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News / Opinion / Editorials
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: McCarthy best candidate for state auditor

The Columbian
Published: September 25, 2020, 6:03am

During the economic downturn that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic, Washington residents require particular assurance that government is performing efficiently and spending money wisely. The Columbian Editorial Board recommends that Democrat Patrice “Pat” McCarthy be reelected as state auditor to continue her admirable oversight of state agencies and local governments.

As always, this is merely a recommendation. The editorial board suggests that voters examine the candidates and the issues in order to make an informed decision.

The state auditor’s office is tasked with performing financial audits of local governments ranging from cemetery districts to county governments. The office also conducts performance audits to assess efficiency, a provision of Initiative 900 passed by voters in 2005, and it conducts investigations into reports of fraud and whistleblower complaints.

Equally important, it must conduct these functions with the utmost transparency to ensure public confidence.

During McCarthy’s first term as state auditor, following two terms serving a similar function as Pierce County executive, she has performed her duties well while overseeing a department of 400 employees spread across 15 offices throughout the state.

Most notably, she has played a key role in improving transparency and accessibility. Her department’s website has established several tools to better inform the public, including one called Tracker that allows for the searching of audits and government responses to those audits. Meanwhile, the department’s Financial Intelligence Tool allows residents to track where money comes from and how it is spent, providing comparisons across different governmental bodies.

Those mark just some of the advancements made during McCarthy’s tenure. She also has been a stabilizing force for a department in chaos when she was elected. Previous auditor Troy Kelly was facing federal fraud charges (not related to his duties as auditor) and was subsequently convicted of eight felony charges. McCarthy told the editorial board she would “go out and proselytize to the general public. I needed to build relationships.”

One local example of the department’s work was seen in May, when an audit determined that the executive director of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association used more than $19,000 in public funds for personal expenses, including the purchase of a home climate-control system.

Republican Chris Leyba is running against McCarthy, telling the editorial board that proactive audits can help prevent fraud and that hiring out-of-office accountants to conduct audits could be less expensive for local governments. McCarthy countered by saying, “We’re post-auditors. That’s what we do; that’s what the statute requires.”

Leyba is well-versed on the role of the auditor’s office and the details of the office’s operations. But his experience as a police officer and a law-enforcement auditor is much different from the requirements to serve as state auditor.

One example of the role the auditor’s office will play in helping Washington recover from COVID-19 can be found in the Economic Security Department, where fraudulent claims resulted in illegitimate payouts and delays to legitimate payouts. McCarthy said her office is conducting three separate audits of the department.

Pat McCarthy is the best candidate to oversee that work. The Columbian Editorial Board recommends that she be reelected.