If you need a shining example of the utter disingenuousness of Barack Obama's commitment to government transparency, I have two words for you: Ron Sims. This lifelong political hack is to transparency what sunlight is to Dracula, what salt is to a slug, what kryptonite is to Superman, what "The View" is to intelligent debate.
That is: lethal.
In its press release announcing the nomination of the Seattle-area county executive to the No. 2 post at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the White House described Sims as a "visionary urban leader." The White House also touted Sims' "willingness to make the tough choices necessary to ensure that American tax dollars are spent wisely."
But Sims' key accomplishments in the Pacific Northwest have involved illegally keeping taxpayers in the dark. Despite his long-known notoriety in Washington State as an incompetent manager and obstinate campaign finance law-breaker, President Obama trusts Sims to oversee the day-to-day operations of a federal agency with 8,500 employees, a $39 billion yearly budget, and a chronic history of corruption and cronyism.
A Senate Banking Committee staffer told me this week that Sims' confirmation hearing will likely be scheduled soon after the Easter recess. Let's hope someone on the committee is talking to the folks who have fought the real Sims in his own backyard.
Ask Stefan Sharkansky. A Seattle blogger and citizen activist, Sharkansky blew the whistle on election fraud shenanigans involving Sims' office during the November 2004 gubernatorial election. He has fought since December 2004 to obtain public records related to gross errors in the county's ballot counting. Since filing suit against Sims in October 2005, Sharkansky told me, "the county has released a number of additional documents which confirm both (a) that county officials unlawfully counted hundreds of ineligible ballots in the 2004 election (a multiple of the 133 vote "margin of victory" in the governor's race); and (b) that they unlawfully withheld documentation of the illegal vote counting from public disclosure for many months (up to a few years) after the documents were first requested."
"What we've seen is not just a lazy agency dragging its heels to respond to document requests, but an organized effort to cover up official misconduct and to obstruct justice," Sharkansky stated in his suit. His case goes to trial next week.
This alleged defiance of open-records laws fits a disgraceful pattern in Sims' office. Ask Armen Yousoufian. In 1997, the former Boeing engineer embarked on what would be a 12-year legal battle to force Sims to obey public-disclosure rules. Instead of making the "tough choices necessary to ensure that American tax dollars are spent wisely," Sims did everything in his power to ensure that King County, Wash., taxpayers were deprived of vital information on how their money was being spent.
Yousoufian wanted access to government documents related to a sports stadium subsidy plan up for a vote in Washington in the summer of 1997. The records he requested at the end of May 1997 pertained to the fiscal impact of a massive tax-hike proposal to build a new football palace for the Seattle Seahawks. Time was of the essence: County residents were preparing to vote on a ballot initiative package worth $300 million on June 17, 1997. Boosters of similar "public-private stadium partnerships" had made dubious claims of economic windfalls that never transpired. Yousoufian -- serving as the watchdog that Sims failed to be for his constituents -- was absolutely right to question the numbers.
But Sims, a leading stadium subsidy booster and corporate water-carrier for Microsoft billionaire and Seahawks owner Paul Allen, didn't put an informed citizenry first. His office deliberately stonewalled Yousoufian's request -- at first failing to deliver the documents, then claiming they didn't exist, and then admonishing him to bug off because he had been given everything he requested. All lies. While Sims' deputies gave Yousoufian the grand runaround, Referendum 48 passed by a margin of 51-49.
Yousoufian launched a one-man crusade to hold Sims accountable to taxpayers. In 2000, he sued under Washington's open-records law. He spent $330,000 of his own money in legal fees and 4,000 hours of his own time. A lower court ruled in his favor, dinging the county's obstructionism as "egregious," but skimped in awarding him the minimum $5 a day for each of the 8,252 days that Sims' office withheld the documents. The courts found "hundreds" of instances where Sims' office deceived Yousoufian or refused to tell the truth. To deter future abuse, Yousoufian appealed for higher fines.
In January 2009, just weeks before Obama would tap Sims for the No. 2 HUD post, the high court issued a historic ruling in Yousoufian's favor, damning Sims' "blatant violations of the state Public Records Act." This travesty is the singular responsibility of Ron Sims. It dragged on through his entire tenure as King County executive -- and beyond. The state Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts to determine a final fine that may exceed some $1 million in taxpayer funds. In keeping with his whitewashing ways, Sims is now trying to have the Supreme Court ruling vacated.
Obama's best and brightest: working hard to keep taxpayers in the dark. Long live transparency!