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A harsh light on Dale Washam’s stewardship

Post by Kim Bradford on May 29, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
June 1, 2010 2:12 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Exhibit A in how not to run a public agency is the 54-page report detailing Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam’s abuse of authority, waste of public money and violations of county and state laws.

But don’t just take our word for it. Read some of what Washam’s employees and their union representative told an outside investigator:

“Staff is fearful; he shakes his fingers at them.”

“Most are feeling that it is a hostile workplace.”

“… everyone appears demoralized. You can hear a pin drop.”

“People cannot sleep, and they are anxious about their job security and finding a new job. … it is disheartening to be referred to as criminal and having committed fraud.”

“Dale Washam flaunts being untouchable.”

“… the office is slowly grinding to a stop.”

“The PI issue is just too much for Dale Washam to let go; someone has to pay and someone has to be responsible for it.”

The “PI issue” is the failure by Washam’s predecessor, Ken Madsen, to complete physical inspections of properties once every six years as required by state law.

Washam spent years prior to his election obsessed with the issue, and he remains obsessed – despite his vindication more than a year ago and the fact that no plausible remedy exists except for Washam to move on and mind the store.

“Hours have been spent on his behalf digging up information regarding his investigation,”one employee reported.

Another employee: “Individual N does not know what Mr. Washam does; so much of his time is spent on building his case. The paper budget may be a clue. He shreds, and Ms. Borck (Washam’s assistant) scans, puts binders together. There is also time interviewing staffers to get data/information.”

The irony is, after investing all that time in proving Madsen falsfied inspection reports, Washam himself may be guilty of fudging data. Employees reported that Washam’s September report misstated the number of physical inspections and did not acknowledge changes in data collection that skewed the numbers.

Washam can’t get to Madsen, so he may have turned his anger on some who worked under the former auditorassessor-treasurer. “Washam’s attitude was that anyone on the appraisal staff was culpable and he had a real distrust of them,” one employee told the investigator, echoing concerns expressed by several others.

There’s a perception that he resents their failure to support his 2005 attempt to recall their old boss. “Mr. Washam has repeatedly said to staff that they were not there to support him on the recall, and that they should have quit their jobs…,” an employee said.

A union official gave a similar report. During a meeting with Washam, he was “defensive and mentioned the recall, and could not understand why no one would back him up and that the union backed Ken Madsen. He proceeded to bring out a five-year-old letter from the union and started to read it.

“… Dale Washam … has created for the appraisers a situation where they have to meet very angry citizens. He has called them crooks and criminals, and has created hostility for them in the field as well as in the office.”

The union representative told the investigator that she can count on one hand how many grievances the assessor-treasurer’s employees filed in the past. “They are not a high maintenance group,” she said. But these days, she said, half the office shows up to union meetings.

Even an employee who reported being treated professionally and politely by Washam had this to say: “Dale Washam has undermined the way to do a professional job. It may be lack of experience, but if he has the experience, then he is intentionally messing up.”

This staff account nailed the root of the problem: “From being an activist for so long, all he knows is to go after people because of the wrong he feels they have done.”

Voters elected Washam to be the boss, not the bully. He does not seem to understand the difference.

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