[Dallas, TX] – There has been much attention paid recently in the media to what is owed Dallas County taxpayers in bail bond forfeiture judgments. In the quick moving story, headlines repeatedly said …” $35 million dollars is owed to Dallas County taxpayers…” and often failed to specify that this figure, when assessing what is actually collectible by the County, is misleading.” The figure, released by the Auditor’s Office to the Dallas Morning News, was expected to convey that that is the amount on the books as collectible AND uncollectible debt. Since the County is not allowed, by law, to write off debt all debt remains on the books whether collectible or not. When inquiries began on the subject, County officials said they could not release actual dollar amounts for the real debt possibly collectible because they needed time to give as accurate an accounting as possible. Their public information officer said early on that the number for any “collectible” debt would end up being a “fraction of that amount” and that the true number in the complex scenario was being vetted. About a week later, on July 8, 2011 County Judge Clay Jenkins made a statement clarifying that amount, as promised, and revealed what pro-active steps are being taken by this Commissioners Court to revamp a decades-old system of protocol:
…We’ve been vigorously working to address an antiquated Information Technology system at Dallas County that has caused and will continue to cause serious problems, like the poor tracking of information regarding the amount of money that is allegedly owed to Dallas County in bond forfeiture judgments.
I truly wish there was a $35 million dollar pot of gold I could bring the taxpayer. But, the truth is most of this is over 10 years old and cannot be collected for a variety of reasons. By law, Dallas County cannot write off DEBT – so EVEN those judgments that we know are not collectible will appear as outstanding! After thorough communication with various departments and specifically the Auditor’s Office, we now know that the actual dollar amount that may be possibly collectible is in the range of $6 million dollars or less.
This bond forfeiture situation illustrates our need for a massive I.T. upgrade, improved tracking protocols and increased communication between all elected officials and departments. Unless information is readily available and transparent, our efforts to increase government efficiency will be stifled.
Unfortunately, it will take some time to get our information technologies where they need to be.
Knowing the severity of this situation, shortly after taking office in January, I began a County-wide I.T. system overhaul initiative with the re-establishment of the I.T. Governance Committee and the immediate appointment of Commissioner Mike Cantrell as Chair. We have been working vigorously for the past few months to bring our information technology into the 21st century, hire a new Head of IT, streamline our systems and develop a protocol to communicate more efficiently interdepartmentally. We are committed to the completion of a fully integrated, Automated Case Management System by 2014.
In addition, we will be taking other, more immediate steps to effectively track and monitor judgments as we go forward.
The Auditor’s Office will head up a cross departmental team to get accurate, useful information on existing forfeiture cases. We are forming a Bond Forfeiture Task Force to improve current tracking protocols and work towards an agreed uniform protocol for all courts and departments for the tracking and collection of all bond forfeiture judgments and all fines and fees owed the taxpayers.
This Information Technology and interdepartmental communications overhaul represents a massive undertaking for county administration which will end with a modern effective and fully integrated IT and communications system! But just as this county administration has managed to balance a $35 mil-dollar budget (just shy of $5 million) without raising taxes, we'll rise to this challenge as well.
I’d like to emphasize that this is NOT a blame game – not for the hard working employees of Dallas County who have had to do much more with much less, not for you the MEDIA who bring to light important shortcomings in government transparency and effectiveness, and not for the Bond companies of Dallas County who are an integral part of the criminal justice system and without them our system would all but break, jeopardizing public safety.