Thurston County is missing 12 of these

Thurston County has found a classic way to waste $122,000 (and apparently lose another $60,000).  Last year, our money was wasted on the purchase of 73 overpriced laptops.  Twelve of them are nowhere to be found.  Apparently, this is also business as usual.  The same people who invented the $42,000 pocket gopher tax, produced budgets where the math doesn’t add up, built a $61 million jail that sat empty for almost 5 years, and set a new state record ($12 million) for losing a land use jury verdict, wrote yet another chapter in poor resource management.

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Deep in the bowels of the Thurston County bureaucratic archives sits a rarely-seen document called the Capital Assets Report which all 39 counties in Washington State must file (RCW 36.32.210).  Historically, this document was impossible to acquire without a public records request.  Last year, several local good-government activists confronted the county about the slipshod filing history of these reports (in violation of state law) and the jumbled mess that the reports represented.  That is a story for another time.  However, to the credit of Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, the document is now available online (linked here) for all to download, review, marvel, and weep as they see fit.

Getac B300 Ad today - the same one purchased by Thurston County for $4992
Getac B300 Ad today – the same one purchased by Thurston County for $4992

According to the most updated report, last year Thurston County purchased 61 Getac Ultra Rugged 13” Notebooks at a price of $5,945.86 each (A few were purchased at 1 cent less – maybe a volume discount?).  They were purchased through a national company called PCS Mobile and Tessco.  According to county records, these laptops were intended for use with the Sheriff’s office, although General Services has “possession” of the assets at Thurston County according to their own records.  See page 23-24 on this document.B300 in Action

Certainly, the sheriff’s department does need military-grade laptops in their road vehicles.  Anyone who has ever been on a ride along with the sheriff’s office can appreciate the value of having quality tools in the field.  However, this was a fairly significant expenditure ($356,751 – even using Common Core math, note the actual invoice amount of $393,204 was different).  The problem with this purchase is that even with a cursory review on Price Zombie (and there are many free apps to track historical pricing), anyone could see that this same laptop was available for $3,318.  This isn’t cheap but is $2,628 less than $5,946.  It appears that the total money lost in this one transaction is $157,672 (however, the actual invoice paints a different picture).

What Happened to the Missing Laptops?

locating lost assets - Thurston County needs to do this

When a records request was filed with Thurston County for the actual invoices involved in this transaction, the picture doesn’t improve much.  It appears that Thurston County actually paid $4,992 per computer, so they only overpaid $1,674 per computer (So only $122,202 wasted – still enough money to cover the cost of at least one more road deputy).  However, the invoice related to this purchase raises even more questions:

  • Purchase Order #15001258-00 and the invoice/receipt from PCS Mobile indicates Thurston County purchased and received 73 laptops, but only 61 show up on the Capital Assets Report.  If you look at the Assets Purchased Report for the same year – you can also see the 61 laptops.  What happened to the missing 12 laptops?  

    Still looking for twelve of these
    We are looking for twelve of these
  • A simple, online price quote check at the time of purchase would have revealed a price of $3,318 for these laptops. Why did Thurston County pay $4,992 for them?  (Probable answer – because the Washington Department of Enterprise Services has a standing contract with these vendors linked here , and why would staff take an extra 5 minutes to google the price of anything anyway?  It isn’t like they get recognized or rewarded for any cost savings) Why do they record each computer as an asset at $5,945.86 and how did they even justify that final inflated number?

Ultimately, this is just a small transaction for Thurston County which has an annual budget of $93 million ($330 million including all funds), outstanding debt of $102 million, and a capital asset balance of $705 million.  However, even looking at smaller transactions like this can raise serious concerns about how local government uses our hard-earned tax dollars.  Shouldn’t our elected officials and the bureaucrats they supervise be better stewards of our limited resources?

They certainly deserve to be recognized for all they have achieved. Note the two on the left are still there.
They certainly deserve to be recognized for all they have achieved. Note the two on the left are still there.

Many observers conclude that government is wasteful, incompetent, and a terrible steward of our resources.  However, shouldn’t someone be responsible somewhere?  In Thurston County, there may be nobody actually responsible.  Certainly nobody will be held accountable.  In theory (and legally according to RCW 36.32.210) the Commissioners are personally liable for the accuracy of the Capital Assets Report.  However, there is ample wiggle room in the legal language, so they can claim they “didn’t know” the information was inaccurate provided they don’t pay close attention.  The County Manager, Cliff Moore, seems more concerned with imposing septic tank fees, inventing pocket gopher taxes, and ridiculing property owners for their home-building dreams.   The assistant county manager (and former finance director) Robin Campbell received a 30% pay raise and promotion when she couldn’t even produce a budget that made mathematical sense in 2014.  She is unlikely to be concerned with missing inventory or a wasteful procurement process.

At least the county auditor,  Mary Hall, posts the Capital Assets online now, but that office receives annual certificates of achievement awards for excellence no matter how screwed up the finances might be.  Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim primarily uses his office to legally shield the Thurston County Commissioners from scrutiny and always gives staff and elected officials a pass regardless of the laws they might be breaking.  

The Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley (if he can stay out of federal prison and survive the 17 current Federal Indictments for fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion filed against him) is hardly in a position to pay attention to financial problems of the jurisdictions in the state.  Even with Initiative I-900 giving greater authority for the State Auditor to utilize performance audits, this small example of questionable purchases could probably be justified and the missing inventory wouldn’t even be noticed.  The state auditor staff who visited Thurston County last year didn’t even bother to look at the capital assets for the last six years because that isn’t where most of the financial messes are typically found.  No other Thurston County staff take any responsibility for this type of minor mistake.  It is only $122,000, and only 12 missing computers worth another $60,000 or so.  What bureaucrat would even notice something like this?

The lesson here is that local government frequently cries poverty and claims they don’t have enough money.  In Thurston County, staff and the legacy elected officials are constantly seeking new ways to extract more money from local residents.  If the bureaucrats can’t care enough to pay a decent price for computers or even pay attention to the inventory they possess, what are they doing with the larger budgets or the more expensive and complex projects?  

If images3we can’t trust them to do something this simple, why should we trust them on anything else?


This is Thurston County.
However, Thurston County is hardly alone.  These types of transactions are occurring in your city, county and state governments as well.  Nobody is minding the store.  Many citizens don’t have the time or resources to scrutinize their elected officials. It is up to  civic minded folk like you and I to sound the alarm.  

**See Below for Policy Recommendation and Possible Solutions**

Related Background Articles About Thurston County:

Thurston County Invents $42,000 gopher tax for new home owners

Thurston County punishes rural serfs – again

Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore to property owners:  Living Here is a Big Gamble

Childish Political Leadership in Thurston County is Costing Taxpayers Millions

Thurston County demonstrates how NOT to build a jail 

Thurston County Commissioners deny the reality of math

Thurston County Commissioners create a plague of consequences

I have been criticized for identifying problems and not providing solutions.  Fair enough.  Here are a few solutions I would recommend to address this type of problem and hopefully avoid these things in the future:

Thurston County Policy Changes:

  1. Short term – Find the missing inventory.
  2. Audit the current inventory process and review how many other items have vanished in a similar fashion, and find them.
  3. Record true, fair-market value for all assets in the Capital Assets Report rather than the inflated and misleading numbers currently used.
  4. Don’t include sales tax paid as a long term asset.
  5. Don’t include “assets” that have zero market value and can’t be sold.  Sure money was spent on them, and they should be tracked as an “asset,” but not with original sunk cost value.
  6. Rather than blindly following year-old DES negotiated price agreement, particularly with large technology purchases (maybe any purchase order over $50k), at least have some type of policy where 30minutes can be spent verifying the price of the item on Google or elsewhere.  Technology prices tend to go down – quickly.  Leverage this fact to benefit the tax payers.

State Policy Recommendations:

  1.  The entire Capital Asset Report requirements should be updated and strengthened to reflect accuracy and true fair-market value similar to what has been required for businesses the last 40+ years.  This is a time tested standard and will produce more accurate results.
  2. The DES contracts should be aggressively revised on a regular basis.  Particularly on technology purchases.  It really appears that a lot of money is wasted on technology because of simple inertia and archaic price structuring.  This must be reformed.


  1. Man, hate to be another to agree and maybe (sorry) add to what you’ve noticed Glen, though another all around helpful article! The last time I attended BOCC was as our commissioners ‘took’ public comment to (thoughtfully ) consider before passing (minus 1 vote ), the latest in Thurston County ‘grow the corporation’ implementation of enforcement code title 26. That’s the one to synchronize the enormous bureaucratic rat maze of rules and regulations where ‘there are no new criminal charges’. After they voted, I noticed on the agenda, how much and how many pay increases the Stewardship Department was (and did get) in line for. I didn’t know about Ms. Campbell’s raise …and I like her, but nobody needs more $$ to run Thurston County. If I need more $ to operate my household/property, I look at my savings account or go offer a service …I don’t ‘play’ on ‘do it for the children’ ( re the most recent school levy ) that had families standing on main street in Yelm , Tumwater and wherever else in Thurston County they did to make people aware to vote in favor…
    I’m of the thought that there’s a heck of a lot of dough going into Thurston County Corporate government…as you factually point out. Raises, increases in bureaucrat salaries might be considered (probably not) if there were ‘watchdogs’ in the financial department. I don’t see any. That’s our job …and everybody else that lives here…Here, here to acceptance of this responsibility!

  2. Glen, I truly enjoyed reading your report. I do find it disgusting they way our county leaders spend our money and I plan on sharing your report on FB.
    I am also sorry that Chuck felt so close minded that he stated he could not continue to read your report based on the common core math statement. I feel you are absolutely correct in using that term to describe the “fuzzy” math way of county officials spending money. I think common core math was created by an educator that had political aspirations. 🙂

  3. Waking up to this criminality in our government(all levels)is a step toward solving the problem and getting these “weeds”out of our garden.It has only gone on because we all, as a collective,allowed it. It is time to take our power and lives back and out of the hands of these self serving thieves and predators.Thank you for laying the ground work in your discovery so we can all become aware and make efforts toward a better future for all I stead of of this insanity.Those expensive computers were not purchased and dissappear ed by accident.It is part of their modus operendi to stuff everyone involved pockets.Their days are numered in my opinion because of people like you who still care and want to change the old paradigm of greed ruling the masses.THANK YOU SIR!

  4. “($356,751 – even using Common Core math, note the actual invoice amount of $393,204 was different)”

    “Common Core math” is no different than the math taught in schools a generation or two ago. The major difference between how math is taught now and how it was taught when I was in grade school is that students are asked to explain their thinking and shown solutions to problems that more closely resemble how mathematically fluent people actually DO math.

    All throwing an insult like this into your report does is cause people who would otherwise like to take a closer look at the current state of spending and oversight in the county/state and, if they’re like me, stop reading and discount your entire argument as bias. Unfortunately, I will not be able to tell if your report is bias because I refuse to continue reading.

    Similarly, if some reading this report thinks (mistakingly) along the same lines as you do that “Common Core math” is bad and shouldn’t be taught in schools, it just cements said bias and causes them to take a less critical look at the information you are presenting.

    Argumentative/persuasive writing 101: stick to your topic. veering off just clouds your issue.

    On a side note, try taking an actual critical look at CCSS and what it represents. As a math teacher, I have seen my students grow mathematically in leaps and bounds over what they accomplished under the old systems. It is also of paramount importance to point out the majority of complaints about “Common Core math” come from critiques of curriculum specific problems, not the standards themselves. I cannot and will not argue that all math curricula are sound in every way they need to be; in fact, almost every curriculum I have ever taught from has needed to be augmented in some way to meet the needs of my students, but the standards are sound. CCSS call for students to not only be able to math, but be able to math AND understand/explain how and why the math works the way it does.

    • Chuck, I am sorry you were offended by my flippant reference to Common Core Math. I am pretty familiar with Common Core Math as I am both a school board director, son of a teacher, and married to a public school teacher (although she doesn’t teach math). I didn’t intend to stray into the realm of educational math policy, but as you are probably a veteran of the math wars, I will tell you that I don’t agree with the “fuzzy” math approach. I am very familiar how different teaching styles can help kids who struggle with the traditional algorithm approach, but I would prefer to see the non-traditional methods used to help those who struggle rather with than used as the primary curriculum. We might have to agree to disagree. However, either way, Thurston County is still missing those laptops and no math method I can find will replicate their Capital Asset Report numbers…

    • Chuck, you really need to learn to *stick to the topic*. Common core math was not the topic…..obviously that was a lesson you missed.

      • Well, I appreciate the comment and support, but I don’t want to discourage critiques. I like the fact Chuck felt free to express his concerns, even if it was off topic.

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