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.