Thanks to some quirk in state law, the State Auditor’s Office got to determine whether the County Commissioners violated the Open Public Meetings Act. Not the State Attorney General’s office as you might think, or logic might indicate, .
Auditors know how to analyze financial reports. The Attorney General’s office knows the law and interprets how it’s applied in the state.
The flaw in this arrangement became obvious when the auditor’s office was asked to investigate former County Commissioner Mike Doherty’s concerns about the necessary transparency of a public process and possible violations of the open meetings law.
Without so much as talking with Doherty, much less examining the complexity of Commissioners supporting a land exchange with local timber giant Green Crow, State Audit Manager Carol Ehlinger determined Doherty’s concerns were “not substantiated.”
In auditor terms, “substantiated” means the right boxes were checked and/or the right papers filed. Nothing to do with the legal or moral nuances of the action. Or following the spirit, intention or letter of the law, Or upholding the value of conducting the public’s business in public. Or the importance underlying the laws around transparency and open meetings.
These are important concerns that need to be addressed from time to time and the auditor’s office is simply not equipped to handle them.
We need some place to turn to, an authoritative, objective source of information when something just doesn’t seem right.
The auditors office isn’t up to that job, according to Norma Turner. Long involved in local issues, most recently serving on the County Charter Review Committee, Turner cited one experience working with the local housing authority. An employee working out on the west end did something “a little illegal” with housing authority funds. The police were called, the crime reported, the guilty party convicted. Yet, the housing authority was given a black mark because they didn’t go to the auditors office first.”
In another instance, Turner and colleague, Shirley Nixon hand-delivered a three-inch-thick notebook filled with documents concerning HarborWorks to the auditor’s office. Months went by with no response. Calls and inquiries revealed a flurry of email exchanges among staffers. Turned out–no one could remember having seen the notebook full of documents – yet the very next day the auditor’s office announced they’d found no problems. They didn’t even have the staff to track the evidence, much less examine the issue.
How tone deaf can the auditor’s office be to nuances of the law? Consider Troy Kelly, the current criminally indicted state auditor — who refuses to resign. Elected auditor in 2012, the first-term Democrat is currently charged with tax evasion, money laundering, possessing stolen money and lying under oath.
His denial of any wrongdoing was quickly followed by a grand jury indictment. According to federal prosecutors, Kelly kept $3 million in fees that he was supposed to refund to thousands of homeowners when he operated a real-estate services business from 2006 to 2008.
Kelly has repeatedly ignored calls by Governor Inslee and others leaders across the political spectrum asking him to resign. Four legislators – two Republicans and two Democrats – have filed a resolution calling for his impeachment and asking for a vote in the first week of the 2016 session.
Seems like the perfect time to remove the responsibility for oversight from the Auditor’s office.
Who should be given the job? An ombudsman? Some position in Attorney General’s office? A mediator or a referee?
Gentlemen, please find a place where procedural issues can be addressed thoroughly and thoughtfully by well-informed people.