I'm trying to figure out the extent of an auditor's authority to deny a purchase order submitted by an elected official for payment. For example, an elected official wants to send their part time employee for training and they have a training expenses line item in their budget, does the auditor have the authority to deny that claim because they feel that training for a part-time employee is not necessary or a justifiable county expense even though the elected official feels differently? Another example, an elected official wants to pay for their part time help to be a notary but the auditor denies the claim because the official already has a full-time employee who is a notary. I don't see the legal justification for the auditor in denying these claims if the officials have enough money for these expenses in their budget. I know the auditor has reasonable discretion to refuse to approve a claim if they feel the claim was not incurred as provided by law but I don't know how that discretion extends to the auditor in essence being able to dictate to other elected officials how they should run their office. Just because something may not be a good idea doesn't give the auditor the authority to deny provided that it has been budgeted for and purchasing laws or Article III, Sec 52 weren't violated, no?
I agree. It seems pretty evident to me that if the commissioners court approved the budget, and everything else meets legal requirements, the auditor can't deny an expenditure just because he or she doesn't think it's a good idea.
I would lean toward discretion of the elected official unless there is a County Policy not to pay for training or other stuff for part time employees.
IF...and I stress IF...there is a Commissioners Court approved policy that prohibits training of part time individuals, or limits the number of notaries in an office to one, then arguably the auditor is within his/her rights to question the expenditure as being contrary to established court policy.
In that case, I, as a department head, would go to the Court and request an exception to the policy...
Lisa L. Peterson
Nolan County Attorney
If the commissioners court adopts an order prohibiting training for county employees (even if they are part-time), I'd be more concerned about a potential City of Canton v. Harris failure-to-train claim than whether everyone is playing "Mother May I" correctly.
With that said, though, I think everyone is on the right track. If there's a training line item in the budget, and it isn't restricted to full-time employees, the remaining discretion to secure that training rests with the elected official, not the commissioners court or the auditor. See Op. Tex. Att'y Gen. No. GA-0037 (2003), at 3. Indeed, the auditor's available discretion is to determine questions of arguable legality of an expenditure. See Crider v. Cox, 960 S.W.2d 703, 707 (Tex. App.--Tyler 1997, pet. denied). Advisability of an expenditure is outside that discretionary authority.
Thanks everyone for your input. The commissioners court has not adopted a formal policy for training or for the number of notaries (our office has 4!). For now, the auditor has backed off the notary claim of the elected official albeit with much reluctance and continued skepticism regarding its "public purpose" (!). It seems that this will be an ongoing issue.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), the call on the constitutional question of "public purpose" goes to the commissioners court as the deliberative body constitutionally vested with jurisdiction over county business, then to the district court if any review is sought.
I have seen a few Auditors and assistants deny claims based on their personal opinions. Simply because they wouldn't make a purchase or send an employee to a specific training if they were running that department is not a legal basis to deny a claim in most cases. I often have to remind the purchasing authority to keep their personal opinions out of it.
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