Oct. 26: OP/ED Reject Prop 12

Let the People’s Voice Be Heard: Reject Proposition 12

By Julie Morton, Brewster County Treasurer

You, the People, should have a voice in how your tax dollars are managed, and in 245 Texas counties, you do. Every four years, you elect someone you trust to manage the county’s funds. If they perform poorly, you fire them at the ballot box.

The authors of our state constitution wisely created an elected treasurer’s office in every county to ensure the separation of powers between the commissioners’ court, which sets the county’s budget, and the treasurer, who manages and disburses the funds. This balance of power is fundamental to the checks and balances that make county government work for the People.

The framers gave the People final authority on questions of amending the constitution. Two thirds of the legislature may put a proposed amendment on the ballot, but a majority of voters must approve it. That’s why you are asked to vote on amendments that seemingly don’t concern you. Beware: The amendment’s stated purpose—drafted by legislators who put it on the ballot— may be less benign than it sounds. Its implications may be far-reaching.

Proposition 12 on the November 7 ballot reads, “The constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the office of county treasurer in Galveston County.”

You may think what happens in Galveston County doesn’t affect the rest of us. Why, then, does the constitution require the whole state to vote on Prop 12? Abolishing the county treasurer’s office would eliminate the separation of powers in Galveston County and concentrate power over county money solely in the commissioners’ court. That’s a dangerous precedent.

The treasurer is the chief custodian, administrator and disburser of county funds. State laws precisely govern their conduct of duties, and they post a personal bond to ensure they meet this bar. Because they are elected, county treasurers are independent—not beholden to any county official or employee. In fact, Texas law authorizes treasurers to challenge the commissioners’ court if they question the legality and propriety of a payment order.

The treasurer’s independence sometimes irks commissioners, and therein lies the slippery slope: Abolishing the treasurer’s office in Galveston County would likely lead commissioners in other counties to try to do the same. It has already happened in nine Texas counties.

Proponents of Prop 12 say the county treasurer’s office is outdated. But the treasurer’s scope of duties and the need for accountability has only grown as technology has produced new, complex ways to pilfer taxpayer funds.

Supporters falsely claim abolishing the office will save money. But even if abolished, the county treasurer’s legally mandated work still must be done—minus accountability to the People. In Galveston County, commissioners deleted two positions in the treasurer’s office but added a new position in the budget office to perform the treasurer’s work, for a $58,000 net increase in the county budget.

Incidentally, the commissioners’ court can fire budget office employees without cause if they question an expenditure.

The Galveston County Commissioners Court also moved the duty of investing public funds from the treasurer’s office to the budget office. No legally required quarterly investment reports have been posted on the county’s website since. Galveston County’s financial transparency has already eroded, and that will continue without an elected treasurer directly accountable to the People.

Unfortunately, constitutional amendments usually pass, partly due to low voter turnout in off year elections. Voters who think niche issues don’t affect them stay home, giving those pushing the measures disproportionate sway.

Before deciding Prop 12, voters statewide should understand what a county treasurer does and the consequences of abolishing the office: You relinquish your right to choose who manages the county’s money. You lose transparency, accountability, and separation of powers. You lose the People’s Voice.

Preserve the Texas Constitution’s intent. Vote NO on Proposition 12.


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