Kitsap challenger says auditor should supervise budget

The Republican candidate for Kitsap County auditor post has challenged the operation of the current office, maintaining that the auditor is responsible for all budgetary procedures.

But the current auditor, along with a statewide association of county officials, believes Kitsap is functioning within the law.

“There was a brouhaha about this issue a few years ago,” said Washington Association of Counties Executive Director Deborah Wilke. “But the statute is flexible enough that counties can do it either way.”

Walter E. Washington, who was appointed by the county Democratic Party to fill the unexpired term of retired Auditor Karen Flynn, is being challenged by John Clark. In a press release this week, Clark listed state laws that mandated the auditor’s control over the budgeting process.

The Kitsap County budget is developed by the Department of Administrative Services and the budget director, under the supervision of the county administrator and the county commissioners.

It has been done this way since an action by the county commissioners in the late 1970s, according to sources in the Auditor’s Office. It’s not clear whether the question has ever been decided in court.

Clark has stressed the need for “a strong and knowledgeable auditor who understands and executes the duties of the office as mandated by law. The auditor must know the basic functions of the job and have the competency to perform those duties.

“Those duties are not being performed by the current auditor,” he said. “The commissioners handle all aspects of budget preparation and approval. As auditor, I will complete all the duties and functions assigned to the Auditor’s Office by law — not just some of them.”

The Kitsap County budget process is in its second year of implementing massive cuts. After balancing the 2008 budget, Administrative Services Director Ben Holland retired earlier this year.

His replacement, Shawn Gabriel, is due to begin work next week.

Clark feels it’s possible the financial difficulties facing county government could have been avoided with competent fiscal management exercising the checks and balances mandated by law.

Washington called Clark’s support of consolidating the budget process under the auditor “a regressive position. Most major cities and counties have separate auditors and budget departments. It helps to maintain a balance of power.”

While his office does not develop the budget, Washington said that it enforces the guidelines contained.

“I sign every check,” he said. “And I make sure there is a line item that backs it up and the amounts match.”

Washington said his office could supervise the budget process if those in the budget office were assigned to his staff.

He did not see the advantage or disadvantage of such a procedure, adding that, “I will do whatever the commissioners ask me to do.”

However, he said that Clark could not, if elected, automatically absorb the budget function into the Auditor’s Office.

“The commissioners changed this some time ago,” he said. “So they would have to change it back.”

Clark maintains that the auditor is the “chief financial officer” of the county, and thereby controls the budget.

He also feels that Washington, along with Flynn, did not perform this function and as a result did not deserve the full compensation for their job.

Even if this were to change, the results could be much the same. After receiving Clark’s press release Washington wrote Wilke for clarification and received this response:

“I think the most important point you should make is that you, as auditor, would have no discretionary authority in the preparation of the preliminary budget and it is largely a function of compiling the submissions of all the county programs and departments. So why not let the budget people have it?”

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