A nuance in state law that prevents the Pierce County Council from suspending an assessor-treasurer accused of misconduct would be eliminated under a bill sponsored by a bipartisan group of Pierce County senators.
County commissioners and county councils can suspend a county treasurer who is accused of misconduct. But they can’t suspend an assessor-treasurer, which is the name of the dual job in Pierce County.
That inconsistency in state law has come under question after Dale Washam’s four-year reign at the assessor-treasurer’s office.
Sen. Mike Carrell and his fellow Pierce senators — Jeannie Darneille, Bruce Dammeier, Steve Conway and Randi Becker — want to sync up the suspension authority for elected treasurers and assessor-treasurers. Their proposal, if it had been law, would presumably have allowed the Pierce County Council to do something akin to impeaching Washam.
Complaints from Washam’s employees led to a series of investigations and settlement payouts.
The bill was on the Senate Governmental Operations Committee’s agenda for a possible vote Monday evening, but the vote was put off. The committee is chaired by Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn, who was wary of letting elected officials decide the fate of their peers — alluding to what she has called her own persecution by fellow legislators.
During testimony on the bill Monday, Roach noted that voters booted Washam from office when his term ended in 2012. “So the system worked?” she asked.
Carrell begged to differ. “It was a new election. It took four years.”
Roach said she didn’t necessarily have a problem with matching suspension authority for the treasurer and assessor-treasurer. But she questioned another part of the measure that filled in details about when an official can be suspended, clarifying that it requires an action by a court or quasi-judicial body that is based on misconduct.
“This ganging up on people that I’ve noticed here in the Legislature can certainly occur,” she said. “I wonder if we want to give these county elected officials, who might just decide not to like somebody, the power to just dismiss an assessor-treasurer because they happen to have a majority of the council members willing to do it. It gets very political when you start doing that.
“We have a recall system. I want the voters to make that decision.”
The association that represents elected executive-branch county officials agreed with Roach, calling it a violation of separation of powers. Supporters, though, said it would have prevented Washam from piling up liability for the county in the course of a series of misconduct investigations.Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826