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Courthouse Journal

The Courthouse Journal is the official newsletter of the Washington Association of County Officials. An archive of the past year's newsletters is available in our archive.

Jan 22

Retiring Okanogan County Auditor Leaves on a Positive Note

Posted on January 22, 2019 at 8:31 AM by Timothy Grisham

(Courtesy of the Methow Valley News)

“Last week was a little bit hard — I got emotional a few times,” said Laurie Thomas, who retired at the end of December after more than 31 years with the Okanogan County auditor’s office, the last 12 as the county’s elected auditor. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I loved my job.”

In some ways, being an effective auditor means you’re kind of overlooked, said Thomas. “I’ve always felt that, if we do our job well, we’re basically invisible. If we don’t, we’re front-page news,” she said. “And if they’re election issues, we’re national front-page news. Fortunately, we never were — under my watch.”

Since auditors’ functions are so varied, they’re not always well understood. Auditors and their staff are responsible for recording everything from property deeds to marriage licenses to mining claims, and for processing vehicle and boat registrations. They do financial reports, prepare and administer the county budget, and oversee elections. “Those things don’t flow into each other.” said Thomas.

And all of those things need to be done with attention to public service. “We’re the only deal in town. Most people resent giving us their money, so I like to make it as painless and pleasant as we can,” she said. She knows she’ll miss working with the public.

Thomas studied business and accounting and oversaw finances at her family’s cattle ranch until she got a job in the licensing division at the auditor’s office in July 1987. Soon she moved to accounting, where she handled accounts payable and payroll. In 2006, after the auditor retired, she ran for the post and was elected to three terms.

Many changes

In three decades, there were predictable changes. When Thomas started, everyone had an electric typewriter and they took turns using the office’s one data-entry machine. Compared to the paper ledgers they used for recording, that equipment was fairly high-tech. “We had handwritten indexes for deeds and mortgages, in huge, big ledgers,’” said Thomas. Initially all the spreadsheets and the cash book — which get double-checked monthly against the treasurer’s records — were filled out by hand. Doing them by hand took nearly a day, whereas now the task takes a couple of hours, said Thomas.

In retirement, Thomas will have more time to devote to the financial management of her husband’s aluminum-water-trough business.

She and her husband plan travels to visit their three grandchildren. They also look forward to being able to jump into their upgraded motor home and see more of the country. Although they have no specific plans, they’re already thinking about the Oregon coast and Death Valley. “We can just take off in the general direction and visit friends and family along the way,” said Thomas.

“The job of an auditor is not a real glamorous job. You don’t make policies or big changes, and you’re mandated to do things in a certain way,” she said. “My goal was to do it well, and to leave the best staff for my successor. I think I accomplished that.”

Thomas is being succeeded by Cari Hall, who was elected to the position in November.

Hall has worked for three years as the finance manager in the auditor’s office. Before that, she was chief financial officer at the nonprofit Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare for 13 years.

“It was a good run. Okanogan County has been good to me. I care deeply for the office and the county,” said Thomas.
Jan 03

MRSC Ethics Training

Posted on January 3, 2019 at 3:42 PM by Timothy Grisham

Public service is a public trust, requiring officers and employees to place loyalty to state and local laws and ethical principles above private gain.
 
The Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC)'s upcoming webinar, Ethical Considerations for Local Government Staff and Officials, will provide a framework to help build and maintain a more ethical culture and make a lasting impact on the community. The training will address topics including state ethics laws, the roles of elected officials versus staff, potential areas of conflict, and common pitfalls.
 
  • Date: Wednesday, January 16, 2019 
  • Time: 10 AM - 11 AM 
  • Cost: $35 
  • Credits available: 1.0 CLE, 1.0 CML 
Jan 03

Open Government Training

Posted on January 3, 2019 at 3:41 PM by Timothy Grisham

WACO is proud and excited to offer a series of five, one-hour, webinars on Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA). 
 
Dates: February 7, 20, 21, 27, 28 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
 
The presenters are Nancy Krier, the Assistant Attorney General (AAG) for Open Government; and Morgan Dammerow, AAG is the Attorney General Office (AGO)’s  Local Government Consultant for the PRA. Each session will cover a separate topic, and will consist of  45 minutes of instruction and 15 minutes for questions. Nancy and Morgan are extremely knowledgeable about both the PRA and OPMA, and we are most fortunate to have them share their expertise with us.  They both are accomplished presenters. Through-out the training there will be material on public disclosure and your personal devices that are also used for business. This training will be especially helpful and pertinent to our new members and to any new employees who are in your offices. 
 
It’s being offered at no cost to Washington Association of County Officials (WACO) members and your staff. The schedule for the training is:
  1. OPMA - Thursday, February 7, 1:00-2:00 PM
  2. PRA - Nuts and Bolts, Wednesday, February 20, 1:00-2:00 PM
  3. PRA - Searching for and Producing Documents, Thursday, February 21, 1:00-2:00 PM
  4. PRA - Redacting/Withholding Records, Wednesday, February 27, 1:00-2:00 PM
  5. PRA - Litigation, Thursday, February 28, 1:00-2:00 PM
WACO will provide certificates for those who register and attend the training to certify completion of OPMA and PRA training per WA State requirements. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to ask those worrisome PRA and OPMA questions.  
 
Additional open government training resources can be found on the WACO website at: http://countyofficials.org/189/Open-Government.