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Thurston County Commissioners Deny the Reality of Math

Thurston County Commissioners Deny the Reality of Math

October 22, 2014

In the math-denying universe of Thurston County's budget process—there is no objective way for anyone to understand how money is being spent. Regardless of whether you use Excel, a calculator, an abacus, or your fingers—your math will be more accurate than Thurston County's proposed budget.
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In a sad saga that has earned attention from all around Washington State and substantial local embarrassment, the Thurston County commissioners are now compounding their epic failures of leadership by attempting to deny the reality of math.

Nobody expects politicians to be the smartest people in the community, and fortunately for the Thurston County commissioners there is no intelligence test required before a politician can hold office. However, even with the conditioning of low expectations, many residents of Thurston County are noticing the fumbling of Thurston County's budget process this year.

This should come as no surprise to veteran observers of the Thurston County commissioners. In a sparsely attended budget hearing from 2010, it was reported that Commissioner Sandra Romero asked then recently appointed Treasurer Shawn Meyers what the parenthesis meant which were around some of the numbers in the budget.

Keep in mind, these three commissioners—Cathy Wolfe, Sandra Romero, and Karen Valenzuela -- have more than 100 years of collective experience either as Democratic legislators, school board directors or city council members. Yet apparently, they didn't know what a negative number looked like on a spreadsheet.

The always pleasant, polite, and poker-faced Meyers was able to explain the math to the commissioners without laughing, crying or otherwise reacting to the strange question.

That was four years ago, but math still challenges the Thurston County commissioners. As reported in this story from last week, the first proposed 2015 budget was so screwed up that even the Thurston County Budget Director Robin Campbell was forced to admit the 278-page document was suffering from a technology "glitch." So when it became clear that nobody knew the real budget in Thurston County, the vote was postponed until the end of the month.

Unfortunately, in the revised budget document which was made public last week (called the "Fix the Glitch" Budget 1.0), the math still didn't add up.

As just one simple example, see the following page 19 and look in the right hand column under "Resource Stewardship" (this is the department where pocket gopher police, the rain-tax folk and all the central planners reside).

The budget math might temporarily add up for this version. However, nobody can tell how many employees are going to be working in this department next year. The right hand column is supposed to represent the number of "FTE" (full-time employees or full-time equivalent). This is where math denial is in evidence.

As just one example, add the far right column in "Resource Stewardship." Hint: It isn't the number presented here

When anyone adds the column on the right, regardless of whether one uses Excel, a calculator, an abacus, fingers or even Common Core Math Mountains, you will come to a total of 52.7 FTEs.

Yet, in the math-denying universe of this government budget, the politicians somehow come to a total of 63.5 FTEs. That is a difference of 10.8 employees

In the original "glitched" budget presented to the public the previous week, the real math for the employees in this category was 48.52 and the fiction math was presented as 54.25.

That was a real math difference of 5.73 employees.

Usually, "fix the glitch" is Office Space code for firing employees, which this budget certainly does in the sheriff's budget, but it appears to mean increasing staff levels in the Central Planning Department (euphemistically called "Resource Stewardship" by Thurston County).

While this may accurately reflect the priorities of these commissioners, it certainly is something the residents of Thurston County may wish to question. However, what numbers should be questioned? The fuzzy fiction math used by Thurston County or the real math obtained using the archaic art of simple addition?

This presents a challenge to citizens who wish to be involved in this process and ask questions.

The problem with questioning authority in Thurston County, however, is that Thurston County has chosen to deny this math is real or that these numbers reflect anything close to the reality of what they actually plan to do with the hard-earned tax dollars they plan to squander in 2015.

At the Oct. 14 commissioner meeting, Robin Campbell (the person theoretically responsible for producing this budget) claimed that there was a special "government budget app" the ignorant peasants could use to "better understand" government accounting, and which Thurston County would help train people to use.

However, when a humble rube bothers to navigate this "app," it appears to actually be a program designed to hide the details of the budget and just give the inquiring person a Cliff Notes version with no details.

Denial is the first human response to bad news. The denial of reality is standard operating procedure here, as evidenced by the repeated and reported denials by Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore (salary $141,000—including a recent $10,000 pay raise- no fuzzy math here) that the recent $12 million jury verdict against Thurston County "won't cost taxpayers anything."

The Thurston County Commissioners are in the Money Wasting Hall of Fame

That fiasco is discussed in more detail here.

In addition to denial, an effort has also been made to deflect blame from their own failures at math onto the Sheriff's Department. This blame game was initiated by Thurston County when local resident Jon Petit pointed out how Thurston County appeared to be attempting to erase budget history by changing the historical numbers of past budgets in an apparent effort to make this budget look better.

There were flashbacks to George Orwell's references to flushing history down the "memory hole" in his book "1984."

Petit showed just one example of this historical revision by pointing out a few critical categories of budgets drafted for the sheriff's road deputies. Depending on which version of the current budget one consulted, these presented different amounts for the 2013 and 2014 figures that were being continuously revised downwards to make the current budget cuts not look so bad (millions of dollars difference).

This was then loudly and publicly blamed on the Sheriff's Department and its desire to "re-categorize" certain types of expenses. This is a claim the Sheriff's Department rejects.

As a reward for years of service in producing such impressive work and suffering under the leadership of the Thurston County commissioners, Campbell was recently promoted to a newly invented position at Thurston County called the "deputy county manager," which came with a hefty pay increase over 30 percent to $131,000.

Ms. Campbell is probably worth every penny of this pay raise, and it is becoming more understandable why the Thurston County commissioners were forced to lay off their lowest paid employees—the janitorial staff

After all, if someone had the skill to invent 10 employees out of thin air for the Central Planning Department, change actual math to meet the current political math needs and convince a gullible local media like John Dodge at the Olympian there's nothing to see here, then that person is certainly worth more than a handful of lowly janitors or road deputies with more mundane jobs.

For the rest of the residents and taxpayers of Thurston County, denying the reality of math is not a realistic option. There will be no way to avoid the reality of the outcome of a reduction in public safety. Everything will continue to be done by the active citizens who are trying to wake up these commissioners to the reality of math.

However, residents of this county need to be aware this is happening.

For those who don't live in Thurston County, you should start paying attention to your local elected officials, too. Math denial is not uncommon among politicians. Your local politicians may be in denial, as well.

There are a plague of consequences for letting these people run local government

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