Douglas Cole, who was quietly reassigned last year, was told he 'damaged' his reputation and the Department of Corrections' after his facility fudged budget projections and broke department guidelines on buying items like furnaces and mattresses.
OLYMPIA — The superintendent of a Washington corrections center who was quietly reassigned last year has been reprimanded for “poor judgment” after his facility inflated its budget projections and disregarded agency guidelines for purchases, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times.
But the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) found that Douglas Cole broke no laws, according to an agency spokesman. The DOC’s investigation concluded that questionably purchased items — including furnaces, mattresses and a lawn mower — all likely made their way to the facility.
For almost eight years, Cole served as the superintendent of Cedar Creek Corrections Center, which DOC describes as a minimum-security facility that houses nearly 500 prisoners in Littlerock, Thurston County.
Last March, DOC quietly reassigned Cole to another job at the agency after an initial internal review revealed that the prison inflated its own budget projections and broke state purchasing guidelines.
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In a November letter of reprimand to Cole, DOC Deputy Secretary Julie Martin wrote that he “used poor judgment” on the purchasing decisions “and intentionally misrepresented projected expenditures.”
“Based on your actions,” Martin wrote in the letter, “you have damaged your reputation along with the reputation of the agency based on your poor decision making and failure to follow required processes and protocols. You were responsible for all operational decisions at CCCC and have proven that your poor judgment has impacted the agency and the staff who worked for you as the Superintendent and leader.”
Both the letter of reprimand and DOC’s final investigation report were obtained through a public records request.
The initial review last year documented that officials at the facility had disregarded DOC guidelines on about $145,000 of purchases that had been made since July 2016. Ignoring such guidelines could “severely compromise” DOC operations, according to that review.
To avoid getting required approval by higher-ups or putting the items out to bid, Cedar Creek officials split up purchases into lower dollar amounts.
In one instance, multiple furnaces were purchased over four different billings for a total of $18,600 — a total cost that should have gotten approval from DOC headquarters, and bids for the equipment. The initial review concluded that the agency likely would have gotten a better price if those furnaces were bought together.
The review and final investigation found that the facility inflated some of its projected expenditure numbers for at least two years, figures which were referred to as “sprinkles.”
A DOC staffer raised concerns early last year about missing information in Cedar Creek’s budget projections. When she asked Cole about it, “he gave her a packet of documents and told her that HQ and budget did not know about it,” according to the investigation report.
When interviewed for the final investigation, Cole disputed that account and said he didn’t try to conceal anything from the staffer. He said the practice of inflating budget projections was to account for future situations such as broken equipment before problems happened. He said he didn’t consider that unethical.
Cole also told investigators that he didn’t recall specific details of purchasing policies and said he relied on staffers for such expertise.
In an email to The Seattle Times, Cole disputed the investigation’s findings.
“I do not agree with the results of the investigation and/or with the contents of the letter,” he wrote. “Regardless, I have decided to put this behind me and move on with my career of 35 years with the Department of Corrections.”
Before his reassignment, Cole earned $96,684 annually. He has since become a performance adviser for the agency, with a salary of $83,580 per year, according to DOC.
No other agency employees have been disciplined as a result of the investigation, according to DOC spokesman Jeremy Barclay.