The investigation into Drainage District 5 and one of its commissioners, Allan Thomas, continues while King County Councilman Reagan Dunn raises the stakes.
Drainage District 5 is a special purpose tax district that is charged with maintaining drainage ditches in the northeastern section of Enumclaw by taxing roughly 600 residents.
However, an Enumclaw Police Department investigation into Thomas alleged he used a business run by his son to trick the county into believing maintenance work was being done while he pocketed more than $400,000 collected from taxpayers between 2012 and 2017.
Additionally, questions have been raised concerning when elections were last held for Drainage District 5 seats. Under state law, special purpose tax districts like Drainage District 5 can run their own elections without the oversight of their respective counties.
On top of that, if only one person files for that position during an election year, an election does not need to be held.
At the moment, the King County Prosecuting Attorney is examining the case, which was forwarded to them by the Enumclaw Police Department in January 2019. As of May 10, the prosecutor’s office has not filed charges. The Washington State Auditor’s Office is also investigating the alleged fraud.
As these investigations take place, Councilman Dunn has written a letter to the FBI asking for a federal investigation into Drainage District 5.
The letter, addressed to Special Agent In Charge Raymond P. Duda, states there’s a “likelihood that the district commissioners had not been duly elected since the 1980s” and that Thomas and Kenneth Olson, the second district commissioner, “had been paying contractors related to one of the commissioners in a manner that appears to be a breach of both state and criminal law and the code of ethics applicable to ‘elected’ officials.”
Duda responded to Dunn in a May 7 email, stating the case has been forwarded to Duda’s public corruption squad.
Dunn is also introducing new legislation to the King County Council that would give county departments more oversight on special purpose tax districts in the county on the whole in order to prevent this type of fraud from happening in the future, as well as an ordinance to declare all three Drainage District 5 commissioner seats vacant, though only two are occupied at the moment.
A May 13 letter has been sent to Thomas and Olson announcing Dunn’s decision to seek their removal from their seats.
“I intent to move as expeditiously as possible to fill these vacant Drainage District #5 commissioner positions,” Dunn wrote.
Another letter announcing the vacancy and appointment process will be sent to Drainage District 5 residents in the near future, Dunn said.
JoAnn Thomas, Allan Thomas’ wife, told The Courier-Herald they are unaware Dunn is seeking to remove Thomas from his seat, and declined to comment further. Thomas appeared to be at the residence, but declined to be interviewed.
The two did confirm they have switched law firms, though it’s unclear who is currently representing them.
PLAN TO DECLARE SEATS VACANT
Wherever these various investigations go, Dunn plans to make special purpose tax districts in King County more transparent and accountable, starting with having the King County Council declare all three commissioner seats in Drainage District 5 vacant.
Dunn and his staff have been corresponding with Thomas and Olson since March 2019. A March 8 letter from Dunn to Thomas reads: “My office has found no evidence of any election for board positions that have been held in the last 10 years,” and asked Thomas for any evidence regarding Drainage District 5 properly notifying the public about prospective elections or actually holding an election.
Any evidence that could be provided would then be used “to determine if any or all of the board positions are vacant… and whether… the King County Council needs to appoint a person to serve in such vacant positions until a person is elected at the next drainage district general election.”
Dunn refers to RCW 85.38.070(5), which states that the county can appoint a district voter to serve in a vacant commissioner position.
“We now have people lined up, citizens, registered voters, who are ready to take on these roles by appointment,” Dunn said in a May 6 interview, though the names of the potential appointees were not known to The Courier-Herald by press deadline.
A month passed with no answer from Thomas, and Dunn wrote again April 8, giving the commissioner an April 30 deadline to respond.
In his April 9 response, Thomas wrote, “We are and have in the past advertised to fill any vacancy for commissioner position in Drain District 5,” but did not provide any evidence.
Correspondence has continued through May, and Dunn said he’s seen nothing to change his mind about removing the commissioners from their position.
“We have not gotten a meaningful response, or any facts that indicate they are properly appointed or elected,” Dunn said. “Either they’re not taking the issue seriously, or they’re playing games, neither of which is an appropriate way to treat the taxpayers.”
LITTLE EVIDENCE OF PROPER ELECTIONS
The Courier-Herald appeared on a Drainage District 5 list of current contractors or vendors the district was working with over the last several years, presumably as a way for district officials to publish official election notices.
But a review of legals that ran in The Courier-Herald revealed JoAnn, Thomas’ wife, only ran two notifications advertising for people to write the district if they’re interesting in being a commissioner: one in February 2010, and another in July 2012. Records before 2010 were not available to search.
“Notice is hereby giving that Drain District 5-5A is seeking candidates to serve on the Board of Commissioners,” it read, requesting any letters of interest be sent to the Thomas’ home address at Thomas Farms in Enumclaw.
Beyond only appearing to have run two legals, it seems these specific notifications also do not satisfy state law.
According to RCW 85.38.125, because Drainage District 5 has more than 500 residents, it can run its own election. However, “a special district that runs its own elections must enter into an agreement with the county auditor that specifies the responsibilities of both parties.”
The county auditor, in this case King County Elections, has no record of any agreement with Drainage District 5 concerning elections.
Part of that agreement, according to RCW 85.38.070(3), would be to establish a filing period for candidates. The code states the filing period must be between 30 and 60 days before an election.
Additionally, Drainage District 5 has more than 500 residents, the county auditor must publish a notice advertising the filing period “at least seven days prior to the closing of the filing period,” according to RCW 85.38.120.
Then the county auditor is supposed to publish a notice of an election in a newspaper between three and 10 days before an election, according to RCW 85.38.120: “The notices shall describe the election, give its date and times to be held, and indicate the election site or sites in the special district where ballots may be cast.”
RCW 85.38.090 states elections for special purpose tax districts must be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February in an even-numbered year.
Without an agreement with King County Elections, and with Drainage District 5’s legal notices in The Courier-Herald failing to give notice of a filing period before an election, failing to give notice of an election, and failing to publish these notices in a timely manner before an election (one legal was published Feb. 10, 2010, a day after the election was supposed to occur, and the other was published July 4, 2012, nowhere near any deadlines set by state code) it appears Drainage District 5’s commissioners fell short of nearly all special purpose tax district election requirements set by the state.
A public records request made by the City of Enumclaw revealed The Courier-Herald may not have been the only publication used to advertise Drainage District 5 elections, as the list of current contractors included the “Daily Journal.” This is presumed to be the Daily Journal of Commerce, as King County Elections has used the publication to advertise elections for other drainage districts in the past.
However, Managing Editor Jon Silver said he and the Journal’s legal ad manager were unable to find any election announcements for Drainage District 5.
King County Elections noted that RCW 85.38.115 allows Drainage District 5 to not run any election notices if one or less people file for the commissioner position.
Dunn’s ordinance to remove the commissioners is expected to have its first reading during the May 15 King County Council meeting, where Dunn believes it will be quickly given to a committee, given a do-pass recommendation, and then approved by the full council in the next few weeks.
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