Island County Commissioners let down the citizens who put them in office by keeping a low — and even supportive — profile when the Treasurer’s Office was going through turmoil.
With all due respect to the late Maxine Sauter, whom we all liked very much and who made many positive contributions to the community, she clearly wasn’t up to the job when she ran for re-election last year. This was evident not only from several years of negative reports from the state auditor’s office, but also through common knowledge around the courthouse. But during all these years, the county commissioners never raised the warning flag that the public’s money was not being accounted for properly.
The most recent proof of poor management occurred this month when the new treasurer, Linda Riffe, revealed that the Treasurer’s Office is issuing checks totalling $1.2 million to junior taxing districts due to an accounting error. Tax funds that should have “flowed through” to those districts were never dispersed. This is not chump change. The state school fund, for example, will receive nearly $500,000, The Coupeville School District $35,000 and the city of Oak Harbor nearly $40,000. It took months to figure out who gets what.
Certainly the treasurer is elected independently, but this does not mean the county commissioners have no role in seeing that public funds are handled appropriately. If they didn’t want to make a public fuss about it, they should have made certain that the treasurer stepped down gracefully. Instead, Commissioner Mac McDowell actually wrote a letter of support for his fellow Republican in what had to be the most ill-timed and inappropriate endorsement in the history of Island County politics.
Trust in government is a fragile thing and requires that elected officials always put the public interest first and friendship and political interests second. Sadly, in the case of the former Island County Treasurer, the commissioners’ priorities were all wrong.