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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

If You Don't Care to Educate Yourself About the Office, then You Don't Deserve the Privilege of Endorsing for It

Posted by on Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 10:17 AM

There are a lot of Seattle Times editorial board endorsements to fisk for their stupid or misleading reasoning, but the one for state auditor is particular emblematic of the fundamental problem with the politically lucrative endorsement industry as a whole.

The editors complain that "neither candidate is up to the task of rooting out waste and fraud," and that they were "given a disappointing choice between two flawed candidates," Democrat Troy Kelley and Republican James Watkins. But... um... out of a relatively well qualified four-man field, these were the two candidates who the Seattle Times endorsed in the primary!

Their excuse?

Much has changed since The Times editorial board named Kelley and Watkins in July as the clear-cut standouts in a crowded primary field. What followed was a series of mudslinging distortions brought on by Watkins’ campaign against the Democrat. Kelley, an attorney, failed to defend himself against the attacks.

In the end, the tone of Watkins’ accusations is what tipped the scales in Kelley’s favor.

No, nothing has changed since the Seattle Times endorsed Kelley and Watkins in July. Watkins was always a mud-slinging far-right-wing Tea Bagger. That's how he ran his two campaigns for Congress, so why should anybody expect him to run his auditor campaign any differently? He was also clearly the least qualified of the four primary candidates, the other three of whom were all sitting legislators with valuable experience on the crucial Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee.

But Watkins is a Republican while the other candidates were all Democrats, and so that's how he snagged the paper's primary endorsement.

As for Kelley, he wasn't our choice in the primary (to be fair, he couldn't make the SECB interview, so he didn't have a fighting chance) but he certainly has the professional experience to recommend him for the job. That hasn't changed since July. Neither have the allegations raised in a couple of lawsuits against him. They were public record in July too, so if the Seattle Times editorial board wasn't aware of them, then they weren't doing their job.

No, the editors weren't led astray by the candidates, but rather by the distorted partisan lens in which they view the auditor's job. The editors lament that "neither candidate is up to the task of rooting out waste and fraud," a complaint that is clearly rooted in the belief that state and local government is absolutely rife with waste and fraud. They were looking for an auditor with an agenda. But that's not the auditor's job.

Conducting financial audits—the primary role of the state auditor—is pretty cut and dry. There are established standards for how one keeps the books, and established standards for how one audits them. If the numbers don't add up, or the accounting practices are improper or inadequate, any competent, trustworthy financial audit will find it. That's the state auditor's main job: hiring and managing competent, trustworthy auditors. There should be nothing partisan or political about it.

But performance audits are another beast entirely. These are quality control and efficiency reviews intended to find new cost savings and uncover unproductive practices. To be conducted properly, a performance audit requires auditors specialized in the field being audited—for example, a performance audit of the ferry system and a performance audit of a school district require two different skill sets. And while there are standard practices for conducting a performance audit, the job is a lot more complicated than whether two columns of numbers add up. The goal is to find more efficient ways of delivering existing government services, or to uncover those services that can't be justified at all.

But perhaps the most important difference between a financial audit and a performance audit is that to be successful, the latter requires the full cooperation and buy-in of the workers being audited. Performance audits don't work well when they are perceived to be prosecutorial and adversarial. The most productive performance audits engage those being audited in uncovering new cost savings; after all, nobody knows the job better than those performing it. And simply recommending potential cost savings doesn't make them a reality. When you use a performance to publicly humiliate an agency and its employees—as retiring auditor Brian Sonntag too often did—it becomes harder for the agency to work up the enthusiasm to fully implement the recommendations. It also becomes harder for other agencies to enthusiastically participate in future audits. That's human nature.

The Seattle Times editorial board started from the assumption that government agencies are filled with slackers and crooks, and so they endorsed the two auditor candidates they believed would prosecute the office's responsibilities most aggressively. They got the general election choice they asked for. So, you know, quit your whining.

You wouldn't always know it from the style in which we write our SECB endorsements, but the thing I'm most proud of about our endorsements is the effort we put into making them. We heard from a number of candidates for down-ticket statewide races—particularly from those in the auditor's race—that The Stranger's was the most informed, engaging, and policy-oriented editorial endorsement interview they had. That for me is the biggest compliment we could receive coming out of an interview.

If you don't care to educate yourself about the fundamental differences between a financial audit and a performance audit, then you don't deserve the privilege of endorsing in this race.

No doubt members of the other newspaper editorial boards take their jobs more solemnly. But when our endorsements come out tomorrow, rest assured that nobody takes its job more seriously than the SECB.

 

Comments (24) RSS

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1
Their, not they're, excuse.
Posted by Typo Nazi on October 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 2
"They're excuse?"

I'm guessing ... spell czech?
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on October 16, 2012 at 10:25 AM · Report this
quix 3
Goldy, valid points aside, for the love of all that is holy, proofread. "They're excuse?" You're better than that.
Posted by quix on October 16, 2012 at 10:25 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
See, this is why the Times is officially a paper.

They actually have a second person proofread stuff.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on October 16, 2012 at 10:27 AM · Report this
Rujax! 5
"The Stranger's was the most informed, engaging, and policy-oriented editorial endorsement interview they had."

The Seattle Times as an editorial voice is a joke. A mouthpiece for the brain-damaged and morally challenged Blethen family. That the Times board is ill-informed, biased and ignorant of policy is a real shock.

Right.
Posted by Rujax! http://rujax.blogspot.com/ on October 16, 2012 at 10:30 AM · Report this
Goldy 6

@1, @2, @3 OH MY GOD! You found a typo in a thousand word post, minutes after posting! Please let that be the focus of the comment thread.

(FYI, I ALWAYS find typos in my posts after I post, which is why I generally proof and reproof them after they go live. Generally, gimme 10 minutes, and then start making fun of me.)

@4 Gillian and Anna meticulously copyedit the paper. We do not have the resources to copyedit Slog, as much as some of us need it.

Posted by Goldy on October 16, 2012 at 10:34 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
We don't get paid to post them.

If you want to be treated like the Times, then have another person view your page and run a basic spellcheck. But by posting such things, you let the unwashed masses incorrectly presume that the Times is a real paper, since they meet a higher bar than you do.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on October 16, 2012 at 11:07 AM · Report this
8
It's all well and good to call out the Times for it's agenda bias in selecting who to endorse for Auditor, but can you honestly say that the Stranger didn't use its own agenda bias in their selection of Pridemore vs Miloscia? Miloscia's lukewarm attitude towards SSM and abortion couldn't have helped his chances (it didn't with the King County Dems) despite the fact that none of that stuff has any relevance to the auditors position.

So come clean SECB, are you really saying that Miloscia's poor gay/women's rights record had no effect on your choice? Considering he was arguably the most qualified Democratic candidate (i.e. he actually has auditing experience), it certainly couldn't have been lack of credentials or ability that hurt him.
Posted by K on October 16, 2012 at 11:19 AM · Report this
Farbe 9
All you grammar and style nazis need to take a break.

And Will in Seattle again proves he is a putz. The Times is not a newspaper, most days it is no more than a pamphlet.
Posted by Farbe on October 16, 2012 at 11:23 AM · Report this
Goldy 10
@8 I'd say Miloscia, Pridemore, and Kelley were all qualified. Watkins has a decent resume too, but it's unverifiable, and he was awfully loose in his use of the word "audit" vs. "engagement" to describe his actual experience.

Pridemore got our endorsement because he was the only candidate who didn't seem to want to operate the office with an agenda. And unlike Miloscia, Pridemore better understood that performance audits of different agencies require different skills.

But please, call up Miloscia and see if he had any complaints with our interview. I'm sure he would have preferred to have received our endorsement, I betcha he'll tell you he got a fair hearing, and that social issues never once came up.
Posted by Goldy on October 16, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Report this
MacCrocodile 11
@7 - This coming from the dimwit who regularly posts "facts" that he pulls directly from his ass without the slightest attempt at research.
Posted by MacCrocodile http://maccrocodile.com/ on October 16, 2012 at 11:49 AM · Report this
quix 12
@6: Goldy, contrary to what you and your very delicate feelings seem to believe, this is a glass-house-stone-throwing sort of issue. A great deal of what you publish on Slog revels in the professional shortcomings of others (McKenna is a a crappy lawyer, the Times is a crappy paper, etc.). Typing teh instead of the is an understandable typo; making the their/they're/there mistake after the fifth grade is inexplicable. When a professional writer writes something like "They're excuse?", approves it upon proofreading, and then publishes it, he invites ridicule. Nobody called you a crappy writer. They just teased you mildly. Grow a thicker skin, sweet pea, and bear in mind that you dish out far worse.
Posted by quix on October 16, 2012 at 12:02 PM · Report this
quix 13
And yes, I see the stutter that made it past my own proofreading. Oops.
Posted by quix on October 16, 2012 at 12:06 PM · Report this
14
Yes, making typos in blog posts is exactly the same as making endorsements based on irrelevant partisan issues.
Posted by digitalwitch on October 16, 2012 at 12:17 PM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 15
Piling on! "Cut and dried," not "cut and dry."

Otherwise excellent. I'd like to print this post, roll it up, and cram it up Bruce Ramsey's butt.
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on October 16, 2012 at 12:27 PM · Report this
16
You call Watkins a mud-slinging far-right-wing "tea bagger" (Christian who believes in Constitutional values and fiscal responsibility in government), but when the mud is part of the public record I would call it "mud bringing" rather than mudslinging. The public has a need to know about Kelly's documented fraudulent funds transfers, tampering of evidence, questionable business schemes, tax evasion, and hiding approximately $3.8 million from creditors, because the state auditor will be overseeing the spending of public money.

You may think Watkins is insufficiently qualified to be state auditor, but retiring auditor Brian Sonntag has said he thinks Watkins is in fact very well qualified. (Kelley initially lied about Sonntag endorsing him early in the campaign.) I think 23 years experience in a variety of businesses, including auditing experience and management of hundreds of employees, sufficiently qualifies Watkins for state auditor. The fact that Watkins has no similar character issues makes him a far more favorable and trustworthy candidate than Troy Kelley.
Posted by Jon_C on October 16, 2012 at 2:47 PM · Report this
17
You call Watkins a mud-slinging far-right-wing "tea bagger" (Christian who believes in Constitutional values and fiscal responsibility in government), but when the mud is part of the public record I would call it "mud bringing" rather than mudslinging. The public has a need to know about Kelly's documented fraudulent funds transfers, tampering of evidence, questionable business schemes, tax evasion, and hiding approximately $3.8 million from creditors, because the state auditor will be overseeing the spending of public money.

You may think Watkins is insufficiently qualified to be state auditor, but retiring auditor Brian Sonntag has said he thinks Watkins is in fact very well qualified. (Kelley initially lied about Sonntag endorsing him early in the campaign.) I think 23 years experience in a variety of businesses, including auditing experience and management of hundreds of employees, sufficiently qualifies Watkins for state auditor. The fact that Watkins has no similar character issues makes him a far more favorable and trustworthy candidate than Troy Kelley.
Posted by Jon_C on October 16, 2012 at 2:52 PM · Report this
Mrs. Fields 18
Has anyone published a Chrome extention that would just block all Will in Seattle comments from being visible on SLOG? Because that might make SLOG comments readable again.

That is all.
Posted by Mrs. Fields on October 16, 2012 at 3:01 PM · Report this
oyezoyezoyez 19
Troy Kelley was a member of ALEC. How's that add to his "professional experience?"
Posted by oyezoyezoyez on October 16, 2012 at 3:17 PM · Report this
20
It just takes 3 minutes of slow, careful reading before posting to catch stupid errors. If you want to be taken seriously as a news source, that is. Don't be in such a fucking hurry.
Posted by Typo Nazi on October 16, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
21
I am a Chelan County supporter of James Watkins. I appreciate the indepth interview process at the Stranger. That said, there is no reason to believe that your interpretation of the candidate's answers was as thorough and complete as you might think. I found the 3 Democrats in the race to be strong on political experience and short on the real experience. I failed to find the agenda that you argue Watkins has. The only candidate that outgoing auditor, Brian Sonntag, noted was particularly well qualified is James Watkins. He said nothing about the other three candidates regarding this race. That makes a point worth listening to. Thanks
Posted by khuckster http://chuckslowe.com on October 16, 2012 at 3:58 PM · Report this
22
Goldy is correct on how my interview went.

We do differ on the "requirement" that one needs agency specific skills for all performance audits. It is advantages, but certainly not required. One does not need specific skills unless one was to dig down and audit in the weeds on a specific program or technical audit. For the limited amount of money the SAO has, the ROI on these audits will be small.

For quality, process, ISO, planning, Baldrige, process and other management audits that I am promoting, specific agency skills are not required. I mentioned that I personally audited (Baldrige) a hospital, but have no hospital agency skills. I do have management and quality skills.

I am sure most auditors would agree with my assessment. I am not sure why this difference of opinion was enough to disqualify me.

Posted by Mark Miloscia on October 16, 2012 at 9:30 PM · Report this
23
Sonntag has said that everything he said about Kelley is "as true today as the day I said it," not to mention you are all misquoting Sonntag in what he said about Watkins. I encourage you to go back to the original article and look it up....

Kelley has the most private AND public sector experience and is the only one who has done any verifiable audits, as an audit team leader for the SEC. He also chaired JLARC, where he reviewed and directed performance audits which is way more than Watkins has done in the field.
Posted by Tom Douglas' Knife on October 17, 2012 at 11:08 AM · Report this
24
A few things here: Kelley has the most private and public sector experience. He is the only one with any verifiable auditing experience as an SEC audit team leader, and the chair of JLARC where he reviewed and directed performance audits.

Also, everything Sonntag said about Kelley is "as true today as it was the day I said it" according to Sonntag. And these Watkins folks have misquoted what Sonntag said about him (go look at the original article).

Finally, Kelley is endorsed by all major business and labor groups, law enforcement and education, and has an array of bipartisan endorsements of elected officials (including Rep. Miloscia).

Posted by Tom Douglas' Knife on October 17, 2012 at 11:19 AM · Report this

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