From left to right: Klickitat County Assessor Darlene Johnson, Klickitat County Sheriff Candidate Robert "Bob" Songer, and Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter.
As of Friday, October 3, 2014
Klickitat County’s prosecutor and sheriff jointly have asked the Washington State Patrol and the state Attorney General’s office to investigate three citizen complaints against two county elected officials and certain county employees.
Prosecutor Lori Hoctor and Sheriff Rick McComas, in letters dated Sept. 29, requested “the assistance” of the State Patrol and the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the following:
- Whether County Assessor Darlene Johnson violated state law when producing redacted copies of taxpayer returns and other taxpayer information to fulfill a public records request concerning the personal property tax returns filed by Crista and Brian Schroder. Crista Schroder is running against John-son for the elective office of Assessor.
“We further request that if it is determined that a crime has been committed the matter be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office,” Hoctor and McComas wrote.
Johnson denies that she did anything wrong in fulfilling a public records request by a contributor to her campaign. She also has said she is not using her office to attack her political opponent, that she is just following the law.
- Whether candidate for sheriff Robert L. Songer or certain depu-ties employed by the Sheriff’s Off-ice violated campaign finance law through contributions to Songer’s campaign, and if so, whether it is appropriate to file gross misdemeanor charges against any of the individuals involved.
Hoctor and McComas note in their letter that certain deputies have contributed personal funds to Songer’s campaign, and one deputy is Songer’s campaign manager. One employee made a contribution before she retired in August 2013. All other contributing deputies are members of Civil Service and a local of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees.
Hoctor and McComas want the State Patrol and the AG’s Office to determine, “based on all competent evidence, whether the candidate or any contributing deputies have violated [state laws]” in light of a Feb. 10, 1972 AG Opinion concerning participation by state or local governmental employees in both partisan and non-partisan political campaigns.
- Whether County Commissioner David Sauter misused taxpayer funds when claiming various travel reimbursements, per a citizen allegation.
The letter by Hoctor and McComas requests that if the State Patrol determines a crime has been committed, that the matter be prosecuted by the AG’s Office.
In a brief description of the issue, Hoctor and McComas wrote, “Did Commissioner Sauter misuse taxpayer funds when seeking reimbursement for attending events for his personal political benefit, for mileage reimbursement in past years related to travel to and from his residence to the Klickitat Coun-ty Courthouse not claimed as a fringe benefit on his tax returns, for improperly documented use of private airplane, and for reimbursement sought for air travel mileage that is contrary to the actual miles traveled.”
Sauter has denied the allegations.
Hoctor told The Enterprise on Monday that she and McComas “reached the conclusion that we needed to take some sort of action” concerning the citizen-driven complaints that have been lodged with her office in recent months.
“Our practice in this office is that we do an investigation of the allegations, whether they have merit or not,” Hoctor said. “As prosecutors, we need to make sure that those allegations are investigated before we can make a charging decision.”
“My concern” with going to the State Patrol and the AG’s Office, she said, “is that state agencies are slow, and we only have four weeks before the election.”
McComas told The Enterprise on Tuesday that he and Hoctor “have been quite concerned and have communicated consistently since receiving information on the three separate citizen concerns.”
“We believe that the citizens should have the best review or investigation of these circumstances that is available,” McComas said. “As you can imagine, sometimes one’s best attempt at finding answers becomes a target of criticism, as may the outcome itself. It was our choice to utilize agencies that are unaffected by either the complaint or the outcome.”
McComas said he and Hoctor agreed that this approach “would allow the least disruption to the county during a sensitive election year.”