ENDORSEMENT: It's time for a new Washington County auditor
Editor's note: Endorsements are made by the Editorial Board and reflect the opinion of Pamplin Media Group editors and publishers. Letters to the editor and other submitted opinion pieces will be considered for publication without regard to the official editorial stance or endorsements made by the Editorial Board.
County auditor isn't the world's most exciting job.
Although it's a countywide elected position, auditor is likely the least controversial, most overlooked position around. Auditors rarely face opposition when they run for re-election. The low-profile nature of the gig means that for the most part, an auditor operates in the background, leading a small team that churns out reports and confirms that county government is operating as it should.
This editorial board wasn't planning to endorse a candidate in this year's election for Washington County auditor. In fact, we were surprised there is more than one option for voters to choose. That's especially surprising given John Hutzler, Washington County's auditor since 2010, is running for a fourth term.
But circumstances have changed.
Hutzler in the headlines
Our news partners at KOIN 6 News alerted us earlier this month to an egregious misuse of quotations in Hutzler's candidate statement, which appears in the taxpayer-funded Washington County Voters' Pamphlet; as well as on Hutzler's campaign website.
Hutzler quoted excerpts from a letter to the editor submitted by one of his supporters to Pamplin Media Group newspapers. Fine, all well and good — except that instead of attributing them to the letter's author, he attributed them to the Beaverton Valley Times and the Hillsboro Tribune (the name under which the Hillsboro News-Times published until 2019).
When pressed by Pamplin Media Group and KOIN reporters, Hutzler took the misleading attributions down from his website. But it was too late to change the statement in the Voters' Pamphlet — which means every registered voter in Washington County has now received, direct via mail, a statement from Hutzler in which he quotes, deceptively, the Valley Times as saying he's the "clear choice" for Washington County auditor.
Days after that, KOIN ran an investigative report detailing multiple complaints about Hutzler from staff in the Washington County Auditor's Office. The county government has twice investigated Hutzler's workplace conduct and concluded he didn't violate county policy, but earlier this year, the county board admonished Hutzler to provide a more positive workplace environment and transferred Hutzler's staff to a separate workspace.
According to KOIN, a majority of employees who have worked under Hutzler — one of whom, Kristine Adams-Wannberg, is now running against him — have complained to the county's human resources department about his behavior.
We did not consider Hutzler for this endorsement. In our view, his misattribution of quotes — creating the perception that this editorial board had already weighed in on this race in favor of him, which we had not done — is disqualifying. While he claims he was simply following the instructions for his candidate statement, we find that excuse unconvincing given he also attributed the quotes deceptively on his website, and while he protests that he didn't include the papers in his list of endorsers, the quotes still clearly trade on our cachet for Hutzler's benefit.
As a good rule of thumb for candidates, deceiving voters into thinking the local paper endorsed you is a good way to ensure the local paper won't endorse you.
Our decision then was whether to endorse Adams-Wannberg or not endorse at all.
After speaking with Adams-Wannberg, and in light of KOIN's additional reporting last week, we are confident that Washington County would be best served by showing Hutzler out of the Auditor's Office and electing Adams-Wannberg.
While Adams-Wannberg doesn't shy away from criticizing Hutzler as a boss, we appreciate that her focus is not on personal grievances but her professional differences with the three-term auditor.
Adams-Wannberg has worked under Hutzler since 2019. She's Washington County's principal management auditor, with past experience working for Portland and for the state. She's sharp and fairly brimming with ideas about how to modernize the Washington County Auditor's Office, increase the public's trust both in the county auditor and in the operations of county government as a whole, and better utilize the office's resources.
"This is a position that may be a little more of a quieter position, but it is absolutely critical that it be filled with a really good person," Adams-Wannberg told us.
Adams-Wannberg isn't satisfied with the pace with which Hutzler's office is producing audits, which she chalks up to him micromanaging staffers and drifting from the intended focus of an audit. She also finds fault with the quality of the audits.
But perhaps Adams-Wannberg's most salient criticism is that, simply put, nobody knows what the auditor actually does in Washington County.
Other audit shops elsewhere put out press releases, use social media and actively engage with constituents, Wannberg-Adams pointed out. She wants Washington County to do the same — "go out to the public," as she put it, both to communicate what the Auditor's Office is doing and ask for feedback on what county residents want it to do.
"The fact that our office is not really with that I think is massively disappointing," she said.
Adams-Wannberg's campaign was getting attention even before Hutzler got himself into hot water. She touts endorsements from seven of Washington County's mayors, including the mayors of its three largest cities: Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard. She's endorsed by several professional auditors as well, including Multnomah County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk.
While there's no certainty the typical Washington County resident will notice a difference either way, we think Adams-Wannberg deserves a shot at overhauling the Auditor's Office and bringing it into the 21st century. And we join a slate of community leaders who have totally lost confidence in Hutzler to do the job with integrity.
We encourage a vote for Kristine Adams-Wannberg as Washington County auditor.
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