When the Pierce County Council suspended funding for Prometa – a drug treatment for addicts – County Executive John Ladenburg accused some on the council of playing politics.
The council suspended the funding Oct. 23 after a performance auditor’s report found little evidence the treatment was effective.
Ladenburg, who supported the program, accused the council in news reports of secretly orchestrating a negative performance report and of failing to give public notice of its decision to suspend Prometa funding, among other things.
Here’s a scorecard on the executive’s accusations, in the order they were presented in two recent e-mails to The News Tribune and posted on Political Buzz, the newspaper’s political blog.
Accusation 1: “Certain council members secretly directed staff to write a negative (Prometa) report and to finish it quickly so they could have it for the day a budget ordinance was scheduled. They kept this information from the executive and other council members.”
Explanation: In an interview, Ladenburg admitted he had no evidence that anyone on the council ordered a negative audit. He said he had just a “gut feeling based on how it came about and how it was kept secret.”
County performance audit coordinator Matt Temmel denied he was ordered to write a negative Prometa report and refuted the allegation that the report was kept secret. He noted that the Performance Audit Committee – which oversees Temmel’s work – includes representatives of the council, the executive and two citizens.
And the audit committee didn’t keep the report secret. On Sept. 13, it directed Temmel to conduct a pre-audit study. On Sept. 29, Temmel scheduled a Prometa briefing for the committee on Oct. 24. He notified committee members, council staff members and the Pierce County Alliance (which administers Prometa for the county).
Temmel sent members of the audit committee – including Ladenburg’s representatives – a copy of the report at 12:45 p.m. on Oct. 23 – the day before the committee meeting.
Accusation 2: “The report was hurried onto the committee agenda only hours before the whole council meeting on the budget ordinance.”
Explanation: As noted above, the Performance Audit Committee’s Oct. 24 agenda – including the Prometa report discussion – was scheduled in Temmel’s Sept. 29 e-mail.
Accusation 3: “Certain council members, perhaps a majority, agreed before the (Oct. 23 council) meeting to offer an amendment taking away Prometa funding without telling other members or the executive.”
Verdict: Partly true.
Explanation: The measure suspending Prometa funding was a last-minute addition to a supplemental budget amendment the council considered Oct. 23.
However, Councilman Shawn Bunney, who offered the Prometa amendment, notified his fellow council members of his intentions in an e-mail Oct. 22 – about 24 hours before the meeting. And the council discussed the Prometa amendment at its noon Oct. 23 study session.
Bunney hadn’t yet seen the report, but had been briefed by Temmel and knew what was coming when the report was released the next day.
Bunney didn’t inform the executive or his representatives about the proposed Prometa amendment.
Accusation 4: “Rather than postpone the budget ordinance so appropriate notice could be given to the public, the affected agency and the executive, the amendment was hurried through.”
Explanation: No question it was a rush job. Bunney told fellow council members of his intentions to seek suspension of the Prometa funding Oct. 22. The auditor’s report was distributed the next day, and hours later the council voted to suspend the funding, even though the audit committee hadn’t reviewed the report yet.
Councilman Tim Farrell noted that the council didn’t follow its own procedures when the full council took action before the audit committee had even discussed the Prometa report.
Asked to comment by The News Tribune, state assistant attorney general Tim Ford said the council did nothing illegal, though he said it didn’t provide “meaningful notice” of the Prometa discussion.
Accusation 5: “The amendment was to a budget ordinance that had nothing to do with the Prometa program, so there was no way a citizen or the alliance or the executive could have expected it to be debated.”
Explanation: The measure suspending Prometa funding was a late addition to an ordinance introduced in August. Prometa didn’t figure in the discussion until Bunney introduced his amendment Oct. 23.
Accusation 6: “The council was more concerned with making a political statement than the treatment of drug addicts.”
Explanation: Only council members know what motivated them to suspend Prometa funding. Their public explanations cited Temmel’s initial report on Prometa’s ineffectiveness as well as troubling media reports about Hythiam Inc. – the company that licenses Prometa – and its CEO.
Accusation 7: “Instead of a staff report recommending whether we should or should not conduct a performance audit, we suddenly receive a report that purports to analyze whether the drug treatment is working or not. … It’s not that we didn’t expect some report on Prometa. We just didn’t expect an evaluation because that is not what any performance audit has ever done before.”
Explanation: Temmel says evaluating Prometa in a pre-audit study wasn’t unusual. He cites three other pre-audit studies – all from 2006 – that addressed substantive issues while also making a recommendation on whether to conduct a full performance audit: a report on a backlog of Superior Court cases, a report on court reporters and a study of corrections overtime.
What’s more, a review of the video from the Sept. 13 Performance Audit Committee shows that Bunney laid out the parameters of the Prometa study in public session. Among other things, he asked for an analysis of Prometa’s success here and elsewhere and whether the treatment is an effective use of tax dollars.
County budget director Pat Kenney, one of two Ladenburg representatives on the committee, was present for the discussion.
Ultimately, the study recommended the county not conduct a full performance audit of Prometa.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341