Collaboration in Civic Spheres

King County whistleblower fired day of complaint, but no foul

by March 12th, 2012

After she claimed she was forced to donate volunteer labor to a women’s sports officials association founded by her boss in King County government, a web designer in the Accountable Business Transformation unit of the county’s Department of Executive Services – Lynelle Hofman of Edmonds – lodged a formal ethics complaint with the King County Ombudsman’s Office and was fired the very same day by her division chief Mike Herrin.

The reason given was that she had accessed her supervisor’s computer about a month prior, to forward herself a series of emails between the supervisor and a personnel official about her pending request to be classified as an hourly employee so she could get paid for all hours she actually worked. Contemplated punishment for that action had ranged from a week’s suspension to worse, but had not been decided until several hours after Hofman formally lodged the ethics complaint against her supervisor in DES’s ABT sector, Cindy C-Wilson, of Shoreline.

Ombudsman finds against supervisor, who later resigns
C-Wilson (her last name) was found in a final report issued by the ombudsman’s office in late October to have violated the county’s ethics code by using her work computer to conduct a private business and by entering into a business relationship with a subordinate. C-Wilson voluntarily resigned in November, 2011, seven months after Hofman was discharged on the day of her complaint, April 6, 2011.

Hofman, now 44, subsequently lodged another complaint with the ombudsman’s office in September, of retaliatory firing. But in late January of this year the ombudsman’s office issued another report concluding the charge was not supported by a preponderance of evidence. The reports were obtained by Public Data Ferret using the Washington Public Records Act.

Amplify accountability, technology to boost open government

by March 10th, 2012

Don’t confuse government “open data” with open government, warn two graduate students from Princeton and Yale in a new paper. Harlan Yu and David Robinson say open data may actually improve government transparency but it also:

…might equally well refer to politically neutral public sector disclosures that are easy to reuse, (and) have nothing to do with public accountability. Today a regime can call itself “open” if it builds the right kind of web site — even if it does not become more accountable or transparent….Technology can make public information more adaptable, empowering third parties to contribute in exciting new ways across many aspects of civic life. But technological enhancements will not resolve debates about the best priorities for civic life, and enhancements to government services are no substitute for public accountability.

What open government needs to look like in the coming decade and beyond involves at least three core considerations: 1) inclusive dialog around potential changes to laws on open records and open meetings; 2) the melding of Internet and mobile technologies with ideals of government accountability; and 3) nourishment for a reformulated news and information ecosystem to fulfill the public interest with robust accountability-driven reporting, teaching and collaboration. We’re going to focus here mainly on 2), and a bit on 3).

Voluntary government disclosure is growing
Baseline voluntary government transparency utilizing the Internet has grown impressively. A wide array of meeting documents, special reports and data are routinely posted online by governments at all levels, in the U.S.

Saturday forum in Seattle to honor local watchdog heroes, and probe “Open Government: Past, Present and Future”

by March 8th, 2012

Saturday March 10 in Seattle during national Sunshine Week the Washington Coalition for Open Government hosts a day-long conference, “Open Government: Past, Present and Future.” More details on the event and registration here. Highlights include in-person stories of citizen activists from Lake Forest Park, Everett and Skamania County who used public records laws to daylight secrets about a government weapons cache, conflict of interest in a county auditor’s office, and a bogus charity. Panel discussions will look at lessons learned in the 40 years since passage of Washington State’s landmark open records initiative, and at the role of technology and community in open government, going forward.

Connected Seattle city worker stayed on payroll after felony

by March 7th, 2012

In a ruling issued this week a state appeals court upheld the convictions for first-degree perjury, and gross misdemeanor counts of stalking and cyberstalking by a then-City of Seattle Parks and Recreation Department employee named Andre L. (Luis) Franklin, now 30. The case stemmed from what the appeals court ruling details as a sexually-themed online vendetta by Franklin against another city parks worker, a woman with whom he had been romantically involved.

But the story goes deeper. Although Franklin was placed on leave in late 2008 after the victim notified city personnel authorities and parks officials understood him to have admitted the cyberstalking; public records show he somehow landed another city job – as a painter for Seattle Public Utilities earning $57,464 base pay in 2009 and $63,739 gross pay in 2010. Though public records confirm he was paid for a full year’s work in 2009 as painter for SPU, Public Data Ferret has learned he did not actually begin working at SPU until December of 2009. In addition, his defense attorney Steven Witchley of Seattle confirms Franklin is currently employed in a temporary position as a solid waste inspector for SPU.

UW, Group Health study: some pills raise breast cancer risk

by March 5th, 2012

Delving into a hot-button topic about which they state all the science is distinctly not settled, a female-led team of researchers and doctors from the University of Washington in Seattle and the Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative HMO – in preliminary findings of a new study – report that for women aged 20 to 49, use of certain types of oral contraceptives within the previous year are “associated with particularly elevated risk” of being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. The abstract-only findings were published online in mid-February in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (link, screen shot.) The findings are also highlighted by Group Health at their Web site in a brief titled, “Taking newer birth control pills may be linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.”

The lead author, Elisabeth Beaber, a UW PhD candidate in epidemiology, declined to discuss the published first-stage research outcomes prior to further peer review. Meanwhile, Beaber was scheduled to give a presentation on the current report March 6 at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Society of Preventive Oncology in Washington D.C. as part of a session (referenced in the meeting agenda on p. 12) titled “Breast Cancer: Risk Prediction, Screening and Behavior Modification.”

The preliminary results of the study show that for women age 20 to 49, using within the last year an oral contraceptive formulation with high-dose estrogen or a progestin called ethynodial diacetate raises the odds ratios to 2.7 and 2.6, respectively, of being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer within that time frame – compared to women who do not use those formulations. An odds ratio of 1 represents no association.

Hidden report: UW sacked burn unit aide for diverting funds

by March 1st, 2012

According to a University of Washington internal audit report obtained by Public Data Ferret through the Washington Public Records Act, King County’s Harborview Medical Center – which is managed by the UW Medicine unit – last June 30 fired a recreational therapist in the Burn Therapy Department named Kim Beitelspacher after she misappropriated more than $17,000 from HMC’s petty cash account. She did this by getting approvals from an inattentive manager for double reimbursements of numerous portable DVD players she bought for recuperating burn patients. According to its web site Harborview is the sole Level 1 trauma and burn center for adults and children serving Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

Now, a state audit of the case is nearing completion
Responding to suggestions in the UW internal audit, Harborview management pledged to work with University Student Fiscal Services to seek restitution from Beitelspacher, 50, of Puyallup, and to “work with the Seattle Police Department to ensure that the case is filed with the King County Prosecutor’s Office” by November 2011. The case was reported to Seattle Police on July 22, 2011, but the prosecutor’s office reports there is no active case involving Beitelspecher. Seattle Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb said the case is assigned to the department’s fraud and forgery unit and their investigation is continuing.

For 5th drunk driving offense in 10 years, Maple Valley man faces felony DUI sentencing by King County judge

by February 28th, 2012

Kenneth Wayne Sandholm, 55, of Maple Valley is scheduled to be sentenced this coming Friday by King County Superior Court Judge Michael Heavey for up to five years in prison on a felony conviction earlier this month for Driving Under the Influence. Sandholm was convicted February 13th, for his fifth DUI offense committed within 10 years – making the most recent one a felony under state law. The circumstances of his arrest are detailed in the probable cause statement and the statement of charges.

Crossing the lines on State Route 18
According to these documents from the case file, Sandholm had four prior (misdemeanor) DUI convictions between 2000 and 2008; in Pierce County Court in 2000, 2005 and 2008; and in Tacoma Municipal Court in 2007. Each of those DUI convictions was accompanied by a conviction for driving with license suspended. On October 29, 2009 Sandholm was observed by a Washington State Patrol trooper driving east on State Route 18 just west of State Route 516 in his blue 1987 Mazda pickup and having major difficulties staying in his lane. The trooper reported that Sandholm at one point lurched from one eastbound lane into another by half a vehicle width, then after correcting, straddled the two lanes again, this time for 10 car lengths. Both before and after this, Sandholm’s vehicle went across the line dividing one lane with the road’s shoulder. The trooper stooped Sandholm, who according to the trooper’s report, had watery, bloodshot eyes and smelled of alcohol.

UW axed assistant dean who faked credits for 139 students

by February 24th, 2012

An ethically dicey work-around to help University of Washington School of Social Work master’s degree students maintain eligibility for financial aid and tuition waivers led to the forced resignation of an assistant dean named William G. “Gary” Olson. The Bellevue resident is now an adjunct instructor at Bellevue College, and claims through his attorney he was wronged by UW for engaging in what was an accepted practice there – albeit one about which he himself raised the initial questions that led to his exit.

Well away from public view UW found last year in an Internal Audit division investigation that from 2003 to 2011 Olson, the Assistant Dean of Student Services at its School of Social Work, awarded 139 students passing grades in a “Readings In Social Work” independent study course he taught, even though they did no work for the course. According to the audit division’s report dated June, 2011 – and obtained recently by Public Data Ferret through a public records request – the actions by Olson rendered invalid more than $200,000 in financial aid awarded to 54 of those students. University officials firmly maintain that Olson’s actions were isolated and that strong corrective steps have been taken.