Special election districts will have greater transparency after the King County Council approved a measure to help reduce the risk of fraud.
The measure was approved May 15 and stems from an Enumclaw drainage district commissioner who is accused of funneling around $400,000 to his son’s business for maintenance before pocketing it. It was also discovered the district may not have held elections since the mid-1980s. While these districts are not overseen by King County, the county does provide assistance and election resources to them.
The measure approved by the county council directs the King County Executive Office to perform a compliance review of elections, finance processes and procedures for each special district. This includes finding out when the last election was held and if there are any vacancies. It will additionally include how much tax or fee revenue was collected by each district in the past five years along with loan information and audit records.
Special districts in the county range in size dramatically, with the Stevens Pass Sewer District having only seven taxpayers while large entities like the Port of Seattle have nearly 1.3 million. However, this measure would only affect roughly seven special districts that hold their own elections and are not part of the county’s regular election ballots. At the May 15 meeting, county staff said they are working to identify which districts will be affected.
“This legislation is very important in my judgment to create accountability to taxpayers,” council member Reagan Dunn said.
While the county does not have the ability to force oversight or authority over these special districts, it can provide information to increase transparency. The cost for special elections — which do not appear on the regular county ballots — are generally funded by taxpayers in those districts. County staff said the average cost of an election for a drainage district for between 500 and 1,000 property owners is around $4,000.
Concerns about how special districts conduct elections and provide services have been raised after the Enumclaw Police Department conducted an investigation into Drainage District 5, a special purpose tax district that maintains drainage ditches in northeast Enumclaw, taxing roughly 600 residents. The report alleges commissioner Allan Thomas has stolen $400,000 from the district by directing it to his son’s business to provide maintenance between 2012 and 2017.
The Enumclaw Courier-Herald has been covering the alleged fraud and reported that Dunn had reached out to the FBI in a letter stating there was a “likelihood that the district commissioners had not been duly elected since the 1980s,” and said it appeared Thomas’ actions may have been criminal.
There are three seats on the Enumclaw drainage district’s commissioner panel, but only two are occupied at this time. The council is also seeking to remove these commissioners from their seats. A lack of oversight may have allowed the alleged fraud to go unnoticed for decades.
The measure passed on May 15 by the county council is intended to create transparency for drainage, irrigation, flooding and conservation districts in particular. The report from the county executive was requested withing 120 days of the measure passing.