Tag: Brian Sonntag

Former Democrat State Auditor Brian Sonntag Becomes Latest Moderate Excommunicated Under Dem Chair Dwight Pelz

BrianSonntag_headAt a time when Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz’ greatest concern should be protecting a Democratic state Senate in danger in the pivotal state Senate race in the 26th legislative district race, Pelz this week spent his time kicking another moderate Democrat from the party bus for crimes against the party.

Previously, Pelz has labeled state Sens. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlach) as traitors to the Democratic cause for their participation in the reform-minded and game changing Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. Now, it is former State Auditor Brian Sonntag who receives Pelz’ mark of shame.

Pathologically offensive liberal blogger David Goldstein (“Goldy”) revealed the details of Pelz’ unilateral purge on Wednesday at the Stranger by publishing excerpts from emails exchanged between Sonntag and Pelz.

What could have been the tipping point in Pelz’ decision to pull the handle and eject a former statewide official who was elected as a Democrat in 20 years’ worth of elections?

Did Sonntag announce opposition to legal same-sex marriage? No, and neither did Sonntag proclaim support for the pro-life movement or the demolition of the social safety net. His heresy? Pope Pelz believes Sonntag is not union-friendly enough.

According to Goldy, Pelz questioned Sonntag’s dedication to supporting labor unions, an accusation to which Sonntag responded by affirming his support for prevailing wage laws. Pelz’ response to his explanation cut to what appears to be source of Pelz’ conniption  – Sonntag’s recent association with the free market and libertarian-oriented Washington state-based think tank the Freedom Foundation. From Pelz’ email to Sonntag, as printed at the Slog:

By joining the staff of the Freedom Foundation you have chosen to attach your name to its Right Wing, Union Busting agenda. In addition to attempting to pass right to work legislation in Washington, the Freedom Foundation has a long track record of attacking unions.

As evidence of the Foundation’s anti-union bias, Pelz chose to cite from a 2007 Freedom Foundation’s press release praising the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Davenport v. Washington Education Association. The Davenport decision affirmed that public sector unions cannot use fees paid to unions by non-members for political purposes without affirmative authorization. Our understanding of the ruling is that it did not directly affect actual union members in any way.

Pelz continued dressing down Sonntag (a man previously chosen several times by a majority of voters across Washington state) by chiding him for his support of the pro-transparency candidate in the 2012 gubernatorial race – former Attorney General Rob McKenna. Then, the coup de grace.

(For greater drama, folks of my generation and older may imagine these words spoken by Yul Brynner as in his epic performance as Pharaoh Ramses II in the classic 1956 film “The Ten Commandments.”)

Brian, if you are a fan of transparency it is time to acknowledge that you are a moderate Republican now working for a Far Right think tank. As Auditor you worked for Tim Eyman in attacking state and local government. Today you work for Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers – your new job is to bring Washington in line with Wisconsin and Texas and North Carolina as another state that adopts the ALEC agenda.

The lone act of integrity available to you is to simply pay your dues to the Republican Party.

Sonntag’s new colleagues at the Freedom Foundation responded quickly, suggesting that maybe the pressure posed by new leadership in his major opposition might be the cause of his outburst. The Foundation’s executive vice president Trent England wrote:

It’s important to teach children the difference between good attention and bad attention. Failure to do so leads to people like Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democrats. With State Republicans in the news lately with a leadership transition from Kirby Wilbur to Susan Hutchison, Pelz seems to be feeling insecure and looking for attention any way he can get it.

There’s something to be said for England’s theory that we are witnessing an unraveling of Pelz under extreme pressure. Insider chatter following this year’s contentious legislative sessions held that Pelz and the Seattle-based Democratic leadership heard an earful from union bosses. Additionally, the recent record of Democratic losses in legislative elections has certainly been noticed by those who benefit greatly from one-party rule over state government. Add to that the fact that state Rep. Jan Angel’s (R) campaign for 26th legislative district state Senate is maintaining an aggressive underdog attitude even after her strong win in the primary over appointee-incumbent state Sen. Nathan Schlicher (D).

Considering those data points, it’s surprising Pelz hasn’t seen the obvious – while he’s ejecting moderates from his party, voters are slowly moving extremists within his party from power. And if Pelz isn’t careful, he might be the next to join the ranks of the formerly political power.

Brian Sonntag Inducted into “Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame”

BrianSonntag_headFormer State Auditor Brian Sonntag has been inducted into the “Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame.

According to a press release by the National Freedom of Information Coalition:

“Brian Sonntag, who retired earlier this year after serving five terms as the elected State Auditor in Washington state, has been selected for induction into Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) jointly announced Sonntag’s selection as the 2013 inductee today. The formal induction ceremony will take place at Saturday’s luncheon during the 2013 FOI Summit, held this year at the Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans, La., May 17–18.

The State Open Government Hall of Fame is a joint venture by SPJ and NFOIC. It was developed by leaders in both organizations as a way to recognize long-term contributions of individuals to open government in their states.

Sonntag, the 13th individual chosen for the honor since the Hall’s inception in 2003, is the second inductee in a row from Washington and only the third elected official to be included.

Induction into the State Open Government Hall of Fame recognizes ‘long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.’ The award is intended to honor individuals—living or dead—whose lifetime commitment to citizen access, open government and freedom of information has left a significant legacy at the state and local level.”

The 2012 inductee was Toby Nixon, President of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

Based on Washington’s strong open government laws, it’s not surprising to see that last two inductees come from the state.

Sonntag has also been a strong advocate for Washington Policy Center’s proposed legislative transparency reforms.

NFOIC’s acknowledgment of Sonntag’s long-time support for open government is well deserved.

Congratulations State Auditor Sonntag!

[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]

Executive Session Taping Bill Receives Public Hearing

The Senate Committee on Government Operations heard public testimony today on SB 6109: Exempting video and audio recordings of closed executive session meetings from public inspection and copying. SB 6109 reflects a new strategy by the Attorney General and State Auditor to ensure that executive sessions aren’t being misused in violations of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

I joined State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Tim Ford, Open Government Ombudsman for the Attorney General’s Office, in testifying on SB 6109:

(Click here for video)

Previous efforts by the State Auditor and Attorney General to require taping of executive session was met with fierce resistance by local governments. Among the concerns expressed was that such recordings would be subject to public disclosure thus circumventing the legal use of executive session. To address this concern SB 6109 would exempt recordings of executive session from public disclosure.

According to the intent section of the OPMA:

“The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

To fulfill this intent the OPMA requires all meetings of state and local government governing bodies to be open to the public and announced in advance. However, the law allows the governing officials to meet behind closed doors in an executive session for certain limited purposes, such as consulting with their attorney on litigation, or discussing the maximum price they are willing to pay for a parcel of land.

Closed executive sessions are allowed only if the purpose of the meeting is announced in advance, and the secret discussion is limited to the announced allowed topic.

According to the State Auditor’s Office, however, there have been hundreds of violations of this requirement.

This is why WPC believes that to ensure executive sessions are not being used to evade public disclosure, the sessions should be recorded and made exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act and from subpoena or discovery in a lawsuit.

If a lawsuit is filed under the Open Public Meetings Act challenging the propriety of the executive session, and the person filing the lawsuit presents evidence sufficient to convince a judge that a violation had likely occurred, the recordings could be used to settle the question.

If a judge finds the challenged executive session included improper discussions and violated the law, the recording of only the portions of the meeting that should not have occurred in executive session could then be publicly disclosed.

Here is a 2008 handout by the Attorney General’s Office in support of taping executive sessions.


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: thejcgerm]

State Auditor Launches Website to Shed Light on Local Government Finances

State Auditor Brian Sonntag launched a new website today that allows citizens to quickly find data on local government finances. Here is a summary of the new resource:

“Welcome to the new Local Government Finance Reporting System (LGFRS).  This site is designed to mirror the annual report data submitted to the State Auditor’s Office by local governments.  It includes unaudited data for all local governments . . .

The 2010 data is substantially completed and is not subject to change.  This release of LGFRS includes the following funds: General Fund, Special Revenues Funds, Debt Service Fund, Capital Project Fund, and Enterprise Fund.  Missing data may exist due to non-reporting of data or incorporations.  All local governments are required to report annually, however not all have done so.  Large Variances from year to year may be a result of annexations and incorporations of local governments.

To get started please visit the Report Menu page.”

Here is an example of the type of data available: (click here)

State financial data is available on www.fiscal.wa.gov.


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog]

BREAKING: State Auditor Brian Sonntag to Retire

In a surprise announcement, State Auditor Brian Sonntag has decided to retire at the end of his term in 2012. From his email:

“In the past week, I made a difficult decision not to seek re-election as Washington State Auditor in 2012. It was a tough call, but it is the right decision. At the end of my current term, I will have served 20 years in this Office and 40 years in public service – 35 in elected office. Based on what we has accomplished and what we will continue to do in behalf of citizens, the 2012 election is the right time for the Office to transition to new leadership. During my service as State Auditor, I am proud that we have become strong advocates for Washington taxpayers. We raised the visibility and enhanced the credibility of the Office, brought national recognition to our work, put the audit focus on the most risky areas, vigorously pursued fraud, seized on performance audit authority, engaged the public, and advocated giving citizens greater access to their government. My personal thanks to you for recognizing the value of this Office and the constitutional role it must play. You helped make citizens aware of what audit can do to make government work better for all of us.


Based on his statewide appeal and effectiveness, Sonntag was in the unique position of being able to serve as State Auditor for life.

Here are the vote totals for Sonntag’s races for State Auditor:

  • 2008 – 63.54%
  • 2004 – 63.89%
  • 2000 – 57.63%
  • 1996 – 64.17%
  • 1992 – 50.07%

Under his leadership and advocacy, open government reforms took center stage and the long overdue authority for the citizens’ independently elected auditor to conduct comprehensive performance audits was finally restored. His efforts to improve government accountability casts a long shadow that will continue to be seen for years to come.

Perhaps the best legacy Sonntag will leave the next State Auditor is the hard fought for accountability toolbox with which to continue to improve government’s performance and safeguarding of taxpayer resources.


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog]

State Auditor Sonntag Releases Review of Performance-Based Contracting

At the request of Governor Gregoire, State Auditor Brian Sonntag released a report last week detailing the state’s current use of performance-based contracting and identifying opportunities for improvements. The report stems from an Executive Order issued by the Governor last November.

From the report:

“What do we mean by ‘performance-based’ contracts?  Traditionally, governments have used time-and-materials contracts that compensate vendors based on how much time they spent and the quantity of materials they used. Under performance-based contracts, businesses are paid based on providing deliverables or meeting pre-established outcomes or results. Government buys results instead of efforts.

For example, a team of educators might be contracted to help 500 job-seekers who never finished high school win general education diplomas (GEDs). A traditional contract might simply require the contractor to conduct the required classes. A performance-based contract might tie contractor pay to the number of people who actually received GEDs. A more advanced performance-based contract might tie compensation to the number who found jobs because they had GEDs.

We distinguish between two types of performance-based contracts:

  • Deliverables-based contracts that link payment to specific products or project milestones.
  • Outcomes-based contracts that tie payment to results, connecting performance measures and/or outcomes to payment.

Performance-based contracting is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Deliverables, performance measures and outcomes must be tailored to support the purpose of the contract and the goals of the program it supports. Writing performance-based contracts offers many challenges, but some agencies are using promising techniques, such as setting due dates for deliverables, tying the distribution of funds to completion of specific deliverables, and withholding payments if grant recipients do not meet requirements.

Washington’s contracting systems are in transition, and contract oversight is divided among a number of agencies. For instance, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) provides guidance and oversees client services and personal services contracts, while the Department of General Administration oversees contracts for goods and purchased services. The Department of Enterprise Services, to be created later this year, will be structured in part to consolidate the oversight of most state contracts to ensure agencies and citizens receive maximum value. This transition period presents an ideal opportunity for agencies to expand their performance-based contracting.”

Among the Auditor’s recommendations:

  • Increase the use of performance or outcome measures for payment;
  • Improve contract management and contracting processes;
  • Increase staff expertise and capacity; and
  • Educate and collaborate with contractors.

One of the Auditor’s long-term recommendations as the state moves forward with robust performance-based contracting is to:

“Create a centralized office or staff with a high degree of expertise in performance measurement and performance-based contracting to provide technical assistance to agencies in developing and improving their use of performance measures and outcomes.”

The report notes that this is a “leading practice.” It also mirrors our recommendation for the state to create a competition council to help take the politics out of contracting and provide the business case and monitoring expertise necessary to ensure taxpayers are receiving contract value and results.

Though not identical to these recommendations, bills were introduced last session to create a version of this reform (HB 1873 and SB 5316) but they were not acted on by the Legislature.

Combined with the contracting reforms enacted with the adoption of SB 5931 earlier this year, the Governor’s November Executive Order and the State Auditor’s report help provide the framework for the state to transition more of its activities to real performance-based contracting. These are important steps to ensuring government spends more of its time buying meaningful results and not just intentions.


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center Blog; photo credit: flickr]

Sonntag Asks Gregoire for Veto of Performance Audit Fund Raid

State Auditor Brian Sonntag sent Governor Gregoire a letter last week asking her to veto an $8 million raid of the voter approved dedicated performance audit account.

From Sonntag’s letter requesting the veto:

“Diverting performance audit funding to support unrelated, specific activities at other agencies is wrong. It sets a precedent for future use of this money that is not in keeping with provisions of Initiative 900.

We feel strongly that Department of Revenue tax recovery auditing must be paid for by the funds generated by that activity. As an alternative, it also could be funded by money raised by the tax amnesty program, which to date has collected $343 million in back taxes, $282 million for the state and $61 million for local governments.

Along a similar line, money for the Department of Social and Health Services’ fraud investigations should come from the dollars recovered by the fraud unit, not the State Auditor’s Office performance audit funds.

Permit me to remind you that $17 million has been swept from the Performance Audits of Government Account to help balance the state’s general fund budget. Despite that, our Office has used performance audit to offer ideas to saves millions of dollars, generate millions more in new revenue and make government work better for all of us. You’ve seen it reflected in successful legislation transforming state printing and liquor operations. And we’re pleased you seized on our 2010 Performance Review idea for the previously mentioned tax amnesty program.”

Last Friday I also asked the Governor to veto the raid of the dedicated performance funds noting “It would be unfortunate to set a precedent where that dedicated account (and the funding capacity for performance audits that have already shown savings for the state) becomes a frequent target for future fund sweeps or redirection.”

If this veto dance seems like déjà vu, it is.

In 2009, the Legislature tried to sweep $29 million from the dedicated performance audit account. The Governor vetoed this raid in response to Sonntag’s request and promise to set aside funds for transfer in 2010 (the $17 million mentioned in his letter).

Hopefully she will do the same again this time to help restore the promise and integrity of the State Auditor’s performance audit program.

The Governor plans to take action on the budget and the remaining bills from the special session next Wednesday (June 15).


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