03.31.2009 0

Editorial: HUD Nominee’s Incompetence No Surprise

  • On: 04/13/2009 10:38:44
  • In: Appointments
  • “It’s surprising to me that anyone would think this case is representative of his three terms in office as executive.”—King County Executive Ron Sims’ spokeswoman, Carolyn Duncan.

    When Carolyn Duncan feigned surprise that a freedom of information request taking four years to process would reflect poorly on Ron Sims’ record as King County Executive, she must have chosen her words very carefully. They were, in fact, an exercise of understatement.

    When one files a freedom of information request from their government, whether it be at a local, state or federal level, there is a legitimate expectation that the information will be received within a reasonable length of time so as to make proper use of it.

    And when Armen Yousoufian asked for the county’s studies conducted on proposed food taxes and the proposed Seattle Seahawks stadium, King County residents were just weeks away from voting on a referendum to raise taxes by $300 million. Unfortunately for them, they would not be able to see those studies until four years later.

    Mr. Yousoufian correctly believed the records were important at the time of the tax hike referendum. And they certainly were of little use after the fact. Records, studies, or other information used by officials to take questions to voters for approval ought to be in the public eye, so that the people have all of the facts before they make their weighty decision, not after—and certainly not after four years of wrangling and a law suit.

    According to the AP story, “A judge found the county had been negligent, misleading and inexcusably disorganized…” all under the watch of County Executive Ron Sims, Barack Obama’s nominee for deputy at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

    And despite Carolyn Duncan’s duplicitous “I’m shocked,” in defending Mr. Sims’ record, this episode is anything but surprising. Rather, it is the culmination of incompetence, questionable decisions, and outright abuse of power that were the rule rather than the exception throughout the Sims administration.

    Under his watch, Mr. Sims gave a low-interest-rate HUD loan to build a four-star hotel at the Seattle Tacoma International Airport. The hotel was owned by a union pension fund manager and one of the world’s largest hotel and casino operators. These loans are intended to clean up blighted areas and usually go to non-profits, low-income housing developers, and social service agencies, not for opulent hotels. Will Mr. Sims reveal his full financial relationship with the owner of the hotel, including any history of campaign donations to the Senate? Based on Mr. Sims’ record, American taxpayers perhaps should expect more handouts to union bosses to build more lavish enterprises. Right, Ms. Duncan?

    Mr. Sims’ judgment in simple matters of basic human decency is also quite questionable. The Chief Medical Examiner, Richard Harruff, was never fired despite a laundry list of scandals including: losing a body, selling organs, a lawsuit about an involuntary organ donation, gross photo contests, lawsuits over sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, employees being paid to provide semen samples, an investigator stealing and consuming drugs from the dead, bodies left on the floor, and chemicals being poured down the drain illegally. Just how disorganized would HUD have to be for anybody to be fired under Mr. Sims’ watch, or for incompetence to be reported to the Secretary of HUD, Ms. Duncan?

    Another example was in 2004 at the election division that was horribly botched: felons voted, dead people voted, hundreds of ballots were found after election day, provisional ballots were counted without eligibility verification, a number of people were able to vote twice, and unregistered voters’ ballots were counted. After the debacle, voters chose to take the power to appoint election heads away from the County Executive, making Dean Logan—a Sims appointment largely responsible for the voting debacle—the last such appointed official. Mr. Sims even had the temerity upon the resignation of Mr. Logan to say that he was “one of the most respected elections administrators in the nation,” and noted “his consummate professionalism…” Really? Is that representative of Mr. Sims’ judgment, Ms. Duncan?

    Freedom of information requests taking four years to process, union bosses building four-star hotels, and the inability to recognize incompetence and mismanagement appear to be Mr. Sims’ crowning achievements as a County Executive. And Ms. Duncan is surprised that questions would be raised about her boss?

    So, with all due respect to Ms. Duncan, not only was the 1997 episode of withholding vital information from voters on a $300 million tax hike referendum representative of his terms in office, it was just one of many offenses against the people of King County. And although it may come as a great relief to them to see him kicked upstairs out of their hair, the country as a whole deserves better.

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