August 17, 2006
Q&A with Richard Garcia

Continuing once again with my series of Q&As with local candidates, I present to you a few questions with Richard Garcia, Democratic candidate for Harris County Treasurer.

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Richard Garcia, Richard Garcia, Richard Garcia (I typically say it three times so people don't forget). I am running for Harris County Treasurer.

I am 51 and a father of Katie 20 and Andy 16.

I live in Spring, TX and have been working since I was 8 years old.

2. What exactly does the County Treasurer do?

"The Treasurer is chief custodian of county funds and receives all monies belonging to the county from whatever source. The Treasurer keeps and accounts for the funds in designated depositories and disburses the funds as Commissioner's Court may require or direct, not inconsistent with constituted law. The Treasurer also serves the Flood Control District and the Port of Houston Authority." - Harris County Annual Budget

It does not do the typical treasury functions. It does not do forecasting, budgeting, compliance audits, financial analysis, insurance risk assessment, investments, etc. Years ago, much of the office's typical treasury functions were removed and basically the office writes the checks for the county, port and flood control district.

The State Treasurer's office was eliminated by Martha Whitehead when she ran in 1994 to abolish the office. The 31st of August 2006 will be 10 years since the 158-year-old State agency ceded its duties.

Most smaller counties still need the Treasurer's office and I fully and wholeheartly support each county deciding what is best for their county and their taxpayers. In Harris County we can abolish the office. The current staff will continue to be employed by the county. Harris County is fortunate to have an excellent first assistant who is currently running the treasurer's office since the Honourable Jack Cato's death May 22, 2006.

3. What are your professional qualifications for this job?

During undergrad studies I worked in the Trust Department of American National Bank.

I received my undergraduate degree with a major in Finance and minor in accounting and economics in May 1977. I started in the financial industry in June 1977. I worked for Prudential for 25 years. Presently, I am a businessman working in the insurance industry as an analyst for insurance claims.

I have taught school children economics through Junior Achievement - including once a week serving as the instructor of High School Economics in three different Harris County High Schools.

I have earned an MBA degree.

4. It is your intent to ask the Texas Legislature to pass a bill that would eliminate the job of Harris County Treasurer if you win. Why do you want to do this?

First, to successfully abolish the office, a candidate has to run with the intent of abolishing the office. We have such a candidate. The next steps were up to the Commissioner's court. They conducted a study into the feasibility of abolishing the office, the impact the decision would make and vote to proceed to abolish the office. The study was completed and the change involved would be minimal. The transition would be seamless and the office effectiveness would not be impaired.

I have been given much credit for coming forward with a serious proposal to abolish the office, but it was proposed many years ago by my State Senator, Jon S. Lindsay. When asked by the Houston Chronicle during the primary screening four years ago, I informed the editorial board that I would support the voters' decision to abolish the office. By presenting the option to the voters up front that I am running to abolish the office, we are presenting the voters with a clear choice to control future government spending.

I have spoken with various State Representatives and State Senators and have spoken in front of the Harris County Commissioner's court in support of abolishing the office. I am proud to say that the two Republican Commissioners, Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole joined the two Democratic Commissioners (Sylvia R. Garcia and El Franco Lee) in voting to abolish the office.

We will need a constitutional amendment to complete the process of abolishing the office and Senator Mario Gallegos will be working in the Senate to attempt to have the issue brought to the voters.

5. How much would Harris County save per year if the Treasurer's office were abolished?

First, the County Treasurer's position presently pays $96,000.00. With the cost of living change, the position will pay $99,108.00.

In addition, there will be a vacancy in the office in January and I will not fill that position. The duties and functions can be absorbed by others within the office and the salary saved would be slightly over $44,500. A study performed by the commissioner's court would support the non-replacement stance.

Both positions would have a "burden" added to the actual cost - this is an accounting term for the added cost above the salary. Depending on the organization the additional percentage can be substantial. Using a salary effective in September plus a 33% factor for burden the annual savings to the taxpayers in salary alone would be $190,998.64. Typically, elected officials get re-elected in the 90% range. With four year terms it is not unlikely that the next elected County Treasurer could be in the position for three or more terms.

Without factoring in adjustments for economic activities; twelve years times $190,998.64 salary savings would be $2,291,983.68 saving to the County Taxpayers.

More important than the salary is my ability to analyze how operations are currently performing and how to implement changes to make operations run better, cheaper, and faster for the taxpayer.

When the insurance industry was in a crisis due to mold claims, Prudential requested my assistance in the claims department to handle the magnitude of these claims. The process had become long in time frame, slow in repair and very expensive. People were moved out of their homes and into hotels frequently exceeding the limits available to them for additional living expense. Reviewing matters, I found that the engineers were producing a 1" plus report for the homeowner and insurance company. For the homeowner to determine if they had a claim, where are the problems areas and how to mitigate the situation - the majority of the paperwork contained in the report was not necessary. These engineering reports were costing $6,000-7,000. Using business common sense and conferring with the engineers and policy holders, we developed an easy to understand and cost effective report costing $750.00. A report that was understood by the customer, the insurance carrier, insurance adjuster and the contractor. I was also able to reduce the price for lab work from $500 per sample sets to $250 for a total cost of $1,000 or an expense saving of $5,000 to $6,000 per claim.

By having a timely, accurate and understandable report we were also able to drastically reduce the cost of claims and the time the homeowners were inconvenienced in being away from their home. Our corporate office used the claims methods on my file as case studies and best practices for training.

It was a win-win. Repairs were preformed quickly, and the time frame involved was reduced - all at a more reasonable cost of doing business. I will bring this cost effectiveness to the office.

6. Which other county offices would pick up the duties of the County Treasurer if it were abolished?

The Treasurer's office would join the Financial Services Office. Financial Services Office is under the Management Services (Budget Office).

7. How many other Texas counties have gotten rid of their Treasurer's offices? Have any counties tried and failed to do this? Have any re-established the office once it was abolished?

First, there are many counties which do need to have a County Treasurer - Harris County is not one of them.

The actual number of counties which have eliminated the office is very small. This is largely due to a possible poison pill implying that should a candidate run to abolish an office, he can not get paid. The law punishes a civic-minded candidate.

Various Treasurers from other counties spoke in front of the Harris County Commissioner's court requesting that the commissioner to not vote to abolish the office. At the same meeting, I spoke to the commissioner's court and informed them that I was in support of abolishing the office. I am proud to say that the commissioner's court voted in favor of the taxpayers 4-1 to abolish the office.

In the approximately 7 1/2 months between Mr. Jack Cato's death and the taking of office by the next Treasurer, the decision by the Commissioner's Court not to name a replacement saved the taxpayers $60,000+. To some it may not seem like much, but it could purchase books for the library. As my brother says, "save your pennies and the dollars will add up".

8. The State of Texas abolished its Treasurer's office after Democrat Martha Whitehead was elected in 1994 on a platform to do exactly that. What can Harris County learn from the state's experience?

Martha Whitehead was appointed by then Governor, Ann Richards. Ms. Whitehead ran for the Office of Treasurer in 1994 to dissolve the office. The Legislature and the people of Texas concurred and November 7, 1995 a Constitutional amendment was passed by the voters. On August 31, 1996, the 158-year-old agency transferred its functions to the Comptroller's Office.

Harris County Commissioners have the foresight to see the vision in abolishing the office. Working together they have voted to move forward on this matter.

If elected I will follow through and work to abolish the office

9. What is the argument against abolishing the Treasurer's office? Is there any risk in doing so?

Most of the concerns from people are: "Do we need it?" The simple answer is "no". We have a capable captain at the helm and all I am asking is that she continues steering the ship in the direction necessary to handle the county's treasury functions.

10. What else do we need to know about you and your campaign?

Probably the number one comment that I get is: "Why would you run to get rid of the job you won?"

Because it is the right thing to do. It's in the best interest of the taxpayers. We have an excellent First Assistant who has worked under three Harris County Treasurers and is currently doing a great job in completing Mr. Jack Cato's term.

I would also point out that I have the educational, professional and work and personal ethics to perform the job as Harris County Treasurer and come November 7th the taxpayers of Harris County select the person to lead them in reducing the cost county government.

Thank you, Richard Garcia. One thing I want to make clear here is that the first opportunity to abolish the office of Harris County Treasurer would be September or November of 2007, whenever the first statewide vote can be held after the next regular Legislative session. What would actually get abolished is the elected position of Harris County Treasurer. The people who are performing the functions of the Treasurer's office would still be doing that, they'd just be doing it under the auspices of the Financial Services Office. It's like when a company merges two departments and then gets rid of one of the department managers. Richard's the one pushing for the merger since his job isn't needed.

One last thing to note is that Orlando Sanchez, who is telling people he wants to use this position as a platform for espousing things like immigration reform, has a track record of travelling on the public dime. Given Sanchez's proclivities, the savings Richard estimates we can get (as seen in his ad video) may be on the conservative side.

Here are my other interviews with Harris County candidates:

Leora T. Kahn - Interview
Chuck Silverman - Interview
Bill Connolly - Interview
James Goodwille Pierre - Interview

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 17, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

Unfortunately, the "savings" to the County taxpayers is not really a savings. As a taxpayer, I cannot take my share of the savings and apply it to my electric bill.

The function of the County Treasurer merely changes from an elected position to an appointed position of a department head reporting to Commissioners Court because the job still must be done, supervised and managed.

If the transition is indeed seamless then others are already filling the duties meaning the taxpayers are currently buying the service twice: once through the Budget Office and Auditors Office and the second time through the Treasurers Office.

Buying the service twice is a waste of taxpayers money. The total historical sum of this waste, going at least as far back as during Lindsey’s 20+ years before Eckels, should be subtracted from the alleged future "savings". Then an estimate the real "savings", if it does indeed exist may be identified. Even if so, the taxpayer would never see it anyway.

Richard Garcia is promising one thing: If you elect me as your County Treasurer, I will promise that I will not fulfill the duties of the office.

I think he's qualified to fulfill that promise.

But how will Garcia respond when he takes the oath of office? Will he say: "No"? Then he is then refusing to take the oath of office. Or does he lie in front of God and Country with his right hand on the Bible? Either way, it’s a mockery and disrespectful to the voter - especially if the State then chooses to retain the Office of Harris County Treasurer.

There’s where Harris County Government fails to serve the citizens of the State of Texas.

Garcia’s intentions are noble if he runs for a state legislative position with his crusade as his platform – where the issue will be decided – where he can faithfully execute duties and functions of the office for which he was elected, so help him God.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on August 17, 2006 2:45 PM