Article by: Anna M. Tinsley
DALLAS (Start-Telegram) Tom Smelker just became one of the most important men in Texas because he's in charge of protecting the state's gold.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Monday named Smelker, 63, a longtime comptroller employee, to oversee the soon-to-be-developed Texas Bullion Depository.
"For my whole career, I've been protecting (Texans') money," Smelker told the Star-Telegram. "I do understand the financial impact of people's life savings. ... I'm hoping to provide the best product we can for the citizens of the state."
The announcement of his appointment marks the first public movement on the project to build a bullion depository where Texans and others will be able to store gold and other precious metals.
While the project has been in the works for two years, an announcement about the location and the company that will run it could be announced soon.
Smelker said he can't comment yet on when those decisions will come. Plans initially called for naming a location for the depository, and the company to run it, last year. Officials said those decisions have taken longer than they thought.
Smelker said he's ready to move forward.
"I will be looking at the standards, policies, procedures that will be done at the depository," he said. "We need this to be a very well-run facility."
NOT JUST FOR TEXANS
Plans for the depository have been underway since lawmakers approved the measure — shepherded through the Texas House by state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake — in 2015.
"I get questions almost every day about when this is happening," Capriglione said. "I think this is really important to do."
While it's geared to give Texans a place to store precious metals, it's not just for residents.
Financial institutions, cities, school districts, businesses, individuals — even other countries — could do business there as well. And storage fees will be charged to generate revenue for the state.
Those fees could add up, particularly when storing larger amounts, such as the estimated $650 million owned by the University of Texas Investment Management Co. stored at the HSBC Bank in New York. The company pays about $650,000 a year to store its gold there. Some Texas officials have long indicated they would like for the gold to come home.
Officials have said the depository could be in one location, or multiple sites throughout the state, depending on which proposal is chosen.
"It's a more complex process than we imagined."
-Chris Bryan, a spkesman for the Texas Comptroller's Office
At the depository, Texans will be able to open accounts similar to checking and savings accounts at traditional banks — and monitor them online.
People will be able to deposit gold and silver and use their account to make payments by using checks or electronic means. Many have likened the depository to a bank that doesn't do any lending.
ON THE MOVE
Smelker — a Beaumont native who has worked nearly 30 years with the State Treasury, including 10 years as director of treasury operations — said he's been studying this issue since a depository was first proposed in 2013. His work ramped up when the measure formally creating it was passed in 2015.
Hegar said Smelker is the right person to serve as administrator of the depository.
"I am grateful he has once again answered the call to service and (I am) confident he will provide the leadership necessary to make the Texas Bullion Depository a success," Hegar said in a written statement. "Tom has been involved in this from the beginning. He's been an integral part at every step of the process."
Smelker said he has done "a lot of background and research on this project," helping craft requests for information and proposals for the depository and reviewing plans submitted.
The depository, he said, is a unique effort run by private business and essentially supervised by the government.
"I think people and businesses …have the ability to sleep better knowing … that people are watching their gold."
Smelker said he's looking forward to the work ahead and truly realizes how much some Texans want to see a depository in place.
In fact, soon after the bill passed in 2015, one gentleman who had been asking the state about the depository showed up at the Texas Comptroller's office — with his gold.
"We went down to talk to him and he didn't want to take 'no' for an answer," Smelker said. "He wanted to deposit his gold. … We explained we were still working on the project."