As state auditor, I welcome the considerable interest I have seen in the news recently in keeping local governments accountable to the public. I often say that shining a light on issues is our job, and that means attracting public attention as a vital part of accountability.
About 2,300 local governments serve our communities across Washington. It’s important to understand that the great majority, more than 90 percent, provide their financial information to the Office of the Washington State Auditor as required by state law.
However, a small number of governments do not provide their information. Governments that do not participate in the audit process for three years or more are declared “unauditable.” That category includes Enumclaw’s King County Drainage District 5, which was also the subject of a recent fraud investigation. These local governments have closed their taxpayer-funded finances to public review.
The list of unauditable local governments has been reduced from nearly 300 in 2012 to 40 today. This population represents less than 2 percent of all local governments in the state. Nevertheless, any government refusing public accountability is unacceptable.
As state Auditor, I have made full compliance from these governments a priority. In the past month, our office has taken four steps toward that goal:
• We published the Guide to Unauditable Governments in Washington, available online, detailing their names, locations and characteristics.
• We have created a new type of special report, a “report on an unauditable government,” which documents for the public a government’s status.
• Because failure to meet annual financial filing requirements and to submit to an audit qualifies as noncompliance with state law, we will transmit all of these reports to the state attorney general’s office for possible action.
• And we are contacting county officials in those areas that contain an unauditable local government to raise their awareness of the issue.
Audits are one way the people of Washington can see how their governments are working. They provide an independent and objective view on what is being done and offer recommendations to fix any issues.
There are other paths to transparency. I appreciate the attention of The Seattle Times and other news organizations on accountability issues, as well as efforts from area legislators and the Metropolitan King County Council to ensure all governments comply with accountability laws. I applaud citizens across the state who engage in the most direct form of public accountability: voting and running in local elections.
I encourage everyone to go to sao.wa.gov and review the facts on the governments that represent them. And to every local government that embraces public audits — just about all of them — thank you for giving the people of Washington greater confidence in government.