The manager for the Nueces County Airport has resigned his position after a recent audit report showed the employee had inappropriately used airport funds for his own personal use.

In an Oct. 11 letter to Public Works Director Glen Sullivan, whose department oversees the airport, Nueces County Auditor Peggy Hayes wrote that a cash count audit was performed at the airport on the last day of September.

The facility has one full-time employee, Manuel Flores, who has held the position for 19 years.

During the inspection, nearly $100 was found to be missing from the airport's change fund. According to the report, Flores left to go the bank after the auditors arrived and returned a short while later with about $100 in cash that he tried to put into the till.

After being questioned by the auditors, Flores confessed that he had taken the money from the fund for his own personal use, and signed a statement to that effect, according to the report.

Auditors also found a $20 personal check in the till that Flores reportedly tried to take out before handing the till over to the inspectors.

It was later determined that Flores was trying to reconcile a $20 shortage from an Aug. 31 deposit, according the report.

Sullivan said Flores resigned his position on Oct. 13, citing a desire to retire from the county's employment.

He had been placed on paid administrative leave after Sullivan was made aware of the auditor's findings on Oct. 11.

"You're always concerned when there's missing money," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said three Public Works employees are alternating shifts at the airport until a new manager is found. That could take a few weeks, though, since County Commissioners must first approve advertising the position, then candidates must be interviewed and narrowed down before someone is ultimately hired, he added.

The employees manning the airport manager position now are doing so only temporarily, Sullivan said, but have experience since they have conducted that duty whenever Flores was unavailable or had a day off.

"We have people that are somewhat familiar with the operations at the airport (in place)," Sullivan said.

County Judge Loyd Neal said the situation is a concern to him, as it is now the second county department to have been cited for improper money-handling procedures in the past two years.

The first involved former justice of the peace Joe A. "JAG" Gonzales, whose office was found, in part, to have allowed employees to repay missing money in the department with personal funds.

"I think you're going to see the Commissioners Court, in the next year, really begin to tighten up on compliance with and following policies. And where we don't have clear policies, we certainly will be working with the elected officials, department heads and the county attorney to come up with something," Neal said. "It is very clear about the fiduciary responsibility county employees have and our role as the Commissioners Court, and other elected officials' roles, is making sure…that we have full compliance across this county."

Neal said any money being handled by county employees, regardless of the amount, ultimately belongs to the taxpayers, and should be handled responsibly.

"We're talking about issues that affect the budget and public confidence in county government employees, and we can't have a lack of trust and public confidence," he said.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Oscar Ortiz said last week that he was not aware of an audit being conducted at the county airport, which is in his precinct, nor was he familiar with the preliminary results from the audit.

He declined to comment on the issue, pending the auditor's final report, and referred all questions to the Nueces County Airport Advisory Board and Neal.

The auditor's inspection is still ongoing at the airport, Hayes said, as there have been difficulties in reconciling fuel dispensing reports with the sales data.

The airport's fuel tank inventory is also being looked at, she added, and a final report will be presented to commissioners at a later date.

Pusley favors prosecution for mishandled funds

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Pusley said he would like to see more accountability measures and procedures put in place for county offices where money is handled on a regular basis.

Pusley said he would also be in favor of allowing the county to prosecute employees found to have taken funds for their own personal use, similar to the situation that led to Flores's resignation.

Pusley said the county airport suffered from a lack of general oversight, with one full-time employee, Flores, in charge of collecting and managing cash from transactions and not keeping proper records of those transactions.

"I'm not at all surprised (by the auditor's findings)," Pusley said. "When you don't have any expectations for the people handling this money, they're going to handle this money the way they want to. The (airport's) fund was not set up to be his (Flores's) personal fund to do whatever he wanted with it."

"It's just unacceptable - that money belongs to the taxpayers in this county," he added.

Pusley said more enforcement of the county's existing policies, as well as implementing new ones that may be proposed by the county auditor, is needed.

"I don't care who they are…They're going to live by the procedures that are set up by the county auditor," Pusley said.

Neal agreed, adding the idea is to try and strengthen the community's faith in how local government is handling their money.

"We have to make sure we're doing the right thing," Neal said.