Attorney General (AG) Greg Abbott’s opinion of November 2007, (can be read here [.PDF]) regarding who can and cannot be the county budget is very clear. There are three subchapters that a county can operate under – chapters A, B, and C. Because of Williamson County’s population (approx. 350,000) it can no longer operate under subchapter A, limited to counties of 225,000 or less. Subchapter A is also the only one that allows a county judge to serve as a county’s budget officer.
From the ruling it can bee seen that Williamson at the time operated under Subchapter B which applies to a county which is in excess of 225,000 but chooses not to operate under subchapter C. And in such a county the budget officer is the county auditor. If a county operates under subchapter C the county commissioners can appoint a budget officer but it cannot be one of it’s members, and the county judge is a member. From the AG’s ruling:
..we conclude that a county that chooses to operate under subchapter C of chapter 11, Local Government Code, may not appoint its county judge to serve as its county budget officer.
After reading that it’s baffling why there’s still confusion. From today’s AAS article on the subject, Commissioners start planning new budget:
As Williamson County commissioners begin to discuss the county’s upcoming budget, they’ll first need to decide who oversees it.
For now, it’s County Judge Dan A. Gattis, but there’s plenty of confusion (even among the county’s attorneys) about whether he should keep the job.
To clear up the issue, County Attorney Jana Duty requested an opinion from the state attorney general’s office in June.
The attorney general’s office agreed with Duty that the county judge shouldn’t serve as the budget officer because the county’s population exceeds 225,000 people. The opinion says either the county auditor should act as the budget officer or a new position should be created.
The county has about 350,000 residents, and the county judge historically has acted as the budget officer.
The opinion, however, has only muddied things.
“It raises a lot more questions than answers to me,” Commissioner Lisa Birkman said.
Birkman has said she and other commissioners considered giving that authority to the auditor over the summer, when commissioners appointed Gattis, but in her view it created an “uncomfortable position.”
“In my experience, the auditors aren’t involved in setting the budget â€” they audit what we do,” she said last month.
My reading of the opinion it says the county judge cannot be appointed, not shouldn’t be appointed, as the budget officer. Again where’s the confusion? Gattis to close:
Duty said the opinion is not binding.
Regarding the budget officer opinion, Gattis said he has asked Duty’s office to better explain the opinion to commissioners. From there, he said the court could possibly appoint the county’s current budget analyst, Ashlie Koenig, as budget officer.
“We’re certainly not trying to ignore the opinion,” he said.
It seems to me that this should be a pretty easy one for ever Duty to explain to the commissioners. It’s either the county auditor, if operating under subchapter B, or they have to appoint a budget officer if they’re operating under subchapter C. And if operating under subchapter C, it can’t be a member of the commissioners court, and that includes the county judge.