Description of County Office
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Texas County Auditor
Prior to the late 19th century, the prevailing legal opinion of the day, that judicial courts had no
power to review the political acts, made the determinations of the commissioners court absolute
and final, except in cases where the result was clearly outside of the jurisdiction of the
commissioners court, or a clearly capricious act, and therefore void. However, an amendment to
the Constitution of 1876 granted supervisory powers to the district court to review acts of the
The county auditor was introduced into the district court supervisory role in 1905. Created by
statute rather than constitutional amendment, the county auditor emerged 14 years after the grant
of supervisory jurisdiction to the district courts, and thus appears to be a legislative act by those
responsible for creating the office of county auditor intended as an adjunct to the district court’s
exercise of supervisory jurisdiction over the commissioners court.
Initially, the county judge and district judges having jurisdiction in the county appointed the
auditor jointly. The Legislature subsequently amended the statute to provide for the appointment
of the county auditor by only the district judges.
The powers and responsibilities of the county auditor reach into every corner of the courthouse,
including district officers, and virtually every other officer, including the commissioners court.
The county auditor has financial oversight for all county offices and officers, and may prescribe
the accounting procedures for all county officers, including the district clerk and district attorney.
The county auditor may disapprove the payment of claims against the county, and the county
commissioners court may not pay a claim without auditor approval. The auditor must countersign
all checks, other than checks to jurors.
Unlike the county judge or the commissioners court, the county auditor may request an attorney
general’s opinion and utilize that opinion to encourage other county officials to comply with the
determinations of the attorney general.
Another critical area, which sets the auditor apart from the elected officials, is county
commissioners court has little authority over the budget of the county auditor. In a 1979 court
case the court held that only if the county auditor’s budget request was found to be clearly
unreasonable could the commissioners court deny the request, again subject to review by the
district judges. This case treats the county auditor in an entirely different manner than any other
county officer making a budget request. In regard to all other county officers, the budget
authority of the commissioners court is paramount, absent an abuse of discretion by the
commissioners court in denying a requested budget.
In view of these powers and responsibilities, and most notably the oversight authority granted the
county auditor, it is not surprising that numerous situations of ill will toward the county auditor
have surfaced over the years and will likely continue into the future. It is also not surprising that
quite often the auditor finds that he or she is not the most popular official in the courthouse. A
quote by a district judge from a newspaper article summarizes this point well: “Being a county
auditor is a thankless position, because the very nature of the job makes it, in some ways,
antagonistic to what department heads want to do.” Another quote from the same newspaper
article by a 12-year county commissioner states, “When there is no controversy, it means
everything is being rubber-stamped. But when there is (controversy), it means…department
heads don’t agree with the auditor and all that…because she is doing a good job. And she is not
rubber-stamping everything that they request.”
In addition to the numerous responsibilities sighted above, the Local Government Code dictates,
“The county auditor shall see to the strict enforcement of the law governing county finances.”
Auditors find themselves in a very unpopular situation when they are forced to “step up” and
make the difficult call that a given action is not in compliance with the law. With these
responsibilities and oversight authority vested in the auditor mixed with the highly charged
political environment of counties, it is no wonder that the job of a Texas County auditor may be
one of the most difficult positions in the state.
SO, HOW DOES A TEXAS COUNTY AUDITOR FUNCTION IN AN EFFECTIVE
MANNER IN THIS ENVIRONMENT? IT’S POSSIBLE BECAUSE “THEY KNEW WHAT
THEY WERE DOING!”
If the statutes had not been adopted to allow for the level of independence the auditor has today,
the auditor would not be able to carry out these duties and responsibilities in a proper manner.
The underlying concept present in the minds of those who framed the original legislation that
created the auditor’s office was that the county auditor is not appointed by or responsible to any
elected officer or elected body charged with administration and policy determination for the
county. Instead, the selection of the auditor is vested upon the district judges(s) whose district(s)
include the county. District judges are not primarily chosen with a view to their interest in, their
knowledge of, or their policies toward local government. There can be no doubt that the method
of creating, determining and controlling the salary of the county auditor is a creature of the Texas
Legislature, who in turn delegated those powers to the judiciary.
The Texas Association of County Auditors encourages all state representatives, senators, and
county officials to take the time to understand the difficult but critical role county auditors play
in this state. Although no one enjoys oversight and on occasion questioning of their
actions/decisions, in today’s environment the county auditor may be the best friend and safety
net the county has.
The Texas Association of County Auditors believes that the taxpayers of every county in this
state deserve to have a qualified and independent county auditor. We live in a society that is
becoming more dependent on technology by the day and taxpayers who expect fiscal
accountability from their state and local government. Texas counties can ill afford to
unnecessarily expose their officials and these taxpayers to inadequate fiscal accountability.
There are those who will argue that other county officials may assume the duties of the county
auditor in a county with no auditor; however, the statutes establishing the county auditor set forth
specific qualifications for this office, and there is no other office in the county that possesses the
level of independence to properly execute and enforce the duties and responsibilities of a Texas
Tommy J. Tompkins, Bexar County Auditor