Audit findings released by Harris County Auditor Michael Post and Houston City Controller Chris Brown revealed issues with government building security in Houston and concerns with how the Sheriff’s Office is handling inmate finances.
On June 27, City Controller Chris Brown turned in the Houston building security performance and compliance audit to Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Brown’s investigation into how the city managed building security revealed that security badges—a feature that Brown deemed a key factor in determining whether a building’s security was high or low risk—were still active for former employees.
As a result, Brown’s office found 1,507 former employees still “had unchecked and potentially unrestricted access to the City’s facilities and buildings, which can pose enormous security risk.”
Lax policies toward government building security have already produced safety concerns among city workers.
On July 13, a registered sex offender was able to enter the City Hall annex. Without being stopped, he verbally attacked the intern working at the reception desk, then proceeded to the fourth floor to berate another city worker.
Only after the city worker pushed a panic button did a private security contractor arrive to confront the man. Although law enforcement at the City Hall annex is required, there was reportedly no police present at the time.
“It’s pretty easy entry for someone to come up those stairs,” pointed out At-large Councilmember Sallie Alcorn. She continued, suggesting that “if we’ve got the information now, I think it might be a good time to act to see what we can do to tighten things up.”
On April 21, County Auditor Michael Post submitted an audit to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) regarding their management of inmate banking.
Post’s audit detailed several “high-risk” issues, such as the Sheriff’s Office not applying discretion in giving administrative access to inmate banking and holding back $1 million of released inmates’ funds, breaking Texas law.
Post discovered 18 HCSO employees had been given administrative permissions to inmate banking, allowing them unmoderated access to make changes to inmate bank accounts and even load credit cards or write checks with funds from inmate accounts.
As it turns out, the Sheriff’s Office had switched systems but never segregated access based on who should have which permissions.
Post found that 59,104 released inmates are owed funds, and the total amount of cash not yet returned amounted to $1,001,547.
After investigating the problem, Post revealed HCSO had not even developed a process for returning inmate funds after release or transfer.
Charles Blain, the president of the Urban Reform Institute, told Texas Scorecard, “Audits provide significant insight into the mismanagement of our local governments across the state. If you ask elected officials, they’d have you believe that there are no issues to be found, but these audits paint a different picture.”
Since voters have the ultimate say over their public officials, Blaine encouraged voters to review local audits. “It will not only help them better hold their elected officials accountable, but the next time their local government tells them they need more money, they’ll have the facts to show otherwise.”