Category Archives: Government

Bremerton Audit Comes Back Clean, Again

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No Sleep Till Bremerton

The state Auditor issued a accountability audit report on the city of Bremerton earlier this week and for the third year in a row the state’s public finance watchdog found nothing worth barking about.

(To see the two documents produced in the audit click here and direct your attention to the top two items on the page)

The audit examined certain financial transactions from Jan 1, 2006 through Dec. 31, 2006 focusing on “specific areas that have potential for abuse and misuse of public resources,” the report said.

And the verdict?

“The City complied with state laws and regulations and its own policies and procedures in the areas we examined,” the report said, thus no findings were issued.

This comes on the heels of “no findings” reported for the 2004 and 2005 audits. The audits did have findings in the 2001 and the 2003 audits.

Jerry Pugnetti, chief policy adviser for the auditor’s office, cautioned that he could not provide specifics, but said anecdotally most government audits don’t have “findings.”

“I would say most of our audits have no findings,” he said.

“Findings” are the the most serious violations, with “management letter items” coming in second and “exit items” third.

In cases where there are findings it’s usually because of cash handling policies, he said.

However, he said three straight years without a finding wasn’t a bad record.

City Staff Gets Some Props

When people who are not working in city hall talk to me about city staff, it isn’t generally about things they consider positive.

Here’s an exception, though.

On Monday we will probably have a story about a new go-cart place in Bremerton. I’ll provide the link once it’s online.

The owners, husband and wife Rick and Shawn Wilson, had lots of praise for Bremerton city staff. He said he’d been told by a friend with a business just on the other side of Riddell Road, which means it’s in the county’s jurisdiction, that working with the county government had been a real challenge.

Rick Wilson expected there to be a lot more headaches than there were. While he said the process wasn’t necessarily a breeze, city staff members showed a consistent willingness to work with him.

Little Time for Drama

Before taking over the Bremerton beat I covered Bainbridge Island for three years. The first and most obvious difference between the two city councils was in the length of the meetings. Islanders commonly talk well into the night. The Bremerton council seldom stays past 8 p.m.

Wednesday, however, the agenda was packed with meat. It’s the annual comprehensive plan amendment time and there were parks, bikes, pedestrians and building heights to discuss. Additionally there was something about building heights on Highland, not part of the comp plan.

I didn’t come to the pro forma meeting in the first-floor chambers. I got to the building after everyone had gone upstairs for the study session. The security guard at the bottom asked if I was going to the top floor, which I was. He said I needed a pass to get up there. What he meant was an electronic security pass, because without it the elevators wouldn’t work. Further, he said it had always been that way.

I knew he was wrong on the last point. I’d gone to several meetings in the past after hours and never had to wave an electronic card in the elevator. Furthermore, you can’t schedule a public meeting and make it impossible for people to attend. On Bainbridge three times I arrived at city council meetings to find the doors locked, because the city had them set on a timer. It was a mix up all three times. In this case, because I hadn’t experienced it before in Bremerton, I thought someone had unwittingly broken the open meetings laws. The guard used his card to let me get up the elevators. After the meeting Ken Bagwell, assistant city attorney, told me it was a goof. They know the rules.

The meeting itself, because there was so much meat, was good even if it was long. But long meetings make people punchy or nervous. Council President Will Maupin was charged with pushing things along. Councilman Brad Gehring was asking questions about the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan about how much emphasis was being placed on bikes (edited to add: and not so much on pedestrians). Maupin, conscious of the clock, said “I think we’re wasting our time talking about it,” because the questions Gehring was asking wouldn’t be addressed in concrete for years.

Nonetheless, there are solid reasons to ask questions when plans are being drawn or risk losing a chance when the council starts appropriating money. Gehring was obviously peeved and said, “If we don’t waste our time talking about it, we’re not doing our job, are we.”

The moment was brief. Council members in Bremerton do have their likes and dislikes about each other, but generally they keep up the decorum. Contrasted with Bainbridge, where the mayor recently cried in a council meeting and where council members are accused of theater, the drama on that dais in Bremerton is minimal.

No judgment here, just my observation.

The meeting got out after 9 p.m.

747’s Demise Not Changing Bremerton’s Plans

This same item is posted on the Kitsap Caucus blog.

On Wednesday’s council agenda is one item that for the past five years has been a pro forma event, the passing of the 1 percent property tax levy increase.

This year, however, the city has all the legal right in the world to throw upcoming election margins to the wind and grab 6 percent. Council members appear in no mood to do that, heeding Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plea that local governments not rush for the cash in light of the overturned Initiative 747.

The council will also effectively lower its business and occupation tax by increasing the exemption from $40,000 to $60,000. This is part of the city’s intended move to eventually eliminate the tax completely to give businesses something of a break and make the city competitive with the county.

Legal Costs

Andrew Binion tells the story of the city’s legal battle with one of its former planners, Kenneth Lassiter.

The story began when police responded to a 911 call.

A neighbor held the telephone up in the air so even the 911 dispatcher on the other end heard some of the man’s words — in particular, those that sounded like threats to cut a woman’s throat with a knife.

Lassiter took the city to court over how its cops and legal department treated him that night, but the ongoing fight is about so much more.

Wi-Fi Speedbumps Elsewhere

According to USA Today, other cities are struggling with their Wi-Fi installations.

Plans to blanket cities across the nation with low-cost or free wireless Internet access are being delayed or abandoned because they are proving to be too costly and complicated.
Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities are putting proposed Wi-Fi networks on hold.

“Wi-Fi woes everywhere you turn,” says Russell Hancock of Silicon Valley Network, a troubled Wi-Fi project for 40 towns in California’s high-tech corridor.

Bremerton’s lives on. I’m not sure what significant differences there are between what Bremerton’s doing and what these other places have attempted. Nonetheless, I’ve seen no signs of the local service going away.

Time Theft

Bremerton Public Works officials believe one of their employees, Ann Lyn Beahm, stole from the city by falsifying time sheets. Her lawyer, however, argues that charging her with a felony is a bit much, even if all the accusations were true, which he says is not the case.

Sunday’s story came primarily from the Bremerton Police’s probable cause statement and attorney Clayton Longacre. Based on the police statement, Beahm’s fellow employees started keeping records of Beahm’s attendance. She does payroll for the city as well as other office duties. During a six-month period they wrote her hours on a calendar.

I don’t recall hearing of an employer taking an employee to criminal court over work time. For embezzlement they’ll do it, often to their detriment. While working for The Columbian I wrote how some employers were hiring investigators to catch people in the act of sneaking funds away from companies, then getting judgments in civil court. That way the employer gets the money back.

I checked with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and didn’t find a prosecution vs. settlement statistic specific to payroll abuse, but companies in all industries except manufacturing tend to take fraud cases to criminal court more than half the time. Payroll crime accounts for 17.8 percent of the fraud committed in small businesses and 21 percent of the fraud committed in government agencies. The dollar amounts, however, are generally smaller than in other kinds of fraud. The median payroll fraud is about $50,000.

None of the ACFE information has anything specific to do with Beahm’s case. Bremerton is accusing her of stealing about $3,800. Again it’s worth noting that she’s fighting the charges rather than settling. She said she did much of her work at home and her attorney said some of the documentation her fellow employees provided was not accurate.

Nonetheless, a couple of our readers are rushing to convict her, based on the comments I’m seeing on the story. Others are arguing, however, that what she was accused of doing is common. They’re not saying it’s right, mind you, but common.

I read comments on another blog referencing this story in which people were arguing that employers more often get employees work for free, but no one ever prosecutes them criminally for getting more work than they’re paying for.

Accounting for Danger

I don’t intend to make light of a tragedy, but a story about the investigation of Dean Westcott’s death includes the following news.

In terms of deaths involving government employees in the last two years Labor and Industries has investigated the deaths of four police officers, a fire captain who died in a training exercise, a tree trimmer in Tacoma who was hit by a power pole, an accountant in Spokane who died on the job after falling and hitting his head and an 87-year-old Labor and Industries employee who in August fell down the stairs in the workplace.

Most compelling is the news of the Spokane accountant who was killed on the job. I would like to find out more, but in my conversation with the Labor and Industries spokeswoman today I didn’t ask for details. I also see nothing in searching Google. If I find out more, I’ll let you know.

Bremerton Employee Killed

A Bremerton public works street service specialist died from injuries sustained in a work-related accident Wednesday.

“It’s hard to know what to say. It’s just such a sad day,” said Phil Williams, Bremerton’s public works director. “It’s a very sad day for the city of Bremerton.”

Dean Westcott was with a Bremerton street crew preparing to repave the road at the intersection of 11th Street and Callow Avenue.

The city initially reported Westcott was likely hit by a city vehicle backing up around 8:30 a.m.

Westcott was taken to Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, then transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The intersection was closed for several hours Wednesday, then re-opened to traffic in the afternoon.

Williams said public works personnel, as well as Westcott’s family, were able to meet with chaplains from the police and fire department on Wednesday. “Beyond that we’re still putting together a longer range view of what we need to do,” he said.

Public works crews continued to work on Thursday, though on lighter duty.