SEATAC – The state Board of Accountancy agreed Thursday to hire a consultant to review the agency’s policies and procedures following a $500,000 payout to settle a legal claim against it.
Board executive director Rick Sweeney asked for the review after discussing the idea with some board members, but he was absent from the board’s annual meeting in SeaTac.
“We want an outside look. It’s a good idea. It wasn’t just this” case triggering the look, said Gerald Ryles, a board member from Kirkland who was elected during the meeting as chairman for the next year. “This just accelerated it.”
The board created a three-member task force to solicit independent consultants to carry out the review.
But it’s not clear how far the review will go, and state Auditor Brian Sonntag said Thursday by telephone that he plans to talk to Gov. Chris Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna about the need for a look into why the state is paying $500,000 to D. Edson Clark.
Clark is a Kirkland accountant who says he was retaliated against by the board for having criticized its work on a complaint against another accountant.
Sonntag said he doesn’t think it is an audit function of his agency to make such an inquiry.
Kurt Olson, one of the attorneys representing Clark in his seven lawsuits and 15 public-records requests involving board staff members, said someone who reports to a higher authority than the board must do the review. Olson has accused the board’s staff members of “felony concealment and miscarriage of justice” in the Clark case, and Clark has expressed fear of a “whitewash.”
And another lawyer, Noel Wright, reported hearing from accountants privately who are afraid of speaking out for fear of retaliation.
“When people are afraid to speak, then it’s very hard for the truth to come out. I think you guys should be aware of that,” Wright said. The lawyer formerly represented Clark but said he was speaking on his own time.
The settlement ended Clark’s lawsuits and records requests and also closed board investigations against Clark, his accounting firm and his business partners. Sweeney called the settlement a business decision that does not acknowledge wrongdoing by the agency.
Sweeney did not return a call asking for comment Thursday.
Board member Lauren Jassny, who is to serve on the task force, said it’s worth discussing whether to have consultants look at the specifics of the Clark case.
Gov. Chris Gregoire favors an outside review but thinks it should be a broad review rather than an inquiry into the Clark case, spokesman Glenn Kuper said.
Outgoing board Chairman Ed Jolicoeur of Spokane said “the scope will be decided by the task force” or subcommittee. Board members Jassney, Laurie Tish and either Robert Hutchins or Jolicoeur will serve on it.
Also unresolved is who will handle Clark’s pending complaint against Sweeney and other board staff members that accuses them of misconduct.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688