Accountability absent for public trustees

Mesa County Public Trustee Paul Brown demonstrated clearly last week why a bill giving counties the option to eliminate the governor-appointed public trustee position should be introduced in the Legislature and adopted.

Simply put, there is almost no accountability for those who hold public trustee positions in the state’s 10 largest counties.

During a regular meeting with the Mesa County commissioners last week, Brown was asked to move his office into county-owned space and save the $2,300 per month in rent he now spends for office space on Main Street.

Brown’s reply was to ask the commissioners whether they planned to support a bill Rep. Ray Scott has said he will introduce to give the 10 counties the option to eliminate public trustee offices and make those duties part of their county treasurer’s functions — as is the case in most other counties.

If the commissioners are inclined to support Ray Scott’s bill — “If you are trying to fire me,” as Brown put it — then he said, “I’m not sure I’m going to cooperate much.”

What?

Brown’s first response wasn’t to consider saving money for his constituents. Nor was it to ask about what space was available and how that might suit his needs. It was all about whether the commissioners would support him politically.

And the commissioners can do nothing about it because Brown is appointed by the governor, who is 250 miles away and apparently pays little attention to what Brown does.

Anyone who has read The Daily Sentinel regularly over the past few months knows this newspaper has had a serious dispute with Brown over his decision to pull certain legal notices from the Sentinel and place them in another newspaper.

We have refrained from offering editorial comment on that dispute because — although it has implications for those who depend on the public trustee’s office — it is basically between the trustee and the newspaper.

But Brown’s comments last week are of a different sort. They represent a cavalier attitude toward the users of his office and the people of this county.

Mesa County taxpayers don’t pay directly for Brown’s office rental. His office is self-funded, with the money coming from fees paid by those who use the services of the office. But, at the end of the year, the revenue and expenses of the office are tallied up, and any revenue in excess of what’s needed to cover expenses is supposed to go to the county’s general fund.

So, if Brown could save in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year by moving his office into a rent-free county facility, where there is plenty of space available now, that savings could go into county coffers.

Long before Paul Brown became public trustee for Mesa County, the Sentinel argued that the position is unnecessary and its duties should be returned to the treasurer’s office, where they resided for more than a century prior to the mid-1990s.

Brown’s metaphorical raised middle finger to the commissioners and the public he is supposed to represent simply adds ammunition to that argument.


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