Opinion

Kitsap Auditor Walter Washington’s oversight is no trivial matter

Kitsap County’s interim auditor, Walter Washington, has characterized his recently disclosed difficulties in filing the proper forms with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission as “not an election-killing thing.”

And given that he shows no inclination to drop out of the race because of it, and that he’s the hand-picked representative of the Democratic Party in a county that tilts Democratic, he probably has a point there.

But that’s not to say Washington’s errors aren’t a pretty serious matter. They are, as is his blithe dismissal of them.

John Clark, the Republican candidate for the office, noted last week that Washington had routinely been late in filing necessary paperwork with the PDC and that one document in particular, PDC Form ABB C-4 — a financial disclosure statement — was supposed to have been filed by July 28 but hadn’t been submitted at all.

“This is no-brainer stuff,” Clark said. “The Public Disclosure Commission offers us classes about the rules. It’s bad enough when a candidate (for another office) does this, but it’s far worse if you’re in charge of the elections.”

Which is precisely the point.

It’s easy enough for Washington to shrug off the oversight as the “result of missed communication,” but as auditor his primary job is to oversee Kitsap County elections — including making sure candidates follow the state’s carefully drawn campaign laws.

If Washington isn’t especially mindful of his own rules infractions — or overly remorseful about them once they’re discovered — how reassured should we be that he’ll diligently enforce those of other candidates?

Unless, that is, he intends to hold others to a standard he seems incapable or unwilling to meet himself.

Perhaps even more disturbing, when notified of Clark’s allegations Washington wasn’t even initially aware the forms hadn’t been filed.

After contacting his campaign treasurer — who is also his daughter — Washington acknowledged the problem, explaining that the forms had been sent to his Post Office box for a signature but that he had neglected to pick them up and send them in.

Clark, however, notes that the forms can easily be filed online, thus eliminating the inconvenience of physically signing and mailing them in at all — something else you’d assume a candidate who aspires to hold the position having responsibility for knowing the ins and outs of campaign regulations would already know.

Washington engaged in a necessary piece of damage control last week, including hiring a professional accounting firm to make sure “all the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed.”

That’s a nice first step, but again, as auditor he’s already supposed to know and obey the rules. He shouldn’t need to bring in outside consultants to make sure he toes the line.

Let’s be clear here. No one is questioning Washington’s honesty or suggesting he had any reason to purposely withhold information from the Public Disclosure Commission — and, by extension, from the voters.

What we’re saying is that, Washington’s rationalizations to the contrary, it doesn’t speak well for his competence to manage Kitsap County’s elections office when, in his very first campaign, he finds himself in violation of the sort of regulations an auditor is supposed to know like the back of his hand.

And the fact that, when exposed, Washington doesn’t consider his gaffe any big deal strikes us as arguably a bigger deal than the original mistake itself.

Washington trumpets his experience with the King County elections office to prove he can be an effective auditor here.

The problem is, at first glance it appears he wants to bring that department’s well-chronicled indifference to rules and procedures to Kitsap. And that we can live without.

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