A good first step on public trustees

Our objections to the position of public trustee — governor-appointed officials who handle deeds of trust, foreclosure materials and related documents — have long focused on a few key issues.

The first is that the appointed position is unnecessary. The duties assigned to public trustees can just as effectively be carried out by county treasurers, as they are in all but 11 counties.

The second problem is that public trustees have had little accountability to the public they serve.

Grand Junction state Rep. Ray Scott attempted to cure both of those problems with House Bill 1329, which he introduced in the Legislature this year.

However, faced with strong political pushback from the 11 public trustees in the state, he reduced the scope of his bill to deal with some of the accountability issues.

The result is a still-important piece of legislation that was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper while he was in Grand Junction Monday. It is a solid first step in curbing some of the problems with public trusteees, and Scott deserves credit for his hard work in getting the bill passed. But much more remains to be done.

As originally introduced, in each of the 11 largest counties in Colorado that have public trustees — including Mesa County — HB 1329 would have given the county commissioners the option of eliminating the trustee position in their counties.

But the public trustees fought that provision, and Scott ultimately accepted a narrower bill.

Still, the bill Scott did get passed is critical in bringing some accountability to public trustees. First, his bill says public trustees must submit annual budgets to their county commissioners for review. That’s not as strong of budget oversight as we would prefer, but it’s better than what has existed.

We hope it will end situations in which a public trustee basically thumbs his nose at county commissioners trying to reduce costs — as Mesa County Public Trustee Paul Brown threatened to do earlier this year when the county commissioners requested he move his office into a county-owned building and thereby eliminate rental costs. Brown later agreed to the suggested move, after it became clear Scott’s bill stood a good chance of becoming law.

His bill also requires an annual audit of the public trustee to ascertain how the funds are being handled. Additionally, for any purchase or contract award of $20,000 or more, public trustees will have to follow either state procurement procedures or those of the county in which they’re located, just as other state and county departments must do.

We applaud Rep. Scott and hope he will continue his initial effort with follow-up legislation next year.


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May 23, 2012

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
734 South 7th Street
Grand Junction, CO 81501

Dear Editors:

  Last year, the Colorado Public Trustees Association (“CPTA”) allowed lawyers specializing in foreclosures and a software vendor to defray the cost of its convention in Blackhawk.  After Colorado Ethics Watch complained, the CPTA admitted to violating state ethics laws and agreed to pay a nearly $3000 fine.

  Most recently, as the Daily Sentinel editorialized yesterday – “A good first step on public trustees” (May 23, 2012) – Governor Hickenlooper signed into law a bill introduced by Republican State Representative Ray Scott.

  As originally proposed – that legislation could have eliminated the eleven Public Trustees appointed by our Democratic Governor in Colorado’s most populous counties. 

  As enacted, Scott’s bill leaves Public Trustees intact, but imposes accountability by requiring, first, that they “submit annual budgets to their county commissioners for review”, second, that they be subject to “an annual audit to ascertain how funds are being handled”, and, third, that they comply with state and/or county procurement procedures for purchases of $20,000+.

  Similarly situated to the public trust regarding elections are Colorado’s 64 County Clerks and Recorders (3 Unaffiliated, 18 Democrats, and 43 Republicans), who together constitute the Colorado County Clerks Association (“CCCA”).

  Even though partially funded by taxpayers, the CCCA refuses to disclose its other sources of funding – because its lobbying efforts to gut the Colorado Open Records Act by creating a “blackout” period until elections are certified are being funded by electronic voting machine manufacturers. 

  Thus, the Sentinel should endorse similar accountability for the CCCA as for Public Trustees.  The CCCA should be required by law to submit its annual budget to the Secretary of State (“SOS”) for review; to be subject to annual audits to ascertain and disclose how funds are being obtained and disbursed; and be prohibited by law from accepting any funds from any vendor with whom any of its members does business. 

              Bill Hugenberg
              543 Rim Drive
              Grand Junction, CO 81507
Word Count = 300         257-1998

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