In response to last week’s article about Thurston County’s missing $60,000 worth of computer inventory, a frantic search was launched by Thurston County upper management, and the computers were discovered over the weekend- safe and sound. This is good news for taxpayers. However, it raises serious concerns about how Thurston County manages or fails to manage capital assets and inventory.
For Whistleblowers, please go here to learn more
Discovering and admitting that a problem exists is the first step on the road to recovery. Based on Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore’s response to this problem at Tuesday’s County Commissioner meeting, it appears that Thurston County is still in the denial stage. Despite this, there is always a glimmer of hope. A policy cure exists if Thurston County is willing to accept responsibility for the assets they manage on our behalf. The County Manager Cliff Moore and the two legacy commissioners, Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe, may not want to fix this long festering problem, but there will be two new commissioners after the elections in November.
The Three Card Monte Excuse
Both citizen activist Jon Pettit and I spoke during public comment at the Commissioner meeting Tuesday afternoon regarding the problems that are being uncovered by regular citizens casually reviewing the inventory and capital asset programs in Thurston County. Constructive critiques and suggestions for solving these problems were presented, some of which are detailed at the end of this article. However, Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore’s explanation was so fascinating, it is worth analyzing in itself. Once the TCTV video of the meeting is finished, I will post a link here (Cliff Moore starts speaking around 22 minutes into the meeting, please note he misstates RCW 36.32.210 ).
The explanation from Cliff Moore about the missing $60,000 computers involved a complex story about how there are three different inventory lists in Thurston County. One is the formal
Auditor’s site (kudos again to the Thurston County Auditor’s office for putting these online now). The other two inventory lists are some type of alternative ghost inventory lists which apparently are not accessible to anyone trying to audit the county. However, like a game of Three Card Monte or a 3 shell game – citizens are expected to guess which inventory report is the real one, even though only one is legally binding. No matter which list you pick – it will be wrong. County Manager Cliff Moore’s understanding of the law (at least as he explained it on Tuesday) is just wrong and displays impressive ignorance of the law and basic inventory management practices.
Only one inventory list matters
Under Washington State Law (RCW 36.32.210) only one capital asset list counts. It must be accurate and requires a sworn oath signed by the commissioners attesting to its accuracy. If it is not accurate either the county prosecutor or a local citizen (or both) can bring criminal charges against the commissioners and they can lose their political office. Yes, it is that serious. This law was originally passed in the 1930s – from a time when activist citizens believed in holding their elected officials accountable. Please read it yourself. Until last year, only a few of us had ever read this law in Thurston County and the legacy commissioners had been playing fast and loose with the inventory reports for at least a decade.
It can’t be denied that the current Capital Assets List is false. It is not clear how many other items existing on other Three Card Monte secret inventory lists are also missing. Some assets may never have been recorded in the first place. Some may never be found. Now you see them – now you don’t. It is difficult to research when existing lists are inaccurate, and the only way to be sure is to review every purchase order, match it to the invoice, verify nothing was backordered, then physically track the stuff down. A serious, genuine, private-sector audit is needed. (Which appears to be as similar to the Washington State Auditor’s efforts as World Cup Soccer is to everyone-gets-a-trophy soccer leagues)
I feel a personal apology is in order – to those Thurston County employees who met with me off hours over the last few years and told me things were screwed up – I owe you a public apology. You were right, and my skepticism at the magnitude was unfounded. Thurston County really does need more help than even I realized. Please forgive me for being so slow to accept it really is exactly as bad as you indicated.
To the Thurston County Commissioners – I apologize for not being more aggressive on this issue when I first confronted you on it last year. Counter to all past experience, I thought that someone would take this issue seriously after we raised such a stink about it. I was wrong. Instead, it seems that plastic bag bans, creating new septic tank taxes, Inventing a new pocket gopher tax, building doggie parks, giving away money to the Capital Land Trust, and to the City of Olympia are all higher priorities than fixing real core-functions of government problems. I admit, they are probably a more fun way to spend your time. However, it is time to get back to basics.
Solutions and Suggestions:
- Institute some type of RFID tracking system for inventory control and tracking of small and attractive items consistent with the Office of Financial Management’s policy 30.40. Right now there appears to be no real policy of any kind, and no way to even know what has disappeared, or what exists in inventory. (H/T Jon Pettit)
- Re-issue the 2015 Capital Assets Report, along with the 2015 Capital Assets Purchase Report which are both clearly inaccurate.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel on inventory management. Just implement a simple, private sector solution utilized by any one of a few hundred businesses in the area. It shouldn’t require a gopher study or cost as much as a bag ban survey, which the county seems to consider priorities. Instead, implement rational, time-tested procedures and processes. Related to this, a one time physical audit should probably be conducted so that the baseline can be verified.
For More Background on Thurston County, Read these Articles
Misty Chastain – A video of how Thurston County tried to destroy her livlihood
Donna Baker – Thurston County causes her to lose her home.