Commissioners discuss creating formal county HR department


Gonzales County commissioners will consider whether to create a separate HR department and have it fall under the umbrella of County Judge Pat Davis at an upcoming meeting.

Davis brought the issue up to the court during their Monday, Feb. 12, meeting, saying it is something he had been thinking about for some time. Currently, HR issues are handled by the same assistant who handles county payroll for County Auditor Becky Weston — Misty Cook.

“I've had numerous people, both local elected officials and employees, come to me with different scenarios to discuss because it involves an HR situation and I always seem to have handled it,” Davis said. “And I just think it would be better if it was under the county judge.”

Davis said he spoke to officials from several other counties at Precinct 2 Commissioner Donnie Brzozowski’s request to find out who oversees their HR departments.

“Every county I spoke to except Lavaca County — I spoke to DeWitt, Karnes, Llano — all the other counties have it under the county judge,” Davis said. “Only Lavaca County had it under the auditor’s office.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin La Fleur said the county “cannot take a person out of the auditor’s office.”

“The way this thing is on the agenda, it’s impossible,” La Fleur said. “It would be up to the district judge (William Old, who appoints the auditor and sets that position’s budget).”

Davis said Cook should not be responsible for both duties and “we need a solid HR position in Gonzales County and not a whole bunch of people looking over it.”

‘We need to have one person that is already budgeted (handling HR),” Davis said. “It could still be the same person (Cook), just transferred under the county judge, and you could actually address (the assistant auditor position) when it comes to budget time. There's not going to be any exchange of money.

“It's something that we visited with the district judge about. I have talked to him and he doesn't seem to have any problem with it. He said it just depends on whatever the court wants to do.”

“The other thing is, with HR and anything that happens with HR, the final deciding factor would be coming before the county judge, so i just feel it would be better if my office would manage that aspect,” Davis added. “We have 160 employees and we need a full-time HR person.”

Asked if he wanted to wait until budget time to move the HR position to his office, Davis said he would rather get it done now and if Weston needed another person in her office to replace Cook and Judge Old approves of it, that could be done at budget time.

Weston explained that, as auditor, she is appointed by the district judge while Cook is hired by her to a position that was appointed in her budget by the judge.

“I've always had that position,” Weston said. “Whether I've had payroll (in her department) or not, I had that position. I can take payroll. We do not have a formal HR department. We've never had a formal HR department.”

Weston said her recommendation is that if the court was going to create a formal HR department, “I recommend you do it during budget, because it's best time to budget for any department.”

“In my office, (Cook) is an assistant auditor,” Weston said. “If I plan to give payroll to someone else next week, I could — they're all assistant auditors underneath me. You asked us to take (payroll) back years ago and I gladly said yes, that we would work with you. If there's an issue, I'd like to know about it.

“If you are planning on moving forward with a formal HR department — and I'm not disagreeing that you need one — you need to create a department. You need time to organize where the files are going to be kept, the training, a person who has the knowledge and where you're going to house this position.”

Davis said he would not want to move payroll from the auditor’s office, just the HR position, and said the two would obviously work closely together due to overlapping concerns.

County Attorney Paul Watkins chimed in and said he believes there is “an inherent conflict” in having the same person handle payroll and HR.

“Not that Becky would ever do anything wrong — I'm not suggesting that at all,” Watkins said. “I'm just saying that when an HR person is responsible for the employees, and to the elected officials, but also is in charge of the money — that's an inherent conflict.

“We have more than enough employees for a full time HR. That's an absolute truth. I'm going to tell you that I have had employees from this county come to me and tell me they're not comfortable going into the auditor's office to talk to HR. I think there's a conflict here, because at some point, you're going to be deciding between money and people. And that's what an HR person does — they advocate for our employees.

“They will answer to somebody in the sense that they're not an elected official, and they're responsible to the commissioners court. But at the same time, they have to be an independent office,” Watkins said.

Davis said there is a lot more things HR could be doing for the employees, like having meetings to explain benefits for the employees.

“I've got people that come to me and say they're not comfortable going to HR now,” Davis added. “They're not comfortable because they don't want to say something and then it's doesn't seem to be confidential.”

Weston asked that the court wait until after March 1 as Cook will be helping her when the outside auditors come to audit the county and the files she has would be needed as part of the audit. The court agreed and made a motion to wait until after March 1 to determine what to do about the department.