AUGUST 11, 1997
State audit of water commissioner done: 'Much ado about nothing,' says Backstrom
by Andrew Walgamott
A state audit found no way to attribute mystery miles on a Woodinville Water District truck to Commissioner Walter Backstrom and said no further action was necessary following his repayment of credit card bills and cash advances. The investigation is over, according to Karen Stromme, audit manager.
"I have been fully vindicated," Backstrom said last week. "This was much ado about nothing."
The auditor's report found minor vagaries in district policy and minor violations in state law, but no overriding reason for sending the case to a prosecutor, according to Stromme.
"We deal with big issues; these are kind of small," Stromme said.
The audit found that Backstrom used a district credit card "reasonably" last September at a Vancouver, Washington conference to charge personal phone calls. District policy allows one personal call per day.
"We conclude Commissioner Backstrom has fully paid his debt to the district and we intend no further action," the audit says.
In regards to a 90-day overdue cellular phone bill of $371.03 that could have resulted in interest charges to the district being taken out of Backstrom's wages, the state concluded, "no laws were broken and the district's internal controls were working properly." Backstrom settled the balance May 7 before wages were deducted.
The audit did find some wrongdoing in Backstrom's failure to repay a $300 cash advance in time. "While technically a violation of state law, the auditor's office ordinarily does not report such minor violations and in the interest of consistency, will not report this instance," the audit says.
The advance was repaid in full five days late in May.
Of alleged misuse of a district truck last August, the audit found that the district didn't keep mileage logs at the time and couldn't attribute excess vehicle use to Backstrom. Auditors recommended the district establish a policy restricting use of their vehicles to business use and create usage logs. The district has since created such a log. Stromme said that without logs it was impossible to substantiate who had driven the vehicle at the time.
Overall, the auditor recommended the board of commissioners take no further action against Backstrom. "There's nothing to this audit," he says, alleging that he was singled out by other commissioners.
"Clearly I have been held to a different standard," Backstrom said, adding that other commissioners were "extracting their pound of flesh" from him. There won't be much rest for Backstrom. He is facing challenges in two elections this year, one at the state level and another locally.
A director on the Washington Association of Sewer and Water Districts, Backstrom is facing fellow Woodinville Water District Commissioner Ken Goodwin for the post. Goodwin was appointed to the Woodinville water board in 1996 when it was expanded to five commissioners. Goodwin is secretary of the Hollywood Hill Association.
Closer to home, three men have filed against Backstrom for Board position 4. They are Ronald Braun II, Steven Gallagher and Richard Llufrio. Gallagher is a past vice president of the Hollywood Hill Association. A primary election September 16 will whittle the field to two.