County commissioners and county councils can suspend a county treasurer who is accused of misconduct. But they can’t suspend an assessor-treasurer, which is the name of the dual job in Pierce County.
That nuance in state law has come under question after Dale Washam’s four-year reign at the assessor-treasurer’s office.
Sen. Mike Carrell and a bipartisan group of fellow Pierce senators — Jeannie Darneille, Bruce Dammeier, Steve Conway and Randi Becker – want to sync up the suspension authority for elected treasurers and assessor-treasurers. Their proposal, if it had been law, would presumably have allowed Pierce County Council to do something akin to impeaching Washam.
The bill was on the Senate Government Operations Committee agenda for a possible vote Monday evening, but the vote was put off. The committee is chaired by Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn, who was wary of letting elected officials decide the fate of their peers — alluding to what she has called her own persecution by fellow legislators.
During testimony on the bill earlier Monday, Roach noted that voters booted Washam from office when his term ended in 2012. “So the system worked?” she asked.
Carrell begged to differ. “It was a new election. It took four years.”
Roach said she didn’t necessarily have a problem with matching suspension authority for the treasurer and assessor-treasurer. But she questioned another part of the measure that spelled out how officials would appoint a successor. She said:
This ganging up on people that I’ve noticed here in the Legislature can certainly occur. I wonder if we want to give these county elected officials, who might just decide not to like somebody, the power to just dismiss an assessor-treasurer because they happen to have a majority of the council members willing to do it. It gets very political when you start doing that. We have a recall system. … I want the voters to make that decision. Absolutely no way would I want a county council or commission to do it, because I know what people do to their own.
The association that represents elected executive-branch county officials agreed with Roach, calling it a violation of separation of powers. Supporters, though, said it would have prevented Washam from piling up liability for the county in the course of a series of misconduct investigations.