“You’ve lit a fire, Chris.”
This is a comment in reference to KING 5 News investigator Chris Ingalls’ investigation into “possible misappropriation of tax dollars” from Drainage District 5 in and adjacent to Enumclaw. If you’ve been reading Ray Miller-Still’s articles in this paper for the past three weeks, you are aware that Allan Thomas, recently resigned District Commissioner of District 5, is under investigation for misuse of at least $413,000 in taxpayer money. Thomas was last elected for the position back in the 1980s, according to Chris Ingalls’ investigation. There have been no elections since that time.
Here is some of the backstory. In October 2017, the Enumclaw city administration held an open house because the city council was considering an ordinance that would create a stormwater fund to pay for rainwater runoff. This new ordinance raised taxes especially for businesses having large lots. Allan Thomas came to this public meeting and complained that the tax was a form of double taxation for him. Thomas owns a farm within the city limits of Enumclaw that fronts SR 410 across the street from McDonald’s. He agreed to have a meeting with the city regarding the matter. The administration sent Thomas a letter to set up a meeting. They got no response. A second letter, this time certified, was sent and refused by Thomas.
This raised red flags in the city government. An investigation began, and a Public Records Request was sent to Thomas about Drainage District 5, requiring a response within a specific timeframe. He did not comply. He was contacted again. The city finally received invoices in October 2017 showing that A. Conservation Services had done work for District 5. After research, no licensing could be found for the company either at the state or city level. The company was run by Allen Thomas’ son, Alex, who stated in a police interview that he had done two jobs for his father in 2012 for which he had not been paid. Billing invoices for the company continued to be sent to King County for payment, but no work had been done.
After a check of the company address, the property was found to be an unoccupied house owned by the Thomas family.
At this point, the city attorney filed a report with the Enumclaw Police Department. They sent a notification of possible fraud charges to Dan Satterberg, the King County prosecutor, in early 2018. There has been no response from the prosecutor’s office for over a year.
Out of frustration due to the prosecutor’s lack of attention, Chris Ingalls at KING 5 News was contacted in the spring of 2019. He and the station were very interested in the information. After a great deal of research, several investigative reports have been aired revealing the extent of the story and, more importantly, the implications for the voters and taxpayers of not only King County, but also for the whole state.
There are 103 special purpose districts in King County alone. They include school and fire districts as well as drainage districts. According to the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), there were approximately 1,670 special purpose districts in the state of Washington as of 2012.
Any taxpayer would be frustrated by the lack of transparency and accountability by the state Legislature, the state and county Auditors’ offices, the state and King County attorneys general, the King County Elections Commission, the King County Council, and the Public Disclosure Commission. This negligence has gone on for at least 30 years. Most of those years have not been investigated. Will any repayments to the taxpayers be possible for money funneled into Thomas’ personal accounts?
Why especially has King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg sat on this case from November 2017 to the present? Why did King County Councilman Reagan Dunn have to bypass the prosecutor on April 30, 2019, and file a request for an investigation from the FBI, which they have started?
If this lack of oversight occurred in and around rural Enumclaw, it’s very likely to be occurring throughout the state. State laws need to be examined and updated. Ingalls noted that voters in these special taxing districts have to request ballots to be able to vote under state law.
Without KING 5 investigator Ingalls’ revelations and the 2017 Enumclaw city administration that tipped him off, it’s unlikely elected officials would now be paying attention. It’s a sad state of affairs when government officials need to be called out in order for them to do their jobs.
Representative democracy requires eternal vigilance. It does not thrive well when apathy reigns among both elected officials and the public. My thanks to those brave people who “lit a fire” in the 2017 Enumclaw city administration and Chris Ingalls at KING 5 News who were willing to be the whistleblowers to protect the rest of us. Without a free media, we become like the Russian and Chinese governments who suppress their reporters to enrich themselves at the public trough.