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That’s a lot of office supplies

The Mayor Pro Tem office manager implicated in the unauthorized bonuses business had testified to City Council last year that the requested budget increase was for office supplies.

Explaining a proposed budget increase for the Houston office of Mayor Pro Tem, manager Rosita Hernandez told a City Council committee last summer that the money would pay for reams of paper, document storage and ceremonial envelopes.

But much of the $66,000 budget increase that the council approved actually went where one might expect in an office at the center of allegations that four employees pocketed more than $143,000 in unauthorized bonuses.

It went to their paychecks.

Records released Thursday show that 88 percent of the extra budget money, about $58,000, paid Hernandez and her three employees.

And, with more than four months left in the fiscal year, the records show the office has spent all but $56,000 of its $326,000 budget.

[…]

Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado, who oversees the office in addition to her elected job representing council District I, says she wasn’t alerted.

“That’s why they call them checks and balances,” said Marc Campos, Alvarado’s political consultant.

He questioned why city finance officials didn’t say, ‘Hey, we might have a problem there.’ ”

But Alvarado didn’t notice, either. The unauthorized bonuses came to light last week after an employee in the Finance and Administration Department noticed irregularities.

[…]

The administration of Mayor Bill White, ultimately responsible for the city budget, also isn’t speculating publicly about how the process broke down.

“I’m not privy to what the investigators are doing or saying or talking about,” said Frank Michel, White’s spokesman. “We’re going to let them do their jobs.”

Michel said the results of the probe, which will be forwarded to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, would likely lead to a full airing of the details surrounding the payroll scandal.

I hope so, because we do need to figure out where and why this happened. The amount of money involved is small relative to the city’s budget, and employee malfeasance is not something that can ever be totally eliminated, but it’s pretty clear that there’s room for some process improvements here.

“If these people were siphoning money for unauthorized bonuses and raises,” Michel wondered, “what was their plan for the final quarter, when the reality of what was in the account caught up to this?”

Well, they did have Enron’s example to learn from. Sure, it all catches up with you in the end, but as long as you can keep putting that off, you’re in clover.

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