Not all that often could you just take a court decision out to the public, print off copies, and have all the reasons you could want to oust a public official – in this case, by recall.
But here we are, in the case of Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam. In Washington, remember, you have to meet certain legal standards for recall (a good idea) – you have to demonstrate serious wrongdoing by the person in the course of their job. (The allowable reasons: “malfeasance, misfeasance, and violation of oath of office.”) Those reasons are ordinarily reviewed by a court, and – if appealed, as was unwisely done in this case – the Supreme Court, as happened in the just-released In recall of Dale Washam.
Washam is the assessor-treasurer of Pierce County, and the recall advocates allege he “violated whistleblower protections, retaliated against his employees, grossly wasted public funds, failed to cooperate with discrimination and retaliation investigations, and violated his oath of office.”
If that sounds like an office politics situation, the Supreme Court decision adds some information that puts it in perspective: “Washam is no stranger to the recall process. In 2005, he filed a recall petition against his predecessor in office, Ken Madsen. After Washam was elected Pierce County assessor-treasurer in 2008, he continued to doggedly pursue his predecessor. In his first few months in office, he asked the Pierce County Prosecutor, the state auditor, and the state attorney general to investigate, file charges, or take other action against his predecessor in office for relying in part on statistical modeling. All declined.”
The battles between Washam (who was elected in 2008) and the staff sound as if they just went on and on. The Supreme Court wrote of one part of the long-running narrative, “Another independent investigator found that Washam had violated various Pierce County Code provisions protecting the confidentiality of people filing complaints, had retaliated against employees for protected conduct, and had identified and posted derogatory information about the complaining employees. An investigator found that Washam’s “dogged unwillingness” to stop pursuing his predecessor and office staff resulted “in a gross waste of public funds.” Staff complaints against Washam have resulted in at least three outside investigations of Washam, all finding misconduct.”
The most interesting piece of this may have been in the question of Washam’s long pursuit of his predecessor. The trial judge in the case, Thomas Felnagle, had an uneasy time with this. Given the nature of the job, he wrote (and the Supreme Court affirmed), there was maybe some legal allowance for going after some of the issues involved. But:
The next question becomes, was this intention or was it just a question of bad judgment. You know, that’s a hard line to draw, but I liken this, when I thought about it, to the novel Moby Dick. And in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is obsessed with getting the white whale, and he’s obsessed with getting the white whale to the extent that he’s willing to take down his ship and his crew in the process. And what we see here is an allegation that, when warned about the lack of legal basis, the argument goes that the elected official continues on seeking out his white whale, in this case, his predecessor in office, even to the extent that it’s going to jeopardize his crew, in this case, the tax-paying public.
Coming to a recall vote sometime soon in Pierce County.
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