Public trustee’s job remains unnecessary
We were disappointed this week to see the demise of state Rep. Ray Scott’s bill to give 10 counties in the state, including Mesa, the option of eliminating the appointed position of public trustee and folding the duties of that job into those of the county treasurer. And we applaud the Mesa County commissioners for supporting Scott’s bill.
The Daily Sentinel’s opposition to the governor-appointed job of public trustee goes back nearly 20 years, to when the first public trustee was appointed for Mesa County by then-Gov. Roy Romer over the objection of county elected officials. Our objections are threefold.
First, the job is unnecessary. In most of the 10 largest counties that have appointed public trustees — certainly in Mesa County — the duties of the trustee could be more than adequately handled by the elected county treasurers and their staffs, just as they are in all the other counties in the state.
And, while it’s true that no general tax money goes to fund the offices of public trustees — they are paid for by fees collected from foreclosing banks — allowing county treasurers to assume those duties would likely save money and would mean more funds from those fees would flow to county coffers.
Second, the posts have too often been used as patronage positions, with governors appointing people because they were political supporters, not because they had any particular expertise related to the duties of the office.
That’s clearly not the case for current Mesa County Public Trustee Mike Moran. He has an impressive legal background that is very much relevant to his public-trustee responsibilities. Additionally, he is running the office in a serious, professional manner.
But that could easily change with some future appointed public trustee. That leads to our third — and most important — objection to the job of appointed public trustee: There is almost no accountability.
As investigative stories by The Denver Post and The Daily Sentinel showed last year, some trustees took advantage of their offices and thumbed their noses at any questions from outsiders, even other elected officials. Appointed public trustees don’t have to stand for election and, once appointed, have little need to keep the governor informed of their actions.
Rep. Scott was successful last year in getting a bill passed that established some measures of accountability for appointed public trustees, but it was considerably watered down from what he originally intended.
Moreover, we had hoped that the 2012 bill would be just the first step toward eliminating the governor-appointed job of public trustee. Scott’s bill this year — which would have allowed each of the 10 counties to decide for themselves whether to keep the position — was a reasonable attempt at accomplishing this.
Too bad the House Local Government Committee opted to kill the bill and to keep this unnecessary patronage post as a requirement for just a handful of counties.