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Washam’s vendetta leaves county exposed

Post by Kim Bradford on April 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
April 28, 2010 4:58 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Dale Washam sees vindication where he ought to feel rebuke.

The Pierce County assessor-treasurer claims that a new report detailing why a predecessor failed to visually inspect properties as required validates his call for a criminal investigation.

What Washam seems to miss, in calling attention to the evidence against former assessor-treasurer Ken Madsen, is the finger pointed directly at himself.

Yes, the report does offer the fullest account yet of what led Madsen to cut corners and the lengths to which he went to fudge the records. But it also offers a strong indictment of Washam’s management of the office.

The conclusion that Madsen acted outside of his authority and in violation of state law is not a surprise. Washam himself built a convincing case against Madsen shortly after taking office in 20082009.

Washam’s been relentlessly pursuing that case ever since, despite the conclusion of law enforcement agencies that the only plausible remedy is to catch up on the skipped inspections.

A crime requires a culprit, and Washam has latched onto most likely candidate within his reach: an office supervisor named Sally Barnes who helped foil Washam’s attempted recall of Madsen in 2005. Washam and his deputy, Alberto Ugas, accused Barnes of playing a key role in falsifying inspection records.

They also allegedly made her working life hell. An investigator concluded last year that Washam retaliated against Barnes, subjecting her to ostracism; stripped her of her duties; and assigned her to a special project to remove her from her job.

Barnes resigned this year, citing intolerable working conditions.

Now, a new investigator for the county has concluded that Barnes is not to blame for Madsen’s misdeeds. The same report that describes what led Madsen to falsify records also states that the only people who can be held responsible are Madsen and his deputy, Kathy Fewins, both of whom are no longer employed by the county.

Barnes, the report concludes, was led to believe that Madsen and Fewins had cleared their plan to substitute statistical updates for physical inspections with the state. Madsen and Fewins ordered employees to communicate with the state Department of Revenue only through them, effectively isolating county workers from anyone who might have challenged their orders.

This wouldn’t be the first time Washam has unfairly treated an employee. A 66-page statement from the union last year painted the picture of an increasingly hostile work environment.

County taxpayers have already spent $50,000 to investigate complaints in the assessor-treasurer’s office since Washam took over. A prediction: They will spend a lot more before he exhausts his pursuit of Madsen’s ghost.

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