Republican Bexar County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff appears bent on getting on the wrong side of every elected official in the county, regardless of party affiliation.
His popularity isn’t high among area justices of the peace and judges who perform weddings, since he threatened to turn them in to the IRS because he does not believe they are reporting all income earned from conducting marriage ceremonies.
Most recently, Rickhoff incurred the wrath of the 13 criminal county court-at-law judges, 10 of them Republican, with his plans to move the clerks assigned to their courts every four months.
The current plan does not involve the two civil courts or the two probate courts, which include that of his brother, Probate Court Judge Tom Rickhoff, but the county clerk said it’s a work in progress and could change.
Attempts by the judges to reason, negotiate and even threaten to sue have not changed Rickhoff’s court management plans, which go into effect March 11. The county judges are frustrated; they want him to leave the current system alone.
Jurists have approached the county clerk individually and as a group. They have even asked commissioners and the district attorney for help, but their hands are legally tied. Rickhoff is an elected official accountable only to the voters.
The judges claim Rickhoff’s plans for their office staffs are not the most efficient way to run a business. Rickhoff’s response is that it’s not a business.
Unfortunately for the county judges, the clerks in their courts are Rickhoff’s employees. He has the authority to hire, assign, discipline and fire them as he sees fit. The new management plan is designed to cross-train employees and the judges support him on that, but question his heavy-handed manner.
In an interview earlier this week, Rickhoff announced he now proposes to move clerks out of the courts one at a time every four months. That should appease the judges a bit, but in keeping with his contrarian style the county clerk had not informed the judges.
Any nudge in popularity that move produces will probably be short-lived. Next on Rickhoff’s agenda is a plan to seek accountability from the court reporters and coordinators who work for the district and county judges.
The county is paying them for 40-hour work weeks, but there is no official time, according to Rickhoff. The reporters and coordinators who are hired by the judges often keep the judges’ hours. They come in late and leave early, he said.
Last week Rickhoff sent a letter to the county’s outside auditor seeking a fraud inquiry as part of the annual audit of the county’s financial statement for the fiscal year which ended Sept. 30, 2012.
The county clerk is technically also the county’s treasurer and as such Rickhoff signs off on the county’s payroll, but he has questions about the multimillion dollar payroll’s accuracy. Timekeeping practices vary among the various departments and offices, he said.
“Their method of timekeeping is essentially an honor system and prone to fraud,” he wrote in his letter to the auditors.
He also is asking the county auditor to develop a method for keeping tabs on earnings by county officials for weddings and a review of tax abatement agreements approved by the county.
Vendor bids are also on his radar.
Rickhoff suspects some vendors are submitting low bids with the intention of regaining the lost profit through change orders after the contract is awarded.
Rickhoff acknowledges his 18 years in office have given him a bully pulpit, and he intends to use it to address those things he does not see as right.
The county clerk’s motives are commendable, but you would think that with almost two decades in office he would find a less antagonistic method of accomplishing his mission.
Rickhoff stirs courthouse waters
March 2, 2013
San Antonio Express-News