San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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by SEAN BATURA and BRAD ROLLINS

Outgoing San Marcos city council member Fred Terry, whose single term at the dais ended Wednesday, owes the city $2,802 for undocumented use of travel advances and charges made to a city credit card.

Terry

In a Dec. 1 letter written on behalf of the city’s Finance and Audit Committee, Finance Director Steve Parker told Terry he has six months to repay the questionable expenditures, which were first uncovered by Parker and the committee early this year.

After he couldn’t account for $3,456, Terry, a real estate agent, agreed to commit 10 percent of his commission on any sale to paying off City Hall; in the months since, Terry made two payments totaling $654. With the end of his term approaching, the finance and audit committee met again last month and ratcheted up pressure on Terry to retire the debt.

“All outstanding balances … not paid within 6 months will unfortunately be turned over to a collection agency,” Parker wrote Terry in the letter, obtained by the Mercury through a Public Information request.

In a brief interview this week, Terry acknowledged the city has billed him for the undocumented expenses but declined to offer an explanation for the charges. Terry, who ran unopposed in 2008 after serving as the Planning and Zoning Commission chair, did not seek a second council term this year.

At the beginning of the month, Terry also owed $738 in unpaid utility bills to the city. After the committee applied his December $500 council stipend to that debt, Terry’s utility balance stands at $239.

Council member earn $500 and are allotted up to $500 a month in reimbursable expenses related to holding office. In addition, each member is allowed up to $6,000 a year in travel expenses.

After the finance and audit committee met in February about Terry’s accounting problems, City Manager Jim Nuse shifted responsibility for auditing council expenditures from the city clerk’s office to the finance director. The clerk is a direct council appointee while the finance director reports to the city manager.

The city provides credit cards to council members for expenses related to city business within each members’ allowance. Pursuant to City Council Resolution 2001-48R, council members who use the cards are required to submit receipts for the amounts charged with an explanation of the purpose of the charge within 30 days of the expense. Authorized expenses may include travel and lodging costs related to official trips, business meeting-related meals; and transactions or gift-giving involving public officials, land developers, or others whose goodwill towards the city is deemed necessary.

The Mercury reviewed 155 pages of documents obtained under the Texas Public Information Act related to Terry’s travel and officials expenses since 2009. Even before his spending habits attracted the attention of Parker and the audit and finance committee, Terry frequently couldn’t account for cash advances he was given for various city travel to conferences and conventions.

For example, Terry spent $4,050 in city money for a National League of Cities conference in Washington in March 2009 and did not produce a single receipt. Six months later, in a letter to then-City Clerk Sherry Mashburn, Terry said he had, in fact, turned in the receipts to a clerk employee and suggested the clerk’s office had lost them.

“I assumed that the receipts were processed through your office and then to the finance department,” Terry wrote Mashburn in a letter dated Oct. 1, 2009. “Sorry I am not more certain than this explanation but it has been several months and, again, I assumed all was complete.”

In another case, Terry was given $200 in cash for a May 2010 trip to the International Conference of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas and did not produce any receipts for use of the money.

The list he did compile of expenses totaling $117 include one cab fare of $11.50 but otherwise consisted entirely of tips including gratuity to valets at the Gold Nugget, Caesar’s Palace and Venetian casinos. Terry ended up owing the city $82.51 for that trip.

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16 thoughts on “Departing council member owes city thousands

  1. “gift-giving involving land developers whose goodwill toward the city is deemed necessary”…really? This is considered a fair use of the TAX PAYER’S money? Or am I mistaken and said money really does come from a skinny rectangular box in colors like white, pink, blue, green, and yellow alongside a pair of dice and a little dog statue? You mean to tell me that some developer’s decision to build in San Marcos is going be swayed by a council member picking up the tab for a dinner or buying them a box of chocolates instead of the economics of the situation? Really? I am glad to know they take money out of my pocket for this sort thing. And as is clearly demonstrated by the actions detailed above they are obviously taking their obligation to being good stewards of our money very seriously. Once again, I am happy to know our money is being used at casinos in Vegas. That undoubtedly has a direct impact on life in our municipality.

  2. Sounds like the texas Rangers and District Attorney should investigate and prosecute. It’s called theft of public funds.

  3. This is all on Terry, but the city was far too lenient with him on this process. I used to travel heavily for business and believe me, my employer (a California computer company) would have raised a stink if I had come up short by even one receipt.

    After the March 2009 incident, the city should have garnished Terry’s monthly pay and suspended his expense account until the the city was repaid. The city also should require council members and employees to make copies of receipts in case the clerk’s office loses the originals — which sounds pretty ludicrous but whatever.

    As the problem continued, Terry should have been denied expense account privileges, or at least been required to surrender his city-issued credit card and carry expenses on his own card until the city reimburses them — after he submits acceptable documentation.

    BTW, that must have been one hell of a trip to DC at 4 grand. Terry knows how to have a good time. On my dime.

  4. I wonder what a federal investigation of the City Of San Marcos, Texas would turn up under the surface??? This Terry issue is proabably very small potatoes in light of the other potential discrepancies that may be present, especially in regards to the present P&Z process, etc. For instance, the way taxpayer employees, are for all practical purposes, ” Cheerleaders” for the developers concerns, while ignoring the citizens concerns! In but a brief few weeks I have observed some strange business in our city government, perhaps it is all perfectly legal, however, perhaps there are issues to see resolved in the proper courtrooms as well. I guess time will tell, and hopefully, the destruction of our beautiful city will not be the price that we have to pay!

  5. @Jaimy I. Breihan, I would be interested in specific charges, if you have any, but I am skeptical of your general innuendo since you have a dog in a current development issue. We can govern ourselves without the feds or the Texas rangers.

    All I take from Mr. Terry’s embarrassing exit is that there was potential for small abuse in the system which has been shored up by the new city manager. While Fred may have had one nice trip, there is no evidence he exceeded his travel budget or received any compensation beyond the small amount the voters opted to give council a few years back. The utility bills just show he faces the same challenges a lot of local citizens do trying to make ends meet in a lame economy.

  6. Skeptical,

    I agree. This is penny-ante small potatoes. Its nice to know. I’m glad its out there if nothing else to highlight the caliber of people that make up our council. But the council’s problem isn’t that its rife with corruption. Its that its stocked primarily with empty suits.

    We should remind people that Fred Terry was never elected. He ran unopposed after Saul Gonzales signed up for the race and then dropped out when it was too late for others to sign up. That sort of bullshit games gives us this sort of bullshit council.

  7. He should have to pay at least a 12% penalty/interest fee like I do if I fall short on my property taxes…

  8. I agree that this isn’t big money relative to, say, the city’s total annual budget for reimbursable employee expenses.

    But to Morris’ point, if I owed the City of San Marcos $2,802, you can rest assured they’d aggressively seek payment.

    Six months interest free sounds pretty Fred-friendly.

    And Money Bags, while I don’t disagree with your “empty suits” assessment, I’d suggest a more pointed metaphor: rubber stamps.

  9. Couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Terry has yet to pay off this debt, as an article in the Statesman reports today:
    http://www.statesman.com/news/local/deadline-looms-for-former-san-marcos-council-member-2358248.html

    You know, it’s too bad. Poor Fred worked really hard to shill for Susan Narvaiz’s pro-development, anti-neighborhood agenda during his time on the council. You’d think one of her property developer masters could throw ol’ Fred a couple thousand bones so he can pay this off. Guess that money is better spent on Susan’s Congressional campaign.

  10. Tarl, that is the dumbest da*m thing I have read in a long time. Fred is a big boy and he knew what he was doing. He simply needs to get off his arse and pay his debt like the rest of us do.

  11. The questionable expenses should be itemized publicly and Terry should be held to repay the city, with interest. File charges on him if he does not.

    To me the bigger issue is why allow council members such an expense account anyway? If they are so broke they cannot be reimbursed for legit expenses they should not be incurring them or they should submit a request in advance.

    Once they start playing fast and loose with expense accounts they are no longer accountable for any tax money in their own mind.

    Cutting off expense accounts is the first step in fiscal accountability.

  12. jmo, I am in total agreement with you. Terry of course should pay the debt, and he’s a fool for waiting this long to pony up what is a relatively small sum. By not paying off the debt, he’s allowed it to become a story once more. So now he not only looks like a careless spender of taxpayer money, he also looks like a deadbeat! Unwise, especially for someone who earns his living as a realtor here in town.

    I’d hoped the sarcasm with which I wrote my post was evident. Clearly, I need to brush up on my sarcasm skills.;-)

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