This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Two new budding lawsuits seeking $2.3 million in damages are yet more evidence that Dale Washam will bleed the taxpayers of Pierce County until the day he leaves office. The Washington Supreme Court should let them hasten that blessed day.
The citizens pushing to recall Washam are itching to start circulating their petitions, and many more are itching to sign them. The Pierce County Superior Court has found sufficient grounds to launch the recall campaign, but Washam has appealed to the high court – which could effectively sabotage the effort by taking its own sweet time to make a decision.
In the richest of ironies, Washam himself had a recall petition delayed to death by the supreme court 10 years ago. He wanted to give the voters a chance to dislodge then-Auditor Cathy Pearsall-Stipek, who had lied to the public and under oath about her qualifications.
Washam was right then, and he’s wrong now. The Washington Constitution supposedly guarantees citizens the right to remove their public officials for cause, but the courts rob them of that right if they sit on petitions long enough to kill them.
There’s a big difference between Washam and Pearsall-Stipek: Her misconduct didn’t blow a hole in the public treasury, while his misconduct is firing broadsides. Washam’s abuses of his own staff – documented in three independent investigations – have so far triggered $4.25 million worth of claims against the county.
Those investigations lend great credence to the harassment and retaliation claims filed by staffers who had the misfortune to work under the angry and incompetent Washam. The county – which is so strapped for money it is closing parks and raising fees right and left – is likely to wind up paying big-time damages in verdicts or settlements.
Pierce County’s taxpayers cannot afford an assessor-treasurer who runs his office as a lawsuit factory. Washam’s position comes up for election in two years, but that’s far too long to expose the public purse to his contempt for the laws he doesn’t like.
Today the recall advocates are arguing in Olympia for a quick judicial decision on whether they can get moving. Washam says he needs more time to find a lawyer – though he’s known for more than a month he’d be in this legal mess.
The court should err on the side of the citizens’ constitutional right to recall.
Another question is whether the taxpayers should have to foot the legal bills he will incur trying to tie up the recall campaign in court. The law normally requires the taxpayers to pay for the defense of public officials, but that’s not automatically true for recalls – the County Council gets to decide.
Do the assessor-treasurer’s legitimate duties include bullying county employees in defiance of legal advice and the human resources department?
The answer is obvious. Refusing to subsidize Washam’s delaying tactics would likely speed the arrival of a far less expensive successor.