One—perhaps the only—benefit of the chaotic ballot counting in the governor's race is that we might get good election reform this year. Unfortunately, we also might get bad reform. The worst idea currently comes from King County Council member David Irons, R-Issaquah, who wants to make the head of King County Elections an elected position. Elections officials should not be part of the hurly-burly, not to mention the fund-raising, of campaigns. They should be civil-service professionals, removed from politics as much as possible. That's why state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, gets the nod for best election-reform idea: Make the Washington secretary of state a nonpartisan position. We're lucky that Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, has been acting in a nonpartisan fashion, but we might not always be so fortunate. Politics have no place in elections administration. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.
More on the 2004 election
Thoughtful Seattle City Council Transportation Chair Richard Conlin must be wondering what he's done to deserve all the attention. Last week, former Seattle Times writer and mayoral communications director Casey Corr announced he will run against Conlin this year. This week comes word that veteran King County Council member Dwight Pelz is looking to take out Conlin, too. City Hall has already undergone an unfortunate transformation in recent years with Mayor Greg Nickels bringing a hardball partisan style over from the county courthouse. Pelz would only exacerbate that change. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.
After the Seattle Indian Services Commission issued two contracts worth a total of $30,000, state auditors took notice: Both went to the son of the commission's executive director. Neither job, for computer training and maintenance services, was put out to competitive bid or signed by the board or the executive director, as required by law. In a politely worded report, state Auditor Brian Sonntag calls the contracts "questionable expenditures" and says the commission "has not established the necessary policies and procedures" to ensure public money isn't misappropriated. The commission, formed in 1972 by City Hall to serve Native Americans, is an umbrella agency for service providers. It has three full-time employees and a budget of $1.2 million. In a statement, board officials said there was "confusion" over the auditing process and "additional difficulties that were the result of mistaken bookkeeping entries." The board said there simply wasn't time to put the contracts out to bid, but it didn't specifically explain why the contracts weren't at least signed by the board or by the father of the contractor—er, the executive director. "These errors were in the process of being corrected" when the state unexpectedly began its audit, the board said. The commission promised to implement safeguards "to the extent that such implementation is possible." RICK ANDERSON
Medford, Ore., native and former Seattle Times photo editor and photographer Chris Johns became the ninth editor in chief of National Geographic on Jan. 1. Johns began a three-year stint at the Times in 1980, then freelanced for more than a decade for various magazines, including National Geographic, before joining the NG staff in 1995. He shot 20 stories for the magazine, which is regarded as photojournalism's most prestigious destination. CHUCK TAYLOR