This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
Access to public records isn’t what’s weighing down the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s office. Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam is.
Washam – who has spent 28 months in office trying to browbeat employees, taxpayers and other public officials to join his crusade of vindication – is now complaining about having to do his real job.
In a post on the county website last week, Washam lamented the time and expense involved in obeying open government laws.
“I want to inform my employers, the Pierce County taxpayers, of a costly trend in public records requests that has created a burden on the assessor-treasurer’s budget,” Washam began.
He went on to detail two public records requests from The News Tribune, claiming that they had cost his office $31,000 in staff time.
If Washam is to be believed, then he only has himself to blame for running up the tab. Document requests are usually handled by county records officers. Washam insisted on doing the work himself.
He should have saved himself – and taxpayers – the trouble. When the records he released came up obviously short, other county officials had to step in to oversee a redo of the work. Their efforts helped uncover nearly twice as many additional emails as Washam had initially disclosed.
Washam certainly isn’t the first local government official to self-servingly cast disclosure as a distraction from an agency’s core obligations rather than an execution of them. But it takes particular gall for Washam to argue the point.
The real distraction in the assessor-treasurer’s office isn’t public disclosure, it’s Washam’s relentless fixation on wrongs committed by his predecessor and political foe.
Washam has spent untold hours and public resources trying to make former assessor-treasurer Ken Madsen and others pay for fudging assessment rolls.
He has pursued the vendetta despite repeated admonitions that the only recourse is to complete the skipped property inspections. A recall campaign alleges that the pursuit is a gross waste of public funds, yet Washam is still undeterred.
Five days before he bemoaned the millstone of open government, Washam took to the county website to post his umpteenth call for a criminal investigation into Madsen’s misdeeds.
It was finally enough to get county officials to pull the plug on Washam’s unfettered access to the assessor-treasurer’s home page – his “pulpit of defiance,” as an outside investigator once called it.
Consider it an early gift of the recall campaign. Now that a political campaign is in play, Washam can no longer get away with using a taxpayer-supported forum as his personal soap box.
But only Pierce County voters can finish the job by supporting the recall. As long as Washam remains in office nursing a grudge and turning his indignation on anyone who dares question him, the county will see no true relief.