The Senate Law and Justice Committee held its third hearing on Monday as part of its ongoing investigation into why the Department of Corrections mistakenly released more than 3,000 prisoners early.
Senators asked witnesses to compare the management style of former DOC Secretary Bernie Warner to prior secretaries. Warner took over the agency in 2011. The computer coding error that resulted in the early releases was discovered in 2012, but remained unfixed until this year.
Among those who testified Monday was Kit Bail, who was the chief information officer at the DOC from 2006 to 2011. Bail said she heard from her former colleagues that Warner didn’t have confidence in the IT department, which caused several experienced people to leave the agency.
Workers in the IT department didn’t feel respected for their skills, Bail said. She added that Warner was also focused on another computer project known as Strong R.
“There was a great deal of pressure from the secretary to focus its attention almost exclusively on Strong R and the priorities for the people in IT were focused on meeting the needs of the secretary,” Bail said.
Former assistant secretary Denise Doty told the Senate committee that Warner’s management style was “extremely different” compared to his predecessor, Eldon Vail. She said, “he was not as directly engaged with the staff,” and “it didn’t feel as open and transparent.”
Former DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke took over from Warner in late 2015 before resigning a few months later. Pacholke learned about the computer error in December 2015 and brought it to the attention of Gov. Jay Inslee, who made the issue public and launched his own investigation into the issue.
Pacholke told the Senate committee he found it unusual that the IT department had such high turnover. He said he believes that Warner “set the context” for the computer coding error to go undetected.
“Bernie was more distant and aloof,” Pacholke said. “He deliberated on decisions for a much greater length of time and was not as easily accessible and it was more difficult to understand what he wanted.”
The governor’s office released the results of their investigation last week. View governor’s report here.
Throughout the hearing, Senators asked witnesses about the governor’s report. All three witnesses testified saying that the governor’s investigation did not appropriately represent their statements.
The governor’s report said that IT business manager David Dunnington failed to properly prioritize the programming fix and downgraded it from a more serious level two to a level three. Pacholke disputed that, saying that Dunnington can show in writing that he was directed by a deputy CIO to take that action.
“I think the governor’s investigators were trying to do a good job and I think they needed to publish a report and I think the public wanted to know,” Pacholke said. “I’m optimistic that they will go back and make these adjustments.”
Doty and Bail also testified that the governor’s report did not reflect their concern with Warner’s management style.
The governor’s office said they offered last week to have the their investigators speak before the Senate committee to explain their investigation methods, but have not received a response.
At a press conference Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee said that that there is no doubt Warner carries some responsibly.
“I thought I was pretty clear in my comments that the secretary bears some responsibly as a secretary for this,” Inlsee said. “I don’t think there’s any arguments about that.”
During the hearing, lawmakers also said a $5 million claim against the state has been filed by the family of one the victims allegedly killed by an inmate who was released early.