Wednesday, July 18, 2018

State conservation commission: Johnson and Mankmeyer should be removed from Thurston Conservation District board



Eric Johnson and Richard Mankmeyer should be removed from the Thurston Conservation District Board, according to a recommendation by the state conservation commission staff.

Their recommendation is outlined in the final report of a months-long investigation by the conservation commission into the last few years at the Thurston Conservation District. The report to state commission executive director Mark Clark and the commission members recommends Johnson's and Mankmeyer's removal based on multiple counts of neglect of duty and malfeasance.

For now, I'm simply reading the report itself and adding in details I find important. Basically, anything above the background links won't change (unless I note it) but any additional information below that may likely grow. I'm setting this to post automatically publish just after 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 18. But I'll be adding more information to this and posting additional separate posts later on.

Also as usual with how I'm writing this, I'm trying to take care and clean up typos as I go along. But if you find some, just let me know on the sly and I'll fix them. Thanks!

You can read the entire report here.

According to the report, the specific counts against Johnson are:
Exhibited Neglect in Duty by: 
1. Utilizing his position as District Supervisor to obtain special privileges or
exemptions for himself;
2. Not maintaining timely and accurate records of District business;
3. Not responding to public disclosure requests promptly,
4. Delaying the signing of District checks, and
5. Inappropriate conduct toward staff. 
Exhibited Malfeasance: 
1. By wrongful conduct in failing to participate in a scheduled hearing;
2. Inappropriate conduct toward staff creating potential liabilities for the district;
3. Failure to comply laws and rules of the state; and
4. Not allowing a supervisor to perform their duties.
And against Mankmeyer:
Exhibited Neglect in Duty by: 
1. Not maintaining timely and accurate records of District business,
2. Not responding to public disclosure requests promptly,
3. Delaying the signing of District checks and timesheets, and
4. Inappropriate conduct toward staff. 
Exhibited Malfeasance: 
1. By wrongful conduct in exhibiting inappropriate conduct toward staff creating potential liabilities for the district; and
2. Inappropriate conduct toward staff.
So, that's is the basics of it but there is a ton to unpack here. For now, I'm going to let the above stand as a summary of what has been concluded by the staff. But I'm going to keep on writing below, adding stuff as I go along and see how far I can get.

First off, here's a few links for background reading and listening.

Where it all started for me with this post: It's time to acknowledge how messed up the Thurston Conservation District is and you should vote to change that.

My podcast partner and I did a great episode of The Olympia Standard that summarized what was going on out at the conservation district as of mid-February. You can listen to that here.

The Olympian joined in on the fun (here, here, here and later here). Hand to God, someone owes Abby Spegman a beer or something for getting this quote: "Joel and the bureaucratic bootlickers may not appreciate that, but that is my commitment to taxpayers. As a farmer, I’m used to dealing with manure and manure spreaders."

As you might have surmised through clicking on some links and reading further, there was eventually an election that crystallized how people felt about the current leadership of the conservation district.

It turned out like this: Folks, how do you feel? Oh, you elected the candidate most opposed to Johnson and Mankmeyer? Like with record turnout? Despite a super messed up election system? (Another blog post I have about that) Wow, that's great!

So, let's keep going and circle back to the report itself. So, how bad are things out at the conservation district, really? Oh my god, so super bad. There are a lot of things that have gone bad at the district lately, but here are a few the pop out to me.

1. Johnson knows all about the manure spreaders. For this we know is true.

Remember back a few paragraphs when I said that I really loved the quote "As a farmer, I’m used to dealing with manure and manure spreaders." I mean, Johnson was implying a whistleblower (Joel Hansen) was full of bullshit.

So, that makes this part of the report really super interesting to read:
The cost-share agreement requires implementation certification by District staff prior to a landowner receiving cost-share funds. Implementation certification requirement include a site inspection by District staff to verify completion and the project meeting required standards.  
When arriving at Johnson’s dairy farm he was unable to verify if the piping installed met the required standards as the pipe had already been covered. Johnson stated to Nygard the piping did meet the required standards and requested he approve the project so he could receive the funding. Nygard was hesitant to approve the project without being able to see how and what type of piping was installed. Nygard stated he felt pressured by Johnson to go ahead and approve the project. Nygard stated previously that Johnson had spoken negatively of other District staff to him. Since Nygard was close to retirement, he did not want to cause trouble with Johnson. Out of concern for possible retaliation from Johnson, Nygard went ahead and approved the project so Johnson could receive the funding. 
District Executive Director Kathleen Whalen stated in her interview Johnson approached her during the time he was installing the manure transfer system and requested of her to petition the Commission for additional funds to cover the costs of his project. Mr. Johnson had been approved to receive $38,000 in cost-share funds. She stated he continued to request of her to seek additional funds for his project. Eventually, she did approach the Commission and was able to receive an additional $4,296 for Johnson’s project. In the end, Johnson received $42,296 in cost-share funds for his project on his personal dairy farm.
2. Yeah, geez the timesheets and checks. Or, the gang who couldn't approve minutes decided they wanted to start signing checks.

One of the most interesting wrinkles for me about this entire drama has been the story about how one of the board members wouldn't sign checks. It has always been a fascinating part of government board membership to me that governing boards (city councils, trustees) actually approve all spending above a certain level on a check-by-check level by a government agency. In most cases this is done so quickly it is on a section of the meeting agenda called the consent calendar. Basically, it acts as a clearinghouse on the agenda to take care of regular boring business like what checks the agency needs to pay its day-to-day bills.

Real financial discussion happens when you put together an agency budget. Lots of discussion on the consent agenda means either a board member doesn't understand the agency they're leading or there is a lack of trust.

But for the Thurston Conservation District, it went somewhere deeper. I mean, obviously.

From the report:
Supervisor Mankamyer has refused for up to two months to sign District checks since his appointment as District Board Auditor during the November 1, 2017 District Supervisor meeting. Many of these checks were for reoccurring payments (rent, leased vehicles, utilities, etc.) already approved in the District’s annual budget. This has resulted in late fees assessed to the District and the District not following established fiscal procedures previously approved by the Board. 
Additionally, since Mankamyer has been appointed to sign Acting Executive Director Moorehead’s timesheets, timesheets have gone unsigned for over two months. Because timesheets must be submitted to various funders, the failure to sign the timesheets has created delays in billings to grants and payments back to the District.
Up until very recently, an accountant would actually sign checks approved by the conservation district board. But that changed: "On November 1, 2017, the board voted 3 to 1 (Johnson, Mankamyer, and Powell for and Fleischner against) to appoint Mankamyer as board auditor. Rushton was not in attendance and Fleischner expressed concerns to the chair on making appointments without the full board (Rushton) not being present."

So, how did that turn out? Well, despite an insistence that the board needed to take direct control of the district's finances and that he would train up, apparently Mankmeyer didn't do so well.

From the report again:
Emails and statements from District staff established Mankamyer has been given ample opportunity to receive training, ask questions and be provided resources needed to fulfill his duties as appointed District Board Auditor. His actions resulted in the delay in payment of on-going expenses in violations of District policy.