.

“Edwin, obviously, was doing things very loosely. How much of that Raycraft knew, I have no idea,” Eversole said. “If the county judge … has had problems with Raycraft for a year and a half, why hasn’t he brought it up? If he’s got a problem, that’s what we’ve got Commissioners Court for.”

Radack said Raycraft, 71, has been open about his looming retirement and said it may make sense for a succession plan to be drafted. He added that Raycraft, whom he described as “an extremely honorable man,” did not need to do so as a result of Harrison’s actions.

“If (Emmett) has a case that he thinks he needs to make, he can put it on the agenda and attempt to make it. Let’s talk about it,” Radack said. “That’s the purpose of Commissioners Court.”

Seems like an awfully laid-back attitude to take about this. I’m sure everybody likes Dick Raycraft. I’ve never spoken to the man, but I’ve always had a positive impression of him from previous news stories. But c’mon, one of his direct employees is charged with allegedly bilking the county out of millions of dollars, and all the Commissioners can say is how their noses are out of joint because Ed Emmett talked about it out of school? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask why it is that Judge Emmett is the only member of the Court who seems to have a problem with Raycraft’s supervision of his office. Are the Commissioners not concerned about this, or are they just doing their usual diva act so that everyone is reminded who’s really the boss? Perhaps a little sense of urgency from them, to borrow a phrase from the business world, is in order here.