A state agency that misspent money intended for cleaning up Puget Sound has developed the outlines of a plan for cleaning up its act. The solution hasn't involved firing anyone, but it does include hiring.
The Puget Sound Partnership doesn’t expect to find more state money in a budget crisis; instead, the federal government could pay for any new staff.
To start with, the partnership is getting ready to recruit a fiscal manager to help with its accounting.
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget office helped create the plan during an assessment following the May findings of State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office.
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The auditor found that the partnership improperly used no-bid contracts for everything from pricey legal help to 5,000 tubes of lip balm.
“What our audit shows,” budget office spokesman Glenn Kuper said, “is they need people who are experts in the areas that they’re working in.”
“As they were ramping up and hiring people,” he added, “they were having people cover multiple areas, and cover areas that weren’t necessarily their area of expertise.”
By the time the audit was under way, the agency had hired a fiscal and contracts coordinator. Now it’s looking for a fiscal manager. It’s unclear how the two officials’ duties would differ; that’s still being defined, partnership spokesman Frank Mendizabal said. Both would report to the agency’s director of finance and administration, Jim Cahill, who leads a staff of seven.
The Puget Sound Partnership was born in 2007 to protect the Sound from pollution. The audit covers its first two years, through mid-2009.
Most of its 35 employees are to move this summer into the new Center for Urban Waters building on Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway.
State spending that raised questions in the audit included $42,000 for Apple computer products that weren’t compatible with state systems, and a $51,000 no-bid contract to law firm K&L Gates.
The audit also found that the agency had given recognition awards – monogrammed jackets and vests, sparkling apple cider in engraved gift boxes – to elected officials in violation of state law.
The agency will have people looking over its shoulder for a while. After the audit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked for a review of the agency’s 40 federal contracts, Kuper said.
The plan calls for ensuring that officials are “prepared to appropriately and adequately manage federal grant dollars.”
That will require more staff, the partnership says.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org