By JESSE BURKHARDT
Skamania County Auditor Mike Garvison is resigning from his position, effective at the end of the day Sunday, Nov. 8.
Garvison, a Republican who was elected to a four-year term in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, said he is leaving office to take another job. He denied that his resignation was related to allegations of "unauthorized and extravagant" travel expenses recently raised by former Skamania County Prosecuting Attorney Bradley Andersen.
In an Oct. 20 document sent to Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and other public officials, Andersen claimed that Garvison had misused county funds by having the county reimburse him for excessive travel expenses.
"I had resigned Oct. 6 because I found different employment," Garvison said on Monday. "These allegations came on Oct. 20. One was not tied to the other."
In a 15-page summary prepared by Andersen, the former prosecutor alleged Garvison had been misusing county funds almost since the beginning of his service as Auditor.
"In 2002, the total Auditor's travel budget was approximately $5,600. But ... Mr. Garvison increased this amount each year, so that by 2008 he had spent nearly $51,000 on travel, and, through September of 2009, has already spent $32,000 (this year)," read an excerpt of the document from Andersen, now an attorney with the law firm of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Vancouver. "As his own records show, Mr. Garvison has 1) taken unauthorized and extravagant trips outside of the state of Washington that are unrelated to his duties as county Auditor; 2) been improperly reimbursed for travel and other expenses; 3) used public funds to campaign or engage in other activities unrelated to the duties of Auditor; 4) used public funds to pay his college tuition so he could obtain his masters in business administration; and 5) purchased equipment and other property that was unnecessary for him to carry out his official duties."
In the wake of Andersen's detailed accounting of what he claimed were illegitimate travel expenses by Garvison, the Washington State Auditor's Office has launched an investigation.
Mindy Chambers, a spokesperson for the State Auditor's Office, said the move came as a result of Andersen's claims.
"The investigation started in the middle of last week," Chambers explained. "How long the investigation will last will depend on so many factors. It's ongoing. We will look at the issues we've been asked to investigate, and we'll see where it ends up."
Andersen added that when he made a public records request of Garvison to review all of his travel vouchers, it was revealed that about two years of travel records had been "unlawfully destroyed."
Garvison declined to comment on the charges leveled by Andersen.
"There's actually a current, requested audit going on. I'm not going to comment on these erroneous allegations," Garvison said.
Garvison suggested that Andersen may have personal motives for the allegations.
"You can look at his track record and surmise that," he said, declining to elaborate.
In a highly detailed listing of alleged improper travel expenditures, Andersen claimed that Garvison had attended many events unrelated to his duties as Skamania County Auditor, including several trips earlier this year.
"So far in 2009, Mr. Garvison has traveled to Las Vegas; Washington, D.C.; twice to Florida; and, most recently, to Toronto, Canada," Andersen noted. "In January, Mr. Garvison traveled to Las Vegas to attend a `conference for Web site design.' He then flew on to Washington, D.C., to `lobby' for auditor issues. The taxpayers reimbursed Mr. Garvison over $7,500 in travel for January alone, which exceeded the overall auditor's travel budget in 2002."
Andersen also blistered Garvison for allegedly using county funds to gain his masters degree.
"Mr. Garvison recently obtained his masters in business administration from Upper Iowa State University and has apparently used this degree to attempt to gain other employment," Andersen wrote. "But guess who paid for his MBA? The taxpayers of Skamania County, to the tune of over $8,000 ... The county did not receive any benefit from Mr. Garvison taking university classes toward obtaining his degree ... This is clearly an unauthorized expenditure. Mr. Garvison needs to be fully investigated and, at minimum, be required to fully account for, and then reimburse the citizens of Skamania County, for all of his unauthorized expenditures."
Chambers said there is no way to know at this point if criminal charges could stem from the case if the State Auditor's Office finds there was misuse of county funds.
"We don't enforce, we only report, so I don't know what would be done," Chambers explained. "It depends on what we find."
Because Garvison was a Republican, the county's replacement process calls for Republican Party officials within Skamania County to provide three names of potential candidates. The Skamania County Commissioners will then select one of the three to serve the final year of Garvison's unexpired term.