Commissioner's sale of property for Dungeness River project proper, audit finds

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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SEQUIM -- The state Auditor's Office has determined that Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger did nothing wrong when the county bought his Dungeness-area house for $525,000.

Tharinger, 61, a Democrat, is running in today's general election for the open 24th Legislative District 24 Position 2 seat in the state House of Representatives against Republican Jim McEntire, 60, of Sequim, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner.

Tharinger, D-Dungeness, said Monday that he had expected to be cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the property.

"Through that whole process, we checked with the [state] Attorney General's Office and with our [county] prosecutor's office to make sure we were super clean on that, so I wasn't surprised," he said.

The acquisition of Tharinger's property in 2009 was part of dike setback project along the Dungeness River that is intended to restore marine habitat and mitigate flood risks in the lower Dungeness flood plain by moving back a dike on the river's eastern edge.

The dike narrowed the river channel, allowing sediment to build up, causing erosion and decreasing water quality, which contributed to shellfish closures.

Recused self

Tharinger said Monday he recused himself from discussions and decisions of the Dungeness River Management Team regarding the purchase and similarly absented himself from county commissioners' meetings when the board discussed and purchased it.

The state Auditor's Office decided to investigate after receiving an anonymous complaint in 2009 alleging "a conflict of interest for the purchase of the property by the county from a county commissioner who is also the chair of the Dungeness river management team for which the property was bought," according to the agency's Oct. 19 report, obtained Friday by Peninsula Daily News.

The complaint also alleged that the price paid for the property was too high.

The transaction was examined as part of the state auditor's 2010 audit of 2009 county finances.

The Auditor's Office also noted Tharinger owned the residence since 1980 and did not buy it more recently, which indicated he did not intend "to turn around and sell due to the project."

Salmon funding

The Salmon Recovery Funding Board, which Tharinger also chairs, allocated state funding for the purchase.

"Based on our review the commissioner did not participate in the purchase discussion or voting, so no conflict exists," the report said.

The Auditor's Office also said the property was correctly appraised, a second issue raised in the complaint.

Tharinger said he and his wife, Yvonne Yakota, were never interested in selling the house, which Tharinger built, and the property, which included a 40-year-old barn.

The couple moved a mile south, purchasing a house for $437,000.

"My wife wanted to stay in the Dungeness area," Tharinger said.


Senior Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at

Last modified: November 02. 2010 12:07AM
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