And What of Previous Problems in King County Audits?

Defender of good project management and fiscal accountability.
An audit released yesterday [PDF] by State Auditor Brian Sonntag's office found the county is letting construction project costs get out of hand and poorly tracks them. Apparently in the roads division, managers just name projects whatever they want, often after popular science fiction characters, which makes it difficult for anyone to know what's going on. Unfortunately, the audit doesn't say which characters (are county roads department people mainstream Han Solo types or do they go for the more esoteric Battlestar Galactica?)

On top of that, the audit found the county has few set policies over how to handle and track money in various departments, suffers from financial management problems in the Assessor and Sheriff offices, and has giant piles of cash sitting around from Metro fares.

Predictably, current council members, including Executive candidates Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine, are calling for new legislation to bring the county's finances and project management in line. But what might be more damaging for everyone running the show with county finances comes if you read all the way to page 74 of the audit. There you'll find that problems controlling county finances found in a previous audit weren't resolved.

The county had five negative audit findings in 2008. Of those, four remain largely or completely unresolved. They are:

1. The county went outside state law in accepting bids for a correctional facility project started in 2003. While the county has since fallen into compliance on that particular project, the county code itself has not been changed to prevent that from happening again.

2. Systems for controlling petty cash are still ripe for abuse.

3. After an employee falsified car title transfers to help friends get out of paying the vehicle use tax, the employee was fired, but still no controls have been put in place to prevent something similar from happening unnoticed again.

4. The District Court's system for tracking bail and other transactions is "inadequate."

So in addition to this year's findings (which the county says are inaccurate), there are still problems to resolve from last year. On top of that, the auditor's office notes at the beginning of the report that in 2007 it suggested reestablishing a county audit committee, which never happened. Between that and this year's findings, Constantine's and Phillips' competition is having a field day.

"My two opponents who have served on the County Council for many years have not provided the oversight necessary," Hutchison said in a release yesterday. She also noted that state legislators Ross Hunter and Fred Jarrett voted to cut funding to Sonntag's office.

"Voters are owed an explanation from Constantine and Phillips for allowing this level of mismanagement to happen while they were in charge," Hunter said in his own release this morning.

And Fred Jarrett called Phillips' call to action on the report within 60 days: "simply too little too late."

Phillips and Constantine can hardly be blamed for all of the negative findings this year, but the auditor's office specifically notes the role of the council in helping set policy as part of the recommended fix. The question now is whether it will be a liability for them with their supporters or if concepts like "audit" and "fiscal management" will make most voters glaze over. Expect this to come up at an Executive candidate forum Thursday night in North Bend.

Bet Ron Sims is really enjoying being 3,000 miles away right now. Ironically helping run a federal agency that's all about managing construction projects.

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