Barack Obama didn’t do much except run for President during his four years in the US Senate, but he did partner with Tom Coburn on transparency in budgeting. That accomplishment allowed for some hope that Obama would work to make the federal government more transparent. Unfortunately, as our friend Stefan Sharkansky reports from Sound Politics, Obama’s appointment of Ron Sims to the #2 position at HUD sends exactly the opposite message. A court levied the biggest fine for illegal record withholding against Sims in Washington State history — and that record hasn’t finished yet:
Sims is culpable for what may well become the largest fine for violations of public records laws in U.S. history: see Yousoufian, Armen
My own public records suit against Sims (for delaying release of election records which revealed that King County officials unlawfully counted hundreds of ineligible ballots in the 2004 governor’s race) goes to trial in April.
The Yousoufian case should have derailed Sims’ appointment all by itself. The Seattle Times just reported on the state Supreme Court decision that demanded a higher fine for King County under Sims’ governance for illegally blocking records that Yousoufian wanted to investigate the public financing of Qwest Field, the stadium where the Seattle Seahawks now play. Their years-long delay ensured that Yousoufian could not find any potentially damaging information before a referendum that approved public financing for the NFL stadium. The court found “hundreds” of instances where they gave misleading information or refused to give information at all while Sims was King County Executive.
Sharkansky feels Yousoufian’s pain. When the Seattle blogger attempted to investigate King County’s performance in the 2004 election, the county — under Sims’ governance — gave him the same kind of runaround rather than comply with legal records requests. Sharkansky eventually discovered what Sims and King County wanted to keep hidden: they counted ineligible ballots during the recount to give Christine Gregoire the necessary margin of victory over Dino Rossi for governor. Sharkansky’s suit will finally go to trial in April. Sims might get called to testify, and if Sharkansky wins, King County can expect to pay another large fine to mitigate Sims’ mismanagement and opacity.
The Obama transition team appears to have fumbled another key appointment. Senate Republicans should start making the argument that issuing executive orders for transparency means nothing if the administration gets filled with people who routinely violate existing Freedom of Information laws. Sims needs to get the boot back to Washington, where he should answer for his misdeeds in King County.