One of the primary recommendations of the Independent Task Force on Elections appointed earlier this year by King County Executive Ron Sims was the creation of an outside “turnaround team” to evaluate and, if necessary, shakeup management of the elections department. In following through on his promise to follow the task force’s recommendation, Sims has chosen a contractor and requested $1.35 million from the council.
But now, as the council balks at appropriating the money, it’s own independent Citizen’s Election Oversight Committee is recommending against hiring a turnaround team at all.
Several members of the Citizens’ Election Oversight Committee, reconvened by the County Council after errors in the 2004 election, said Tuesday that the elections division has made great strides in improving the elections process.
But League of Women Voters representative Joan Thomas said a turnaround team could end up “turning around every bit of progress we’ve made, and starting all over again.”
The county virtually eliminated the mishandling of provisional ballots and dramatically improved its ballot accounting in the November election.
“It’s too late” for a turnaround team, committee chairman A.J. Culver said.
While administration insiders have previously assured me that Sims fully intends to follow the Task Force’s advice, and that Dean Logan’s fate would eventually be determined by the turnaround team’s recommendations, there has also been some internal debate over whether the turnaround team might disrupt the reforms already underway. The general administration consensus is that procedural improvements within elections have already been dramatic — an evaluation strongly echoed by the Citizens Oversight Committee — but that the turnaround team could be useful in recognizing and fixing the “cultural” and management issues that have long afflicted the department. Sims and his staff have also considered the turnaround team a necessary step towards restoring public faith in the system.
In telling the Seattle Times that Sims welcomed the council’s thoughts on a turnaround team, administration spokesman Sandeep Kaushik didn’t so much backpedal as he did leave the door open to reconsideration.
“We did make a commitment to the task force, which is the group that Executive Sims created, to implement this turnaround-team idea. That remains our position at this point.”
Well, at this point, the Council won’t be ready to vote on appropriating funds for the turnaround team until they reconvene in January… right around the time the Task Force is scheduled to reconvene as well. Considering how much is at stake both in terms of money and in continuing the successful transformation that is already occurring in the elections department, the first task before the Task Force should be to reevaluate their turnaround team recommendation in light of the improvements that have already been made.
After successful primary and general elections, the Citizens Oversight Committee seems downright enthusiastic about the improvements they have seen, while council members on both sides of the aisle seem to be questioning whether a turnaround team is still necessary. If the Task Force publicly agrees and drops this recommendation, it will save taxpayers $1.35 million, while further shoring up public faith in the system.
I’m not suggesting that just because KC elections has managed to run a couple of smooth elections, all the endemic cultural issues have been solved… but there are less dramatic and costly remedies. A management consultant could be brought in to review operations and make recommendations. Or perhaps State Auditor Brian Sonntag might be invited to come in and conduct one of those much-ballyhooed performance audits… on the state’s dime.
In any case, I think it’s time for everyone to stop viewing KC elections through the prism of the hyperbolic election contest controversy, and start evaluating it based on its recent performance. We may discover that a turnaround team is a solution in search of a problem that no longer exists.