Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

WA audit: fiscally, City of Sunnyside skating on thin ice

by July 26th, 2012

The City of Sunnyside in Yakima County improperly juggled its internal funds in the past two years, so its general fund landed in the red just five months into 2012, according to a state audit report released this week. That red ink in the general fund totaled $613,516 as of May 31, although the city has slightly more than $1 million in cash reserves to bail it out. But this is the first time – at least in recent years – that Sunnyside’s general fund is in negative territory and the cash reserves will have to be used, and it’s no mere technicality. The report from the office of State Auditor Brian Sonntag says, “The city is at risk of not being able to meet financial obligations or maintain services at current levels. This could result in the city needing to take out bank loans or to find alternate funding sources, which could be an additional cost to its ratepayers and taxpayers.”

Airport concessionaire underpays Port of Seattle by $250K

by July 20th, 2012

A major SeaTac Airport concessionaire owes the Port of Seattle $256,269 because of confusion on how to report revenues, according to a June port audit. The concessionaire’s umbrella company, American Management Services, agreed with the audit results and will pay the additional monies owed, said the audit report and a port spokesman. Airport Management Services is a joint venture of the Hudson News Group and two other local retail firms. The airport has three food-and-beverage concessionaires, plus other tenants. The June 12 audit report focused on the Hudson News Group, which operates 15 news stands, two bookstores, two bakeries and four speciality stores – Made in Washington, Discover Puget Sound, Life is Good and Kids Works – at the airport.

WA state site has new interactive data sets on population

by July 6th, 2012

Population data for Washington cities and counties from 2010 to April 1, 2012 released in late June by the state’s Office of Financial Management is now available as a series of interactive datasets at Washington State’s official open data site, We’ve embedded the interactive datasets immediately below. To begin exploring the data, slide the horizontal scroll bar to the right. Pick a data column to re-arrange in ascending or descending order, such as “Percentage change in population, 2010-2012.” Further instructions including visual aids are below the embed.

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WA vehicle collisions and fatalities drop notably, ’02 to ’10

by July 1st, 2012

Data from the Washington State Department of Transportation show that over the past decade there’s been a significant downwards trend in The Evergreen State’s total vehicle collisions and fatalities, even with an uptick in vehicle miles travelled. Additionally, the number of accidents per 100 million miles travelled has dropped sharply, as has the death rate. From 2002 to 2010, vehicle miles traveled increased by four percent – less than a fifth of a percent higher than nationally over the same time – while the number of collisions dropped 10.5 percent. Collisions per 100 million miles traveled declined 19.3 percent. There were 43.4 percent fewer driver fatalities in Washington state in 2010 compared to 2002, and given the increase in miles traveled, driver fatalities per 100 million miles in Washington state decreased 53.5 percent from 2002 to 2010. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that his contrasts with a drop in the comparable U.S.-wide rate over the same stretch of 26.5 percent.

We’ve created an original visualization of the data below using the free Tableau Public tool from Seattle-based Tableau Software. We also get an analysis of the data trends from a University of Washington transportation expert.

Data visualization instructions: a) Start with the “Collision and Fatality Trends” tab view, to see color-coded data key. b) Run your mouse along lines to see individual points of data. c) You may also select different tabs for other representations of the information.

(Note: The original data included a category called “Miscellaneous Roadways” that was omitted for the purposes of this article. Consequently, total values are slightly different from the original data. Source: Washington State Department of Transportation Table TT03 on Road Usage and Safety, found in The State of Washington 2011 Databook, January 2012, Office of Financial Management)

A range of factors likely explain the decline in vehicle fatalities and accidents in Washington State, although their relative importance is difficult to determine, said Professor Mark Hallenbeck, Director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. One “has been a big push by USDOT (and consequently the state DOTs) to reduce the number of road fatalities,” he said. Hallenback also cited growing safety improvements to vehicles, “click-it or ticket” programs which enforce the use of seatbelts, and graduated driver licensing laws that allow young drivers to gain experience in a safe environment prior to being fully licensed. He added that many roads have had safety improvements, such as the addition of median barriers where there were none previously.

Public Data Ferret’s Data Visualization+Washington State archive

Other factors figure in, as well. Use of digital devices while driving is a known risk factor but hard to quantify. One study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute suggested that dialing a hand-held wireless device increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by almost three times.

Related: Q&A with Professor Mark Hallenbeck, Director, Washington State Transportation Center, University of Washington

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WA teacher helped students game standardized tests

by June 24th, 2012

A Washington state elementary school teacher in the Colville district with 26 years of experience resigned her job as disciplinary actions unfolded following charges she provided “unauthorized assistance” to students in her fifth-grade classroom for three straight years during state-mandated achievement tests. The narrative emerges from an agreed order recently posted online by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in which Sherral M. Kaiser, 52, formerly of Fort Colville Elementary School in Colville, Wash., agrees to the temporary suspension of her teaching certificate for unprofessional conduct.

Teacher’s testing improprieties were only reported to the state after three years
According to the findings of fact in the agreed order signed by Kaiser and top state education officials May 30, 2012, the Colville School District did not notify OSPI until June 14, 2010 that Kaiser for three straight school years, from 2007-08 into 2009-10, had provided “unauthorized assistance to students in her 5th grade classroom” during state-mandated Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) and then Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) achievement tests, and instructed classroom assistants to do likewise, despite Kaiser “having been previously trained in the proper testing procedures.”

The agreed order further reveals that it was only after Kaiser in late May of 2010 engaged in minor misappropriation of Colville district funds of less $40 – by using for personal purposes a returned item credit voucher from a Walmart store where she bought classroom materials on the district’s account – that the district placed her on (paid) administrative leave, and reported her testing improprieties to the state. A pending criminal case in Stevens County court related to her $37.36 misappropriation from the district was dropped as part of a settlement agreement which included her resignation effective August 31, 2011. Though on leave from June 1, 2010 until then, Kaiser was paid total salary and benefits of $79,936 for the 2010-2011 school year according to public records accessed via a Kitsap Sun database.

Pacific County public hospital district trying to stay afloat

by June 4th, 2012

On the rural coast of Washington in Pacific County, a small but vital critical-care, taxpayer-funded hospital has new interim leadership trying to dig its way out of financial problems that threaten its survival, including a four-fold increase in operating losses from 2007 through 2011. Ocean Beach Hospital in Ilwaco, Wash. is run by Pacific County Public Hospital District No. 3, which was founded in 1995 and also operates a clinic in Ilwaco and another in nearby Naselle.

The district is one of dozens of relatively obscure public bodies in the state which use taxpayer funds to run hospitals, water and irrigation systems, public power utilities, and cemeteries. For the year-round population of the regional tourist mecca known as the Long Beach Peninsula – which includes the town of Long Beach, the fishing port of Ilwaco to its south, and neighboring communities – the district provides emergency and medical care, as well as surgery, and lab and radiology services. The district is overseen by a five-member, elected board of directors. It is managed by executive staff and employs about 170.

Public hospital district is bailing water from its fiscal boat
An accountability report released May 21 by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag revealed that the hospital district ended calendar year 2011 about $2 million in debt, and ran at an operating loss of $2.5 million while struggling to collect monies owed. Hospital sources note the facility currently lacks a staff chief surgeon and chief financial officer. Its CEO resigned earlier this year, and an interim leader stepped in. As of March 31, 2012 the district – which in 2011 had operating expenditures of $23,803,700 and operating revenues of $21,256,355 – saw its reserves dwindle to just $91,500. At that same milepost just two months ago, the district owed $2,131,171 to creditors.

$2.5K ethics fine for Evergreen College-Tacoma chief

by June 1st, 2012

A high-level state college administrator in Tacoma who also teaches a course on “the ways in which colonialism and neocolonialism have created unequal distributions of power, wealth and access to resources,” will pay a $2,500 state ethics penalty for personal use of public resources – including repeatedly cruising a luxury real estate site on her work computer.

Under a stipulated order she signed with the Washington State Executive Ethics Board, the Executive Director of the Tacoma campus of The Evergreen State College, Dr. Artee Young, will pay a $2,500 fine for using state resources for personal purposes. After receiving a complaint about Young the board investigated and found she used her work computer and state-issued cell phone for personal matters to a degree significantly beyond the allowable de minimus, or minimal, threshhold. The order was approved by the board at its May 11 meeting.