County Judge Mark Henry on Monday called for the county’s purchasing agent and auditor to resign for failing to protect the county from the loss of more than $500,000 to a computer scammer earlier this year.
Neither Henry nor the commissioners court has the power to remove County Auditor Randall Rice or Purchasing Agent Rufus Crowder directly. Henry would ask the groups that do have the power to remove the men to take action, he said.
“If a taxpayer doesn’t pay their taxes for any reason whatsoever, if they lose their job, if they come down with a critical illness, it does not matter, you must pay your taxes,” Henry said. “If not, the consequences are severe, up to and including the loss of your home.”
“I find it unacceptable that homeowners are held to a different standard than county employees, as a result of that I’m calling for the resignation of the county auditor and the county purchasing agent for their involvement in their refusal to take any responsibility for what has happened here,” Henry said.
Both Crowder and Rice on Monday afternoon said they had no intention of resigning from their positions.
Henry’s appeal comes eight months after the county sent $525,282 to a person posing as a county road contractor. The transaction was revealed after the company reached out to commissioners about the payment.
A subsequent investigation of the theft found that the scammer has inserted himself into communications between the county and the contractor, and had submitted a form in the contractor’s name to change the way the county would send its payments to the company — from a physical check to an electronic payment.
Two different reviews of the event, one completed by four county departments and one by an independent investigator hired by the commissioners court, said there was no one single person to blame for the theft.
No one from the departments involved in the transactions called the company directly before changing the banking information in the county’s payment systems, according to the reviews.
No arrests have been made over the theft and, as of Monday, no one in the county had been fired over the incident, officials said.
That the vulnerability existed at all should have some kind of consequence, Henry said.
“It shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” Henry said after the meeting. “Do you think a private business would allow you to lose a half-million dollars?”
The county has tried to recoup some of the lost money. Commissioners earlier this month directed the county’s legal department to explore making claims against the surety bonds held by county officials, including Rice and Crowder. On Monday, commissioners also approved the legal department to pursue a claim on crime fraud insurance held by the county.
It remains to be seen whether Henry’s words will result in any action.
Crowder, who has been the purchasing agent since 2010, said he was blindsided by Henry’s declaration.
“I would invite every member of the public to come to my office so they can hear the facts,” Crowder said. “He keeps saying that nobody wants to take the blame. I don’t understand where he wants to place blame, when there was nothing wrong that we intentionally did.”
The county is only one of many victims of similar scams, Rice said. He said Henry was misguided in seeking to punish people for the theft, rather than to focus on the ways the county has improved its financial protections since the scam was revealed.
“I’m not planning to resign, certainly not because of this,” Rice said. “We’re continuing to do our job.”
Neither man reports directly to the commissioners court. Crowder’s department is overseen by the county’s purchasing board, which is made up of Henry, another county commissioner and three county district court judges.
Rice is supervised by the county’s district court judges.
Two of the district court judges who sit on the purchasing board said they weren’t prepared to heed Henry’s request.
“He’s just like anybody else,” said 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox. “He’s like any taxpayer that can bring a complaint to elected officials and ask. He doesn’t have any authority on that.”
Cox also is the county’s administrative judge.
District Court Judge John Ellisor, the chairman of the county purchasing board, said Henry had not brought his proposals to the board officially, even when Crowder was up for reappointment in September. Henry was absent from the meeting, he said.
“Certainly Judge Henry could have been at that meeting, could have argued to have him not reappointed and did not,” Ellisor said. “That’s the only point I’m making.”