Paul Pickett’s Charge: Cover Up Corruption at Thurston County Conservation District
By Glen Morgan -
Dept of Ecology employee Paul Pickett’s priority is to cover up corruption at the Thurston Conservation District
Paul Pickett was recently “elected” to the Thurston County Conservation District with one primary task – cover up the corruption and incompetence by Thurston Conservation District Staff while ensuring the blame gets shifted somewhere else. This task was Pickett’s prime duty to ensure the highest priority for all the grifters who benefit from government grants – ensure the flow of federal, state and other grant dollars continue without interruption and certainly without any real oversight. Pickett has his orders and is eager to lead the charge.
Evergreen College features prominently in any conversation about the Thurston Conservation District
Paul Pickett was the perfect choice to lead the corruption coverup. Pickett has an environmental engineering degree, was recently an Evergreen College faculty member, former Thurston County PUD Commissioner, a member in good standing with the Green Party, former Chairman of the AFSCME Local 28 Natural Resources Committee, and a current employee at the Washington State Department of Ecology. Pickett thrived for years on environmental grants and justifying anything Gang Green wanted. As an employee at the Department of Ecology he knew that the ends always justify the means. The important thing was to keep the grant money train moving. To keep the cash flowing, he had to bury anything that might expose corruption or incompetence which could risk this easy money.
At the Thurston County Conservation District – it is all about the cash – who gets it, how much has disappeared, and how to get more.
Overpaid staff, no-bid contracts, missing money, falsifying minutes, and hiding records
Thurston Conservation staff are paid far more than similar state employees working for Washington State, with far less oversight and almost zero accountability. For example, in this 10 employee office, multiple employees take home cash and benefits well in excess of $100,000. For example, recently “retired” Staff Director Kathleen Whalen made over $135,000 in total benefits, current “interim” Director Sarah Moorehead takes home over $108,000 in total benefits, Deputy Director Amy Hatch-Winecka takes over $131,000 in total known compensation (not including double-dipping from other conservation districts).
Kathleen Whalen – former TCD staff Director
Historically, even though the Thurston Conservation District leases vehicles, ostensibly to be used by staff as they drive around the county and survey the salmon recovery projects, the staff realized that it was a bigger personal payoff to just use their personal vehicles and collect the cash reimbursement. The previous director, Kathleen Whalen, former staff Director, was billing the district on average $500 per month, until some of the current supervisors curtailed this abuse of the personal mileage reimbursements a few years ago. This includes one of the supervisors now targeted by Paul Pickett’s cover up effort.
For TCCD staff, it is always other people’s money to burn
Additionally, missing money seems to be a common and unconcerning problem for staff. Recently, staff has been struggling to account for $85,000 of the $100,000 they claim is “cash on hand.” (as reported in audio file from a recent meeting).
Before the recent “election” earlier this year, staff screwed up by failing to submit “rates and charges” to the Thurston County Commissioners for budget approval. This was just simple incompetence on staff’s part, but they attempted to shift the blame to the elected District Supervisors – conveniently just the ones who dared to question staff. This blame shift effort was effectively marshalled by Pickett and his friends at the Olympian as a talking point to justify his “election” to the Conservation District.
Weird “elections,” long history of corruption, rewarding employees who are under investigation
Conservation Districts were originally created in the 1930s as a way to help farmers develop more effective farming practices and help provide government assistance to ensure a more efficient and effective use of agricultural land. Today, conservation districts primarily exist as locally funded entities which act as conduits for millions of dollars of government grants – mostly for environmental projects. While the Thurston Conservation District actively applies for federal, state, local, and other grants, they are also funded by local property taxes. Hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed through the various conservation districts in Washington State over the past few years, and the Thurston Conservation District actively helped distribute many of these grants.
These were the buses used to move gullible Evergreen College students to the Thurston Conservation District Plant sale to vote for Pickett earlier this year.
One legacy of the history of the Conservation District is the strange and bizarre “elections” process. Instead of all eligible voters receiving ballots, local voters must request their ballots from the Conservation District Staff (and now the Thurston County Auditor), or they can attend the one day plant sale in early March located at the Tumwater warehouse location and vote in person. Since staff was understandably concerned about their activities receiving possible public exposure, they recruited reliably gullible Evergreen College students and bussed them to the plant sale to support the staff choice of Paul Pickett to lead the coverup and become the newest Thurston Conservation District Supervisor. In a rare point of agreement between this author and the Washington State League of Women’s Voters, there has been widespread recognition that this strange method of voting for Conservation District Supervisors is ripe for corruption and fraud. There is clearly a need to reform it, summarized in a 2011 study (linked here).
Unless you go to Evergreen State College – where your duty is to vote to cover up corruption and join the scam
Conservation Districts have been exposed, on occasion, for kick-back schemes around the state. Usually these are scandals involving a clique of farmers who realize they can easily take control of the local conservation district and steer the grant dollars to themselves. This happened at the Thurston Conservation District back in 1999-2000, and the Olympian even reported on it multiple times (linked here). Today, the Olympian has decided to bury the scandals, support the corruption, and pretend the unpaid Board of Supervisors who have the audacity to question staff for missing funds, wasting tax dollars, and incestuous grant schemes are “harassing” the staff by daring to ask questions.
TCD employee Sarah Moorhead
Interestingly, staff member at TCD at the time – Kathleen Whalen- who was under investigation for shady financial activities by Supervisors in 2014 when she predictably, received the “employee of the year” nomination from the Washington Association of District Employees at the time.
Sarah Moorehead gets employee of the year award just in time to hold off investigation – a tradition at the TCCD
While Kathleen Whalen, who was being investigated by the current TC Board of Supervisors, wisely “retired” from her position, other local staff who were being investigated included Sarah Moorehead, interim executive director has also been selected as employee of the year by the same association which effectively covered for Whalen’s misdeeds in the past. Moorehead made the extra effort to ensure she could not be fired from the Conservation District by filing a complaint with the State’s Human Rights Commission, presumably for the crime of potentially being held accountable for her actions. Another employee being investigated at the time – Amy Franks (who also filed a complaint with the HRC)– wisely jumped ship and brought her baggage to the Pierce County Conservation District.
Amy Hatch-Winecka is the prime grant writer and directs many grants to her husband’s non-profit
Amy Hatch-Winecka is an employee of the Thurston County Conservation District (see link here). For years, she was also an employee of the Mason County Conservation District. This author filed a records request in late 2015, which led, in part to her termination from the Mason County Conservation District (see letter here, and after she agreed to not sue them, the final agreement here).
Lance Winecka’s non-profit gets to cash his wife’s grant checks for no-bid contracts
Part of the Mason Conservation District’s concerns were the questionable no-bid grant distribution to her close friends and husband, Lance Winecka. Amy’s husband Lance is the Executive Director of the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, which is a local non-profit organization which consumes much of the pass-through grant funds written for the TCD by his wife, Amy. In Washington State, approximately $226 million of federal salmon recovery funds were distributed in the last biennial budget. Most of these funds are distributed by the 47 local conservation districts like TCD. The monitoring, supervision, and auditing of how these funds are spent appears to be very slipshod, uneven, and incestuous, as Amy and Lance Winecka’s example demonstrate. However, while this might be considered unethical in Mason County, in Thurston County, it is worthy of a raise and promotion. In fact, Amy Hatch-Winecka usually directs accusations of “harassment” at anyone who dares to question her questionable behavior. The TCD appears more comfortable living with this corruption, conflicts of interests, and the appearance of nepotistic taxpayer cash transfers. For example see below:
Nothing Shady or Nepotistic about this – wife and husband determine all work authorized and spent between TCD and SPSSEG. No need to look closely at this.
On June 15, 2018, a Thurston County Superior Court hearing determined that TCD Supervisor Eric Johnson was entitled to records he requested and that WSU violated the Public Records Act in attempting to withhold the Thurston Conservation District Staff emails
Additionally, staff, most of whom are graduates of Evergreen College, appear to be colluding to ensure that nobody ever looks too closely at their actions. A series of concerns have been raised for years by a variety of Conservation District Supervisors. A particularly effective and thoughtful summary of these concerns was drafted by former Board Supervisor Jim Goche in a letter sent to the Washington State Conservation Commission (linked here, here, and here).
Interestingly, the State Conservation Commission has been refusing to provide responses to records requests, while at the same time, WSU (the entity who hosts the emails for the Conservation District) recently lost a lawsuit filed by Eric Johnson, one of the Thurston Conservation District Board of Supervisors who is trying to audit the questionable actions of staff (see video of court hearing linked here). We won’t know the full damages until a hearing in front of Thurston County Superior Court Judge Schaller on Friday, but we do know they can’t hide these records from the public anymore.
Eric Johnson – TCD Supervisor who dared to question staff and now must be punished and removed.
Instead of cleaning up the corruption and incompetence, Pickett was “elected” on the bandwagon of removing the TCD Supervisors who were questioning staff and digging into the corruption. This is Pickett’s priority. The State Conservation Commission is coordinating with Pickett in this effort and just notified Eric Johnson (see here and here), who dared to question the corruption, that they are intervening to remove him from office. Remember, the highest priority of the State Conservation Commission and Pickett is to cover up wrongdoing. Secondly, Pickett has coordinated an effort to file recall petitions on the other two unpaid elected TCD Supervisors – Richard Mankamyer and Linda Powell for daring to question staff, which, of course is “harassment.”
Except TCD Staff – don’t question them
Of particular note, is the fact that one of the State Conservation Commission’s claims against Supervisor Johnson is that he “enriched” himself by being the recipient of Conservation District funds. This is a fascinating accusation since nearly every elected supervisor on all 47 local Conservation Districts has been or is a current recipient of these funds. In the 1999/2000 scandal, several local Thurston County Conservation District Supervisors were recipients of far more significant grant funds under genuinely questionable circumstances, but since they were willing to cover up staff corruption at the time, the State Conservation District was fine with that. This recent effort to remove Supervisor Eric Johnson demands a serious effort by state and federal investigative agencies to deeply investigate the Washington State Conservation Commission for its efforts to cover up corruption and blame those who wish to expose the truth. This was effectively detailed by former Thurston County Conservation District Supervisor Jim Goche in his letters to the State Commission (see here, here, and here).
Arthur West, longtime Public Records Act activist, joined in the TCD circus with an OPMA lawsuit against the supervisors who dared to question staff (photo: Save Tacoma Water)
Longtime public records activist Arthur West was even recruited into the Pickett circus and has made a cameo appearance by following Pickett’s directives and filing an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) lawsuit (see here) against the three supervisors who dared to question the corruption and incompetence of staff. Although this author appreciates some of West’s Public Records Act cases, and we have found ourselves testifying on the same side in proposed open government legislative hearings in the past, this is not one of West’s better cases as he has clearly let himself become a tool of the corrupt in this case.
State Conservation Commission joins the cover up, keeps the cash flowing, Pickett’s priorities align
The State Conservation Commission appears to have been entirely focused on removing pesky elected Conservation Board Supervisors who are willing to dig into unlawful actions by staff, rather than get to the bottom of the corruption and incompetence. The State Conservation Commission has a long history of doing this because it is better to bury a scandal than to fix the underlying problems which produce those scandals. Keeping the money train alive is far more important than uncovering the truth.
Of more significant, state-wide impact is the very structure and existence of the State Conservation Commission. The structure of grant distribution lacks even basic oversight and has become a mega-dollar transfer program using mostly no-bid contracts to special interests who can easily control or manipulate staff, supervisors, and the goofy “elections” to ensure the money train keeps rolling along. If it really is going to be an agricultural program, then it should be abolished as an independent entity, moved from being housed in the Department of Ecology headquarters, and transferred to the Department of Agriculture. If we are going to admit that it functions primarily as a grant transfer entity for special interests, then why pretend to be independant with “elected” supervisors? Whatever the state legislature ultimately decides, this creaky, corrupt entity that only punishes people who question the corruption and not the corrupt demands radical intervention.
Corruption is easier than you think and it pays pretty well. Why question it?
When senior government managers and staff find themselves in hot water and want to cover up their corruption, they must find willing accomplices, and Paul Pickett is eager to oblige. He works at the Department of Ecology which shares their building with the State Conservation Commission, so he can walk downstairs, compare notes, and get his marching orders. Pickett’s charge is to cover up corruption in the Thurston Conservation District, and he is charging full speed ahead.
If Pickett can get rid of the supervisors who dare to question staff, then, according to the State Conservation Commission and the legion of grant grifters, the TCCD will be in good hands once again.
OUR CONSTITUTION BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE “WE THE PEOPLE.” IT WAS THE FOUNDER’S INTENT THAT GOVERNMENT BE CREATED BY THE PEOPLE, TO SERVE THE PEOPLE. IT WASN’T THEIR INTENTION FOR THE PEOPLE TO SERVE THE GOVERNMENT. IT WAS ALWAYS INTENDED THAT GOVERNMENT WHICH FAILED TO SERVE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE “ALTERED OR ABOLISHED.” UNTIL WE RETURN TO THE FOUNDER’S INTENT, WE REMAIN WE THE GOVERNED…
Additional Background articles and documents:
July 18, 2018 – Washington State Conservation Commission Letter to Eric Johnson saying they will act to remove him from his unpaid appointed position (for daring to question staff’s misuse of resources and incompetence)
April 14, 2018 – Washington State Green Party recognizes Paul Pickett as a member in good standing in case they delete or remove this post, here is screen capture linked below: