January 07, 2007
Is this the end for the Harris County Treasurer's office?

Yesterday's Chron brought up the issue of the Harris County Treasurer's office and its existential future.

If the Legislature agrees, voters statewide and within Harris County would have to approve a constitutional amendment. That vote could come late this year, but there's some debate over whether the amendment would take effect in 2008 or after the current term ends in 2010.


Commissioners Court began open discussion of abolishing the treasurer's office after incumbent Jack Cato died in May. Several Texas counties, and the state itself, have eliminated the post.

Cato, a popular former television newsman, was well-liked by top county officials. None sought to eliminate the office while he was alive. He had beaten back a challenge in the March Republican primary by Sanchez, a former Houston city councilman. After Cato died, the GOP picked Sanchez as its nominee, and in November he beat Democrat Richard Garcia.

Sanchez, who made two failed bids for Houston mayor, enjoys none of Cato's popularity with the county commissioners. They say they believe he will use what they consider a meaningless office to attack them as big spenders opposed to cutting the property tax rate.

Of the five Commissioners Court members, only County Judge Robert Eckels opposes abolishing the office.

Commissioner Steve Radack said the office duplicates the functions of the county auditor and budget office, and that abolishing the office would save taxpayers $200,000 a year.

"It should be put to a vote," Radack said. "Of course, Orlando doesn't want people to vote ... because he's certain they will vote to abolish it."

Sanchez counters that the office provides additional oversight. "The office exists for the purpose of safeguarding the county's money," he said.

I have my doubts that any progress will be made towards eliminating the Treasurer's office. It would have been an uphill climb even with Richard Garcia in there, since it would have needed a 2/3 majority in both chambers and would have run into stiff opposition from other counties' treasurers, who consider Harris to be a bulkhead of sorts. I have a hard time seeing the Lege eliminating this position when the person who currently fills it, who must still have some friends in power, wants to keep it around.

So, on the assumption that we'll still have a Treasurer to kick around for the foreseeable future, I'm going to take Orlando Sanchez at his word. Go ahead, Orlando. Show me just what useful function the County Treasurer can perform. And I don't mean the employees of the office, all of whom would still be employed elsewhere if you were to vanish in a puff of smoke. Show me what you, as the elected official who can make news and (so you say) influence policy, can do. I'll stipulate that Jack Cato was not about making waves or nipping at the County Commissioners' heels. You say that's what this job is about and that that's what you'll do, and I say go for it. I'm going to do an archive search of the Chronicle in a year's time, and we'll see just what you've been up to. If it's nothing but stories about staving off abolishment, or stuff that's irrelevant to the office (and which you pinky-swore to the Chron that you'd stay away from) like immigrant-bashing, that won't count. One year to show me what you can do. I can't wait.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 07, 2007 to Local politics | TrackBack

I have to differ.

First, you have to separate the virtues of the office from the virtues of the officeholder.

Second, professionals who are skilled at their job make their job look easy. They are transparent to the process. The real test is how that professional handles a crisis (one unforseen, not one fabricated for show).

Third, if you examine the organizational chart, so to speak, of county government, you will see that the County Treasurer is at the same level as each County Commissioner and the County Judge. So a group of County Commissioners lobbying for abolishment of the County Treasurer's post is just about like a the vice president of operations lobbying the CEO for the elimination the position of the vice president of finance. There is an inherent friction between functions that must remain for the health of the system.

Unfortunately the Commissioners are also lobbying the state for retaining toll road revenue in Harris County - a hard sell considering that the state sees toll road revenue subsidizing local professional sports.

The Commissioners may have to narrow down its wish list if it expects anything out of my legislature this season.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on January 7, 2007 3:01 PM