Harris County Sheriff's $1,000-per-day consulting firm facing criticism from Commissioners

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Two members of the Harris County Commissioner's Court said Monday that a $1,000-per-day consulting firm hired by Sheriff Adrian Garcia in a no-bid contract is too expensive and the firm should be given a pink slip.

The reactions of County Judge Ed Emmett and Commissioner Steve Radack came in the wake of a Ted Oberg Investigates report about the firm which has been paid close to $1.7 million.

"He's paying $30,000 a month for a bunch of advice that's a bunch of hype," Radack said.

The firm is Griffith Moseley Johnson & Associates, which headed by former Jefferson County Sheriff and County Judge Carl Griffith, and has been working for the Sheriff's office since March 2011, when the firm entered the contract with the sheriff.

See the original investigation here.

"Carl Griffith shouldn't have been hired to begin with for that amount money," Radack said. "He doesn't need to be there tomorrow, much less another year."

Emmett said he was concerned that the consultant firm appeared to be getting a perpetual paycheck.

"At $30,000 a month, that's a world-class kind of fee," Emmett said. "It shouldn't be perpetual. You hire consultants for a fixed period of time they come in and make their recommendations... You implement the recommendations and move on. In this case it keeps going and going and going."

Garcia defended his hiring of Griffith.

In a previous interview with Ted Oberg Investigates, Garcia praised the consulting firm, saying its suggestions helped reduce jail population and save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The firm had paid for itself many times over, Garcia said.

And on Monday, the sheriff's office released a statement saying they were going to stick with their consultant.

"GMJ & Associates continues to bring expert consultation that saves the taxpayers of Harris County millions of dollars, and has improved the quality of life conditions in the Harris County Jail," according to the statement. "Members of Commissioners Court were informed of the Sheriff's intent to contract with GMJ & Associates prior to their contract beginning. There were no direct concerns or objections raised then, nor have any been raised to the HCSO since."

For most county expenditures, the Commissioners Court has a say. But the Sheriff's consultant is paid from a pot of money that Garcia alone controls: The commissary fund. That is a pot of money that comes from profits from the jail commissary, where inmates can buy items ranging from ramen noodles to canned sausage to Bibles to underwear.

State law says the profits from the commissary fund can only be used to do things that directly benefit inmates.

Hiring a consultant to improve jail conditions and save taxpayers money fits that description, Garcia said in a previous interview.

But Emmett and Radack raise questions surrounding the claim of savings and if inmates are being benefited by the consultant.

Radack points to budget numbers showing that spending is up at the sheriff's office.

"This Enron-type accounting he's engaged in as it relates to these commissary funds is outrageous," Radack said. "The jail population going down and the budget is going up. It's easy to see."

Indeed, an examination of Garcia's budget from the time Griffith was hired, show the actual dollars have increased. In 2011, the budget for the sheriff's department was $390 million. This year it was $420 million.

Emmett questions the profits the commissary generates from inmates.

The jail's commissary brings in around $800,000 a month, from purchases made by the 8,000 to 10,000 inmates that are in the jail on any given month.

"If they're making this much profit off the commissary you have to ask yourself if we're overcharging these inmates for what they're buying," Emmett said. "What is the deliverable? What is Carl Griffith giving to Harris County that helps the inmates? I don't see it."

Added Emmett: "It's unseemly to keep paying $30,000 to somebody to advise you."

Garcia said he has saved money by following the consultant's strategies to safely decrease the jail population and the overtime costs that come with it. That also avoided a massive bill for the taxpayer to build a new jail by lowering the number of inmates.

Inmates' families have complained to ABC-13 about the prices charged at the commissary.

Gloria White has a son who has been locked up in the the Harris County Jail since October 2012. The commissary is the only place where inmates can buy some of the items that those behind bars might need.

The prices are greatly marked up, she said.

"It's ridiculous," White said. "I probably spend $100 each week on the commissary."

Emmett echoes that sentiment.

"If they're making this much profit off the commissary you have to ask yourself if we're overcharging these inmates for what they're buying," he said.

The sheriff's office in a statement underscored Monday they are doing nothing wrong in how they handle the commissary fund.

"The HCSO Commissary Fund and its expenditure is audited annually by the County Auditor's Office; that office has likewise never noted an anomaly related to the contract with GMJ & Associates," the Sheriff's office said.
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