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Washam’s troubles are a public concern

Post by Kim Bradford on Oct. 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm with 6 Comments »
February 17, 2010 8:10 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Vengeance will be Dale Washam’s, or so it would appear from the details of a union complaint alleging unfair work practices.

Teamsters Local Union 117 contends that the Pierce County assessor-treasurer is interfering with and retaliating for employees’ participation in union activities, and is refusing to bargain changes in pay and working conditions.

Washam certainly wouldn’t be the first boss to run afoul of labor laws. But there’s more to the union’s complaint than a public official not paying due deference to organized labor. This is not even just an outsider shaking up the status quo.

The union’s 66-page statement of facts painstakingly documents deteriorating working conditions in an office run by a public official who is obsessively pursuing an old vendetta.

For years, Washam had accused former Assessor-Treasurer Ken Madsen of failing to conduct physical inspections of properties. Come to find out, Washam was right.

But nailing his old political foe was apparently not enough vindication. Judging from the union’s claims and a county investigation, Washam is now seeking to avenge Madsen’s dereliction by going after the people who worked for him.

His primary target appears to be Sally Barnes, one of the office’s former top managers. A independent investigator recently found that Washam retaliated against her for filing a grievance against him, despite being specifically warned that retaliation is prohibited.

That’s coming from a man who accused his predecessor of showing a blatant disregard for the law.

The union’s complaint points to a multitude of problems:

• Washam frequently accuses appraisers of being accomplices to illegal activities, saying they should have blown the whistle on Madsen. Yet Washam objects to the same staff lodging complaints about his own behavior, taunting them with claims that the county can’t touch him.

• Washam continues on his tear about the missed property inspections and what effect they may have had on county assessments, yet frequently undermines the ability of the appraisal staff to catch up. The union alleges that he’s moved employees into positions for which they are not qualified and then denied their requests for training.

• As if that were not demoralizing enough, staff also contend that Washam’s erratic behavior has turned the office into an “armed camp” where employees “are expected to stay in their cubicles and not speak to anyone unless it is break time.”

• Washam allegedly can come unhinged at an employee for little more than a poor word choice. A supervisor got an earful – and a letter of reprimand and demotion – for calling taxpayers who routinely challenge their assessments “perennial appellants.” Apparently, all those times Washam’s been called a perennial candidate got to him.

• He requires staff to schedule a meeting if they want to talk with one another, according to the union. Managers are to send a meeting notice to Washam’s assistant and meet only in the conference room that’s within sight and earshot of Washam’s office. Employees must then turn in meeting minutes.

Washam’s more than a difficult or odd boss. If even half of what employees allege is true, he is creating a hostile work environment that is becoming a huge liability for the county.

That is not simply a union concern; it is the public’s as well. Taxpayers could end up paying, literally, for Washam’s mismanagement of his office.

Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. jimkingjr says:

    I’m no Washam fan- but it took more than just Ken Madsen to fail to follow the law. Many employees in the office had to have been aware. And some had to have been complicit.

    That’s not just an old grudge. It is a problem that needs to be cleaned up.

    On the other hand, as could be expected, Washam is not going about getting a mess cleaned up in the right way.

    So where are the adults? Can we get rid of Washam and the employees who should be canned for having gone along- or worse, implemented- the illegal policy.

    Lots of people out there need jobs.

  2. ldozy1234 says:

    You know, I find it more and more interesting that every time a TNT article on Washam appears , the TNT keeps trying to squew public opinion into hanging the guy, yet they consistantly fail to address the real issue.. why ?
    Why the slanted reporting for years that hid the problems in the Assessors Office? Why the failure to investigate? Why the failure of other public officials here to follow this up? why the jokingly done reviews earlier during the court case failed to present the facts ?
    Other bloggers who claim to be working within PC and in the Union “claim” these employees never spoke up before because of fear of retaliation, and that one worker who did speak up was fired… so where is the story on that? True? False? But now offices are lost and scheduled changed.. WOW- super news!
    I don’t know Washam and really am neither pro nor con- but what I do disagree with is how this whole thing has been handled from the get go and the increasing push to shoot the messenger that PROVED the lies buried in PC govt. If it costs the County- it should, because the County LET IT CONTINUE. And so did we tax payers by apparently electing and re- electing from the local good ol’ boys gene pool that maintain this and heaven knows what other cover ups.

  3. There are passing references in the union’s complaint to the working conditions under Ken Madsen also being less than stellar. One employee apparently kept a personal journal documenting them; the same employee alleges that Sally Barnes would have lost her job if she hadn’t voiced support for Madsen. Washam reportedly acknowledged as much, making the comment that appraisal staff “were up against people that wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of you.”

    So my question is, do the staff continue to have to pay for the misdeeds of their former boss? Madsen apparently told them what he told everyone else: That the state had bought off on his plan to use statistical methods rather than physical inspections.

    In hindsight, could we have done a better job trying to verify Washam’s allegation five years ago? Perhaps. But I am looking at a newspaper story from October 2004 that lays out exactly what Madsen was doing. The story emphatically states: “The county is required by state law to physically inspect parcels once every six years.” It then goes on to explain in detail how Madsen was using computer-assisted valuations to skip some physical inspections. The information was certainly out there; the fact that no one followed up on it is troubling. I imagine some of what was going on is the same thing at play in Washam’s case: The assessor-treasurer is an elected official beyond the reach of other elected officials.

    Ldozy1234, I agree with you that the county should have to pay whatever consequences that come from Madsen’s decision to skirt the law. But what we’re talking about here is the liability that stems from Washam’s badgering, belittling and retaliating against employees. A good manager can whip an office into shape without violating whistleblower and labor laws.

    Back in 2004, when some of Madsen’s former employees filed claims alleging they were forced out of their jobs or wrongly fired (claims which never amounted to the union alleging unfair labor practices as in this case), Washam told the newspaper: “I think that’s an indication of some real problems. I think it shows a lack of leadership.”

  4. jimkingjr says:

    Again, some employees were complicit- others went along. Madsen couldn’t have done it by himself. Others were involved.

    Keeping the secret- which wasn’t much of a secret- to keep your job is, well no different than not blowing the whistle on embezzlement or any other crime.

    So Washam’s independently elected. That doesn’t keep the prosecutor from investigating, nor the County Executive and Ciouncil from using their powers- especially the power of the purse- to bring an errant official to heel. Be it Madsen or Washam.

    Or maybe someone can just get the recall petitions going. Karma, baby.

  5. ldozy1234 says:

    Thank you Kim.
    And, despite all my complaints, I absolutely do agree, no employee should be subjected to workplace abuse. But it keeps sounding like this has had precedent set within its depts, as claimed with Madsen or Washam . Doesn’t make it right but it should demand focus as the County is complacent and therefore should be also on the hot seat for permitting this policy of “blind eye” tolerance of workplace abuse.
    And that should be the focus of an investigative report. What steps is the County planning to implement to change and repair its internal issues?
    We have a 5 member Exec committee, a Council, Human Resourse dept. and Prosecutors office- yet all are silent and unwilling to take responsibility for fostering and continuing the behind closed door garbage that keeps coming to light. Hey- that last time this came to light, it cost the County what? 3 million?? Apparently trying to keep hiding the dirty little secrets is worth it to our govt as we continue to see no change in practice. Maybe we need to just offer a reward to whistle blowers….it would cut down on court and settlement costs ya think?

  6. candwa01 says:

    Do you know what kind of job experience Washam has? Has he managed this many employees before? I read in another article that he is going to lay off appraisers instead of giving the option of furlough days. If that is true and his problem is the lack of physical inspections why is he choosing to lay off appraisers? If the job couldn’t get done before how the heck will it get done with fewer appraisers??? Sounds like he is cutting off his nose to spite his face. It would seem that the county executive should have some power to step in even though he is an elected official, is that the case?

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