Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for January, 2012

DSHS ethics woes continue

by Matt Rosenberg January 13th, 2012

Following at least five other documented cases of ethical or major administrative missteps in the last 10 months and two more being investigated, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services is in the spotlight again, for possible employee misconduct. In a whistleblower report stemming from an internal complaint and issued this week, the State Auditor’s Office finds that a budget analyst in the agency’s Economic Services Administration – identified by officials as Sally Barber – may have improperly used state resources to conduct personal business. Although according to the report Barber told investigators she didn’t handle business related to her four rental properties during work hours, a forensic audit of her work computer’s hard drive showed 119 visits to sites that “appear to pertain” to her property rental business. Additionally, 19 files or images were recovered from her hard drive related to her business including “a checklist for cleaning a triplex,” an amortization chart, a lease agreement and “a document related to marketing a home for sale.” The whistleblower report concludes there is “reasonable cause to  believe an improper governmental action occurred when the subject used her work computer to conduct her rental property business.” As with all such findings by the State Auditor, the case will be forwarded to the Washington State Executive Ethics Board for review and possible sanctions.

It’s not the first time in the recent past that DSHS has found itself in ethical hot water. Allegations of employees doing personal business on the job at DSHS have been a familiar theme. Three have been fined by the state ethics board and two more face possible sanctions. Other cases have involved a signed admission by a DSHS nursing assistant of sexual abuse of a developmentally disabled client, and over-billing by DSHS of Medicaid for more than $8 million.

Documenting witness intimidation by phone – legally

by Matt Rosenberg January 11th, 2012

Since a Washington State Supreme Court ruling in 2008, King County Jail authorities have been able to continue legally recording phone calls made by detainees. County prosecutors say calls by those charged with domestic violence especially can yield valuable evidence. Signs near phone areas warn all detainees their calls will be recorded and potentially incriminating statements may be used against them. This does not always prevent them from instructing their alleged victims not to testify, or threatening them, as shown in a recent episode of the The Justice Files from King County TV.

One in three murders in King County are domestic violence-related, says King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg.

More episodes of The Justice Files here. Also see King County TV’s YouTube channel.

RELATED: King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor David Martin was part of a research team which supervised analysis of recordings of 25 Washington State felony domestic violence detainees using phone calls to try to convince their wives or girlfriends to recant. The article was published in July 2011 in the journal Social Science and Medicine and is titled, “‘Meet me at the hill where we used to park’: Interpersonal processes associated with victim recantation.” The authors conclude that detainees use a common set of emotional tactics to urge recantation and that victim advocates should work to raise awareness among victims of these tactics.

Public Data Ferret’s King County+Courts archive

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Washington state remains a leader in low-carbon energy

by Matt Rosenberg January 11th, 2012

Washington state ranks second among 50 states behind only Vermont in the low-carbon intensity of its energy supply, according to a report issued Monday by a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy. Washington is also just outside the lowest tenth of states in the carbon intensity of its economy and within the lowest fifth in per-capita carbon dioxide emissions stemming from energy consumption. Titled “State-Level Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2000-2009,” the report underscores the clean energy benefits of Washington’s reliance on hydropower – which itself is the source of some ongoing environmental controversy because of the challenges that hydro-electric dams can pose to migrating salmon.

One in five WA bilingual students transitioned out last year

by Matt Rosenberg January 10th, 2012

Twenty percent of students enrolled in transitional bilingual education programs in Washington state K-12 public schools in 2010-2011 who took a key English language proficiency test passed it. Four-fifths didn’t. Those who passed were then able to transition during the school year to all-English instruction in core subjects. The 20.5 percent passage rate is up from 13 percent the prior year and slightly higher than the 18 percent the year before that. But it took those who transitioned longer to do so than at any previous time from 2005-06 through last year. In addition for students who did successfully transition last year, their performance lagged the general student population in meeting state assessment standards in reading, writing and math and particularly science. The news comes in a required annual report to the state legislature from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, published in December. It’s on the state’s Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program and key performance indicators.

Infographic: deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions

by Matt Rosenberg January 6th, 2012

Because trees help absorb greenhouse gases, forest preservation plays an important role in controlling climate change. When forests are destroyed or degraded that harms our ability to control climate change. The problem is primarily concentrated in tropical developing nations. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office says there are three big challenges: building capacity to better document forest absorbtion capacity and its loss; improving governance in countries where the problem is most pronounced; and calibrating policy responses so they’re effective on a global scale. The study is titled “Deforestation and Greenhouse gases.” A related CBO infographic helps tell the story. Excerpts of the infographic follow.

First, the backdrop. Five different categories of energy-related activities account for two-thirds of manmade greenhouse gas emissions globally, according to CBO. Of the remaining one-third, 12 percent comes from destruction of forests for agriculture, primarily in developing tropical nations.

Private cash might save state money on two big toll projects

by Matt Rosenberg January 5th, 2012

A study summary presented yesterday to the Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee says money from profit-motivated private companies could be a way to deliver better value to taxpayers on construction and management of some toll lane projects. Two identified for possible public-private partnerships – also known as “P3s” – were the I-405/State Route 167 corridor and the southeast extension of State Route 509 from near Sea-Tac Airport to connect with I-5. Each would include so called “High Occupancy and Toll” or “HOT” lanes available for a sliding fee to solo drivers and free to carpoolers. The summary released yesterday says, “Despite the higher cost of private capital, it is sometimes the case that P3 delivery can be a better value to the public. Transferring construction and long-term operating, maintenance and preservation risks to the private sector can sometimes result in significant cost savings to the public” although “sometimes…traditional public sector delivery is the better value.”

Readiness worries for state’s public high school grads

by Matt Rosenberg January 4th, 2012

Close to six of ten graduates of public high schools in Washington state who go on to community and technical colleges here have to take remedial, non-credit courses to be ready for their new college coursework, according to a report from the Washington Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Of the 20,336 graduates of public high schools in Washington in spring of 2009 who then enrolled in an in-state community or technical college for the 2009-2010 school year, 11,623 or 57 percent had to take non-credit remedial courses, the report says. Math was far and away the subject in which most of those students had to remedial courses, followed at some distance by reading and writing.

Mercer Island High band slays ‘em at the Rose Parade

by Matt Rosenberg January 3rd, 2012

The Mercer Island High School marching band delivered a high-energy performance at the 123rd annual Rose Parade 952 miles from home Monday in Pasadena, capping a highly anticipated five-day trip of music and sightseeing. Several band members share their impressions of the big day on the band’s Rose Parade trip blog here. Their performance earned a warm reaction along the parade route. Video is below. Note the shot from the Goodyear Blimp at the end of the clip, as the band rounds the famous parade route corner of Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards.

Highlights of the trip before Parade Day included performances at the Rose Parade Band Fest and at Disneyland, and trips to the Getty Museum, Universal Studios and the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood – after which band members created a spectacle moshing and singing in the street. From the “Trip – Day Three” post on the band’s blog:

Hyped on adrenaline, the band was treated to Universal Studios and the city walk where we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. By far the highlight of the entire trip so far was the impromptu dance party the band had. They had a DJ in the square and we moshed like there was no tomorrow. The band tore up the dance floor and while waiting for the buses, sang all the songs in our repertoire and chanted all our favorite MIHS cheers. Even the security guards couldn’t help but smile and get caught up in the moment. I can guarantee that no other band in the Rose Parade had the spirit to come together like we did tonight. Describing today’s events is impossible to do justice and like the bus driver for bus #1 said, ”coming to the Rose Parade isn’t just an experience, it’s an adventure.” There’s no place like band!

The MIHS band played at a new year’s celebration in London last year – reported here by the Seattle Times – and also marched in the Rose Parade in 2006. The band is directed by Parker Bixby with assistance from Ryan Lane and other band directors in the district’s highly-regarded music program. Numerous parent chaperones and volunteers also assisted during and before this year’s trip.

(Full Disclosure: my son is a member of the band).

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