Who supervises our elected officials?
That’s a question that our courts are currently wrestling with. Who supervises our county elected officials?
You would think the answer would be – - the voters or the taxpayers – - and in the long run you would be correct. But who does the day to day supervision of the county auditor, the county assessor, the county clerk, the county sheriff or the county prosecuting attorney?
Who sees that these officials do their duty, hire wisely, spend wisely and obey the rules?
Superior court has ruled that the county commissioners are responsible for the actions of the other county elected officials and that ruling has just been upheld by the Washington Court of Appeals.
The case in question is the $1.52 million dollar law suit against Thurston County for actions or inactions taken in the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office over a sex discrimination case. In that case, three women attorneys said they were sexually harassed by their supervisors and had to work in a hostile atmosphere.
The three women sued Thurston County and won in superior court and most recently in the court of appeals.
Attorneys for Thurston County contended that since the Thurston County Commissioners had no control over the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, then they had no liability over actions or inactions taken by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
And there we sit. The big question still unanswered. If the Thurston County Commission can be responsible for actions in other elected officials offices, then can they also have some say over who is hired and how the office is run?
The courts apparently think so.
Currently the county commissioners just have control over the various department’s budgets. They determine how much money each county elected official will receive?
Does that alone constitute legal authority to supervise the offices of the other elected officials?
These are questions left unanswered. How they are answered will determine if your elected county officials report directly to the county commission or if they operate independently.
Lets hope Thurston County appeals this current ruling to the Washington State Supreme Court and gets a firm answer on direct line of supervision and authority.
It’s important to everyone who deals with county government.