Auditor’s office faces changing of the guard

Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn, circa 1986. - Courtesy photo
Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn, circa 1986.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Karen Flynn’s office is in chaos. As she prepares to retire as Kitsap County Auditor next week, she has built piles from the awards, documents and memorabilia.

There are stacks of commemorative plaques, as well as samples of every voter’s guide and election report published during nearly 22 years in office.

Flynn will be honored at 2 p.m. on March 24 with a public ceremony in the Kitsap County Commissioners’ Chambers in Port Orchard.

“I am excited about moving on and doing other things,” she said. “I’m relieved that I am leaving the Auditor’s Office in really good shape. There is an extraordinary staff, and I think highly of Walt’s ability to maintain continuity.”

“Walt” is Chief Deputy Auditor Walter Washington, who Flynn has endorsed to be her successor. Washington’s ascension to the top job is not a done deal, however.

According to state law, when an elected county official resigns from office, his or her political party must select three names for presentation to the county commissioners, who select one.

Washington is a known quantity. That along with Flynn’s endorsement probably gives him the inside track.

Washington, however, is only one of the three candidates selected by the Democratic Party this week.

He will face Deborah Broughton, a current employee of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority who served as Kitsap County’s director of administration for 10 years, and Sara Lingafelter, a young activist attorney whom even Washington concedes “shows a lot of promise.”

Flynn, 61, is Kitsap County’s longest-serving elected official, having first taken office in 1987.

During her tenure, new technologies have changed voting and record-keeping, two of the major responsibilities of the Auditor’s Office. Two examples are how people can now search for records on line or find out election results almost as the polls close.

Fast election reporting is the result of another of Flynn’s priority projects, the institution of Kitsap as a vote-by-mail county.

The switching process, completed in 2005, began in 1992 after the county made it easier to secure an absentee ballot. That year the auditor filled almost 20,000 absentee ballot requests — up from 2,000 four years earlier.

One of the major arguments against the vote-by-mail concept came from people who valued the voting booth tradition, perceiving it as a tangible expresssion of democracy. Flynn understands this, but feels voting by mail creates its own new traditions.

“We really have busy lives,” Flynn said. “Going to the polls is something that we try to fit in, but sometimes people forget, or they are unprepared when Election Day comes.

“When people receive their ballots three weeks ahead of time,” she argued, “it gives them time to sit down and read the voter’s pamphlet, listen to the news coverage and talk with their families about how they want to vote. And if they have their ballot with them, they are more likely to set aside a time to sit down and talk about it.”

Aside from voting by mail, Flynn said she is most proud of the creation of a voters’ pamphlet, something not available in Kitsap prior to 1990 — and still not available in many other communities.

“It’s important that voters have access to information about the candidates,” she said. “When it comes to the more visible races, like president, a lot of information is available. But voters’ pamphlets are the primary resource for some races, and is a valuable method to get the information you need in order to make a choice.”

Flynn has earned a reputation as among the nicest people in county government. Said County Clerk Dave Peterson, “She has a lot of integrity, and I have never heard her raise her voice.”

“Karen is well-loved as a person,” Washington said. “She has a quiet strength that goes unnoticed. She is very knowledgeable, and has been a great teacher for me.”

For several weeks Washington, 61, was the only declared candidate for the job. If this held, the Democratic Party would still be required to submit three names. Washington, along with Larry and Curley, would be presented to the commissioners, who would presumably have the good sense to make the right selection.

Broughton and Lingafelter rendered this scenario unnecessary. Even though only three people expressed interest in the job, these are real candidates that will be seriously considered.

All three candidates have now submitted detailed application materials, with individual interviews scheduled this week. By inviting just one candidate at a time and designating it as a personnel matter, the public and press can be excluded.

Depending on the results, the commissioners may schedule a public meeting during which all three candidates will appear.

Broughton, 55, said the auditor’s job is “a leadership position that will shape the future of the county.”

She has worked for the city of Seattle and has promoted the idea of open government throughout her career. During her past Kitsap tenure, she established public “work study” meetings, a process that tripled commissioner contact with the public and continues to this day.

“The cool thing about Kitsap County is that it is a small enough place that you can make something happen,” she said. “Working for the city of Seattle was fun and rewarding, but it was hard to get your arms around the issues. It’s hard to get things off the ground and get people involved.”

Lingafelter, 31, is a sole practitioner in Poulsbo who claims “a passion for legislative work combined with an interest in elections.”

She also has a strong technology background, an asset in a position where implementing innovation is an essential asset.

A graduate of Seattle University’s School of Law, Lingafelter was on the corporate fast track when she decided to change her life and reallocate the time spent commuting to community involvement.

An avid rock climber, she named her law firm “First Ascent.”

“I am one of those rare individuals who is a doer, a planner and a strategic thinker,” she said in her candidacy statement. “I enjoy helping to motivate and involve others in community activities. These skills are an asset both to the office of the auditor and as a future candidate for elected office while on the campaign trail.”

The appointment doesn’t come with a sense of security, since the winner will need to run for the remainder of Flynn’s term in a special election this fall.

This may include a primary battle (Washington indicated he would probably run for the position if he did not get the appointment) as well as a Republican candidate in the general election.

After her last election, Flynn said this would be her final term in office. She intended to keep this commitment but several life-changing events—including the death of her 40-year-old son last year prompted a re-evaluation.

“We are public servants but we are not enslaved,” she said. “As it happened, the end of my term did not coincide with my personal needs to leave office and pursue other interests. We are human beings and circumstances change.”

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