Dale Washam’s internet posting privileges were stripped away today by Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, who says Washam was using the asssessor-treasurer’s website for politicking during a recall campaign against him.
In addition, McCarthy ordered the removal of two items Washam posted over the last several days.
It’s an unusual action and one no one in county government could recall happening before.
McCarthy and Washam are both elected officials, and Washam argued McCarthy didn’t have the authority to rule on what he could and could not put on his department’s website.
County officials couldn’t reach Washam this afternoon; McCarthy notified him of the changes in writing.
In an eight-paragraph memo she sent at 3:25 p.m., McCarthy told Washam she took the actions because he refused to remove online posts “that appear to constitute a misuse of public resources for personal purposes.”
She did so on the advice of Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Doug Vanscoy, and a letter from Vanscoy to Washam was published on the assessor-treasurer’s website.
Under McCarthy’s order, Washam and his staff can create messages for the website, but they can’t publish them without her consent.
“Effective immediately, content you wish to promote must first be reviewed and approved by me and, if necessary, counsel from the prosecuting attorney’s office,” McCarthy wrote.
The ruling will not affect routine business uses of the assessor-treasurer’s website, such as the software that allows users to look up property tax information.
McCarthy’s orders revoking Washam’s internet privileges came following an exchange of e-mails in which she asked him to remove some material and he refused.
“Dale, I did not want it to come to this,” she wrote this afternoon. “Numerous county employees have tried to work with you so that the assessor-treasurer’s office can be as successful as possible. But your recent actions left me no choice.”
If Washam wants to defend his actions or refute the critics who want to recall him from office, he should do it with personal resources, not the county website, she said, adding that she’s open to restoring his “full online access” if an understanding can be reached.
The News Tribune could not reach Washam for comment.
About 1:30 this afternoon, county information technology employees, on McCarthy’s order, deleted two of Washam’s internet posts and added the memo from Vanscoy.
Vanscoy’s letter, sent to Washam at 11:58 this morning, says one of Washam’s memos to taxpayers constitutes “a direct link to the recall petition” and uses county property for personal purposes.
Another of Washam’s missives appears to retaliate against The News Tribune for its reporting of the recall against him, Vanscoy writes.
Washam’s postings included one on April 27 criticizing The News Tribune for what he described as burdensome and costly public records requests.
An April 22 “update” from Washam spoke at length about his complaints that required physical inspections of properties were skipped in the county under his predecessor. He again complains that records were “falsified” and asked: “…how long must the Pierce County taxpayers wait for the proper Investigation they deserve?”
McCarthy told Washam in a memo on Thursday that the April 22 posting “involves issues directly relating to the pending recall petition against you, and the 4/27 item is a criticism of The News Tribune, which has run a series of articles concerning your activities and the recall.”
“The county needs to remain neutral on the recall petition, and the ATR (Assessor-Treasurer) county website is for official business use,” she wrote. “Ultimate authority for the website is in the purview of the executive.”
If Washam wants to refute his critics, he should do so using “personal resources, not the county’s website,” she added.
Washam replied shortly before 11 this morning. He posted both McCarthy’s letter to him and his reply on the website.
“I believe your request is without merit…” he wrote to McCarthy.
The April 22 posting revolves around a discussion that’s not new and has been carried on via the assessor’s website since early 2009, Washam told McCarthy.
The April 27 posting “is merely an announcement for a new feature that will be made available on the ATR website concerning all public records requests,” he added.
“I do not agree that the Pierce County Executive is granted censorship over the ATR website and thereby given authority over the communications between another duly elected official and his constituents,” Washam wrote.
He also asked McCarthy to cite the authority under which she was making the request.
Though Washam’s April 22 and 27 bulletins to taxpayers were removed, county officials left intact the e-mails between McCarthy and Washam and added the note to Washam from Vanscoy.
Puyallup resident Robin Farris launched a recall effort against Washam last fall. He fought it in the courts, claiming it didn’t meet necessary standards for a recall. She won and is now in the signature-gathering stage.
The crux of the campaign is an allegation that Washam is guilty of malfeasance. It charges he’s violated his oath of office and acted improperly.
His actions are illegal because of “a gross waste of funds and how he treats his staff,” she previously told The News Tribune.
A series of investigations has found that Washam retaliated against employees and created a hostile work environment.
Several claims against the county have been filed by employees or former employees as the result of Washam’s actions since he took office in early 2009. One was settled for $79,000. The others seek damages of more than $4 million.
Here’s what the assessor’s web page looked like this morning before the changes were made: