June 06, 2006
"Outdated office"

The Chron editorializes on the recent Radack-Sanchez smackdown and the growing realization that the time is now to abolish the office of Harris County Treasurer.

During an joint appearance before the Chronicle editorial board during the primary campaign, Sanchez criticized Cato's handling of his office. He said that if he won the $96,000-a-year post he would use it as a platform to express his views on immigration and would travel to Washington if necessary.

The county treasurer supervises 15 employees who process payments authorized by county commissioners; it has nothing to do with immigration policy. During his tenure Cato stuck to its mandated duties and avoided embroiling the office in controversy.

To be blunt, Cato did almost nothing newsworthy during his tenure. I'd say that's a feature of the Treasurer's office, and I daresay the Chron would agree with that.

The state of Texas and several other counties have already gone the route of eliminating their treasurer positions. The two Democratic Harris County commissioners, Sylvia Garcia, and El Franco Lee, have indicated they would support such an action.

With Cato's passing, the time is right to consider whether this appendage of county government is worth the cost. Sanchez has made it clear he would use the office for a political agenda having little or nothing to do with its job description. The Democratic candidate, Richard Garcia, is running on a platform of abolishing it.

In a time when public sentiment demands lower taxes and greater economy of public services, why should taxpayers provide $96,000 a year for an extraneous position to be used only to revive flagging political careers? Harris County commissioners and state lawmakers should give voters the opportunity to answer that question in the near future.

Obviously, I agree. Judging from the letters to the editor, however, not everybody else does.

In regard to the June 3 Chronicle article "GOP in a squabble over treasurer post": Jack Cato's predecessor, Don Sumners, was anything but obscure.

He called for tax cuts and more fiscal responsibility and was written about in many articles in the Chronicle.

Sumners was at the forefront of efforts to limit government growth, coauthoring the Tax Vote 97 effort to limit property taxes.

A political office is what you make of it; and judging from the wrath Sumners received from other county officials for working to bring reform to government, the office of treasurer amounted to a lot more than just disbursing funds.

Also, the idea of abolishing the treasurer's office was tried before, but obviously unsuccessfully.

Sumners testified in Austin, that with today's complicated financial transactions, a qualified county treasurer is needed more than ever.

And, at that time [in 1997], the Chronicle supported his position in an editorial that said that the county needed a fiscal watchdog.


I find this all singularly unpersuasive. Everything listed here - calling for tax cuts (there's a courageous stance for you), working to put referenda on the local ballot, being a general pain in the butt to other county officials - can be accomplished quite readily by private citizens. None of this explains why we need an office called "County Treasurer". The fact that the Chron thought we did in 1997 is not relevant to 2006. Agree with him or not, Paul Bettencourt does anything you might want a "fiscal watchdog" to do, and he does it from an office that has actual power. So I ask again: what is it that the Treasurer does that no one else can do? I can't see anything.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 06, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

What is it that the Treasurers office can do that no one else can do? Give Orlando Sanchez a job, apparently.

Posted by: Dennis on June 6, 2006 12:32 PM

what is it that the Treasurer does that no one else can do?

Give Orlando Sanchez a well-paying job!

Ouch, that was mean of me, wasn't it?

Ah well.... :)

Posted by: Kevin Whited on June 6, 2006 2:14 PM

Commissioners Court has a well formed opinion that such a job tends to be a thorn in their side - perhaps a watchdog - as evidenced by Sumners activity - which is supposed to be the function of the County Treasurer. Bettencourt continues to demonstrate that thorns in the side of Commissioners Court can thrive in county politics. Eliminate the position and you consolidate power - which is good or bad, depending on your perspective.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on June 6, 2006 2:31 PM