A candidate for Galveston County treasurer hopes to abolish the very office he will assume in January 2023. Hank Dugie, the Republican nominee for Galveston County Treasurer, faces no Democratic opposition in November.
Dugie, a League City councilman and small business owner, won the March 1 GOP primary outright. With nearly 53 percent of the vote, he soundly defeated 20-year incumbent Kevin Walsh and fellow challenger Janet Hoffman.
The chief component of his campaign platform is eliminating the Office of the Treasurer and divvying out its responsibilities to other departments.
The argument in favor of Dugie’s plan, as laid out by League City Councilman Nick Long in the Galveston Daily News, is that preserving the office as popularly elected serves nobody’s best interest other than the officeholder.
“Every argument made to justify having an elected treasurer really justifies the need for someone to do the important work, but doesn’t actually speak to the need for an elected position,” Long explained, pointing out that no other city government within the county maintains such an office, but all of them still accomplish its duties.
One of the driving forces of this push in Galveston County is a 2018 incident, in which Walsh and the county sent an errant $525,000 payment to an email scammer posing as their road construction vendor.
Walsh and County Treasurers’ Association of Texas, which lobbies on behalf of county treasurers across the state, oppose the abolition. The latter argued in another guest column that, “Our Texas Constitution provides a checks and balances system in which none of the county’s elected officials is controlled by any other elected official; they only answer to the voters.”
“It brings into question why your local commissioners court would want to remove the oversight of your taxpayer dollars.”
This idea of abolition is not new, both across the state and in the specific case of this office. State law requires a constitutional amendment be passed to abolish a county office — requiring approval both from the legislature and the public in a statewide vote. Galveston-area state Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) filed exactly such a bill in 2021, which didn’t make it out of the State Affairs Committee. His bill tasked the county commissioners court with determining how to dish out the office’s responsibilities.
Its companion filed by state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) wasn’t even given a public hearing in committee.
But now, without an incumbent opposed to such a measure, it likely has new legs — although those in the area, like County Judge Mark Henry, believe it may not come to fruition until 2024. The state legislature does not convene until January next year, and constitutional amendments that pass are often placed on the ballot the following November, with effective dates usually occurring in January the following year.
Similar constitutional amendments abolishing Treasurer Offices are already in the Texas Constitution for Andrews, Bee, Bexar, Cass, Collin, El Paso, Fayette, Gregg, Nueces, and Tarrant Counties. For example, in Nueces County, the Treasurer’s Office’s duties were transferred to the County Clerk. There are many other such instances of counties eliminating other county positions like surveyors or constables.
But state code appears to provide pushback against a candidate with such a view assuming office, specifically centered on the salary that prospective officeholder would receive.
“I request you render an opinion whether an elected county official who ran on the platform of eliminating the office is required to renounce their salary and, if so, whether such requirement violates the elected individual’s First Amendment protections,” Galveston County Auditor Randall Rice asked in a letter to the attorney general.
In his letter Rice cited state code Section 152.052, “Within five days after the date an elected county or precinct officer takes office, the officer shall file an affidavit with the county payroll officer stating that the officer elects not to be paid for the officer’s services if, during the person’s campaign for election to the county or precinct office, the person publicly advocated the abolition of the office.”
Rice then questioned whether the mandate laid out by that section violates an individual’s First Amendment rights and qualifies as “content-based discrimination.”
In a more technical gripe with code, Rice also pointed to the statute’s self-contradiction — using the direct “shall file an affidavit” along with the passive “elects not to be paid.”
About the contradiction, Rice asked, “[I]f the officer’s preference is to receive the salary of the office, does he have a duty to file the affidavit, or does he have a choice to receive the salary?”
“The burdens on such a candidate would not be insignificant,” Rice contended, pointing to the extended period of time necessary for the abolition process to work out — all while the official must conduct the office’s responsibilities without due compensation.
The Galveston County Treasurer currently receives a six-figure salary.
At the root of Rice’s inquiry is whether this section of statute is even constitutional to begin with. But it also highlights the kind of contradictions and oddities that can be found within the thick-as-jungle Texas code.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.