Thurston Conservation District Staff taking official notes at Sept 2018 TCD meeting. Sarah Moorehead on right


Support more local reporting like this – consider making a donation Here

In a previous article detailing the many scandals and problems that have plagued the Thurston Conservation District (linked here), this author referenced the fact that staff had been accused of falsifying official minutes of the public meetings.  Here is just one example of how these minutes are falsified and it appears to indicate a pattern of behavior at this local government entity.  This raises some obvious question.  How often has staff has done this in the past? Also, how widespread this illegal activity is in other local government entities? 

Thurston Conservation District Board of Supervisors Meeting - late 2018
A 2018 TCD Board of Supervisors Meeting.  
The Supervisors on the Left (Doug Rushton and Paul Pickett) support staff’s actions.  
The other supervisors – Eric Johnson, Linda Powell, and Richard Mankamyer 
question staff behavior

For more background on the Thurston Conservation District, please read this article linked here.  However, in brief, the Thurston Conservation District (TCD) is located in Thurston County, Washington State. The TCD is one of 45 conservation districts located throughout the state and was enabled by the Washington State legislature in 1939 (see RCW 89.08.70) is responsible for administering millions of grant dollars which pass through it (from which the bureaucrats get their cut) from the State or Feds.

Historically, this government entity was formed to help local farmers with certain agricultural practices from soil conservation to cost sharing.  Over recent years, however, many local conservation districts have shifted to using these grant dollars to destroy farmland and reduce the arable soil in the community by using tax dollars to eliminate farmland and turn it into wildlife habitat.  Much of this is done through what is called “Salmon Recovery funds” of which $226 million were distributed in Washington State alone in the last budget.

Thurston Conservation Staff falsify minutes to hurt elected officials and for their own personal gain.

Paul Pickett
Department of Ecology

While this author’s previous article outlined some of the problems and scandals with the Thurston Conservation District including grant husband/wife kickback schemes, bizarre byzantine election practices, and misuse of funds, here is a closer look at just one of the other referenced problems.  The Conservation District consists of three elected officials and two officials appointed by the Washington State Conservation Commission.  When this body meets for official business, minutes are kept of these meetings to record the votes and to record the decisions of these elected officials.  In many cases, the only way future elected officials, the media, and the public can know what has transpired at these meetings, would be to read the historic meeting minutes.  It is a violation of state law (see RCW 40.16.010) to falsify these minutes in the record.  The penalty can be up to $5,000 fine and 10 years in prison, and it is a Class C felony.

Sarah Moorehead, Thurston Conservation District Interim Executive Director 2018
Thurston Conservation District Interim Executive Director Sarah Moorehead speaking at a Thurston County Commisioner Meeting Sept 2018

The Thurston Conservation District staff attempted to falsify the May 29, 2018 Conservation District meeting minutes.  Here is a link to the draft minutes that were falsified (link here).  Note, on Page 4, Section 11 under the subheading of “Interim Executive Director” the following statement was inserted by staff:

“Discussion about removing Interim Executive Director based on Human Rights Commission complaint filing”

Thurston Conservation District -Draft Minutes – Page 4, Section 11

However, when one looks at the original agenda for this meeting – this topic was never on the original Board Meeting Materials agenda (see agenda here and board packet here, note that there is no “Interim Executive Director” line item there under Section 11).  Did the Conservation District Supervisors diverge from the agenda and decide to have this conversation anyway?  They are not supposed to do that, but it could conceivably happen.  However, when you listen to the actual audio recording of the meeting (linked here).  Audio B file contains the voice recording for page 4 of the minutes.  The audio for Agenda item 11D begins at 1:52:24 and ends at 2:20:14 at Item 12. (in case staff decides to “accidently” delete this audio file, the author has downloaded this file and can email it to interested parties – it was too large to upload to this site).  There is NO mention during the discussion of this “item” that was added to the minutes by staff when the minutes were transcribed.

Why were these minutes falsified by staff?

TCD Supervisors Doug Rushton and Paul Pickett support TCD staff

Apparently, these minutes were falsified by staff so the minutes would then become part of the permanent official record and would support staff’s claims that the Thurston Conservation Commission Supervisors were trying to unlawfully fire and harass staff members.  This has been part of the ongoing dispute between staff and three of the Supervisors who have been looking closely at questionable financial decisions, grant grifter situations, refusing to sign falsified minutes, and other questionable decisions made by staff.  This is EXACTLY what the elected and appointed supervisors are supposed to do in this job, but staff has wanted to define the Supervisor’s actions as “harassment” in an effort to remove the elected and appointed Supervisors from office.  Staff absolutely does not want anyone looking too closely here. Staff prefers rubber stamp Supervisors like Paul Pickett and Doug Rushton to stay on the board and cover up staff corruption, incompetence, and collusion.

Thurston Conservation District office located in the City of Tumwater

It would be illegal for the District Supervisors to remove an employee just because that same employee (Sarah Moorehead, interim director at the time) filed a Human Rights Commission complaint.  This is a well known fact by the staff and elected supervisors. However, staff has been actively conspiring to undermine the elected and appointed Supervisors who dared to question the staff’s misuse of public resources for many years now, and this is just one example of an effective tactic that the staff has employed.  Additionally, the very comment and note in the record would indicated a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act because the topic itself, if true, would be a matter that could only be discussed in an Executive Session meeting.  If staff succeeded in this effort to falsify the minutes, at least the inerim director could personally benefit financially from a human resources lawsuit and possibly a lawsuit under the Open Public Meetings Act.

When the State Conservation Commmission had their August 29, 2018 meeting (pictured) in Lacey, WA, their focus was on how to remove the TCD supervisors who dared to expose staff corruption.

This is not the first-time staff at the Thurston Conservation District have been caught or accused of doing this.  See previous Thurston Conservation District Supervisor Jim Goche’s letters to the state Conservation Commission, which references this behavior from last year (linked here and here and here) providing many details of this and other questionable activity by Thurston Conservation District staff. 

How often has this been done before?

TCD Interim Executive Director Sarah Moorehead speaking at a 2018 Thurston County Commission Meeting. It is unlikely she is the only bureaucrat who has attempted to falsify public meeting minutes before.

There is no effective or efficient way to confirm how often staff has successfully done this before, but it appears to be common practice.  Normally this would be very difficult to catch because as anyone who has served on a public board like this can verify – there is often an avalanche of paperwork for each meeting, and it is very easy to miss one line like this.  To the credit of the Thurston Conservation District Supervisors Richard Mankamyer, Eric Johnson, and Linda Powell they caught this attempt to falsify the minutes and were able to correct it, despite great resistance from staff and their allies.  Additionally, these Supervisors had required that the meetings start to be recorded and the recordings made public, which is the ONLY way that anyone from the public could confirm or refute this effort to falsify the public record by staff.

As was discussed in this previous article (again, linked here), there is a clear pattern of very questionable behavior by Thurston Conservation District staff, and this is just one small example.  While it might be small in the big scheme of state government, it is not insignificant.  Had it gone unnoticed; this one line would have exposed the district (and taxpayers) to substantial liability in almost certain future litigation.  This litigation could have resulted in a human resources lawsuit and most likely a payout to Sarah Moorehead, the interim director at the time.

The government union AFSCME has been in full support of TCD staff at all times (photo of AFSCME union organizer speaking in favor of staff at State Cosnervation Commission meeting 2018)

Conservation District staff have been very effective at electing political allies like Paul Pickett (an employee at the Washington State Department of Ecology) who can give them political cover for their lawbreaking.  Staff has also been very effective at enlisting the help of organizations like the League of Women’s Voters (who pretend to be nonpartisan, and an organization that once believed in open government, but which is now openly supporting lawbreaking like this).  Staff have also enlisted the help of local government workers union (AFSCME), which appears to also support lawbreaking if the ends justify the means. 

Moving forward from here

We will attempt to provide additional updates on the various dramas and the scandal factory that the Thurston Conservation District has become.  Certainly, many of these problems would have been unnoticed had not the three supervisors taken their duty to the taxpayers seriously.  It is imperative that lawbreaking by the Thurston Conservation District staff not be rewarded, despite the strenuous effort by local special interests to do just that. 

Additionally, this one example should serve as notice to other elected officials and concerned citizens to pay closer attention to what your local government staff are doing.  If elected officials and concerned citizens don’t pay attention and remain vigilant, dishonest and even criminal activity like this becomes ingrained in the culture of local government bureaucracy and it won’t get easier to fix if we just ignore it.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely this was an isolated incident.  Look closely at how local government operates and you will find many similar stories and examples like this.

It starts locally…


Additional Background articles and documents:

Paul Pickett’s Charge: Cover Up Corruption at Thurston Conservation District

May 29, 2018 – TCD Proposed Agenda

May 29, 2018 – TCD Board Packet

TCD falsified minutes created by staff for May 29, 2018 meeting

The Stranger – Evergreen Ranks as One of the Worst Colleges in the U.S. for Free Speech

Gang Green and the Government Staff Infection

May 31, 2018 – Letter to Washington State Conservation Commission from Jim Goche, former Thurston County Conservation District Supervisor

May 31, 2018 – Appendix 1 to Letter to WSCC from Jim Goche

May 31, 2018 – Appendix 2 to Letter to WSCC from Jim Goche (Olympian Articles from 1999 – 2000 about corruption in Thurston Conservation District)

April 20, 2018 – Ltr from State Conservation Commission to Thurston County Conservation District Supervisor Mankamyer (targeted Supervisor who is attempting to question staff)

June 15, 2018 – Eric Johnson v. WSU Energy Program Office – Summary Judgement hearing – Judge Schaller presiding

July 18, 2018 – Washington State Conservation Commission Letter to Eric Johnson saying they will act to remove him from his unpaid appointed position (for daring to question staff’s misuse of resources and incompetence)

July 16, 2018 – WSCC – Final Investigative “Report” on how to get rid of Eric Johnson and any other TCD supervisor who dares to question staff’s corruption and incompetence (61 pages)

July 12, 2018 – Arthur West lawsuit against the three TCD supervisors who dared to question staff’s corruption and incompetence for potential OPMA violations.


South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group

February 5, 2016 – MCD letter to Amy Hatch-Winecka identifying why she would be fired from their employment

April 5, 2016 – MCD separation agreement for Amy Hatch-Winecka

March 8, 2018 – Eric Johnson v. WSU – Thurston Superior Court #18-2-00943-34 -defendant answer to original complaint

July 13, 2018 – Eric Johnson v. WSU – Thurston Superior Court #18-2-00943-34 – defendant’s response to plaintiff’s opening brief on penalties, attorney fees and costs

June 4, 2018 – Eric Johnson v. WSU – Thurston Superior Court #18-2-00943-34 – defendant’s response to plaintiff’s briefing on liability

February 16, 2018 – Eric Johnson v. WSU – Thurston Superior Court #18-2-00943-34 – complete original complaint

July 16, 2018 – Eric Johnson v. WSU – Thurston Superior Court #18-2-00943-34 -Plaintiff’s Penalty Reply Brief

May 15, 2018 – Eric Johnson v. WSU – Thurston Superior Court #18-2-00943-34 – Plaintiff’s Opening Brief

April 14, 2018 – Washington State Green Party recognizes Paul Pickett as a member in good standing in case they delete or remove this post, here is screen capture linked below: