Secretary of mistake

Things have gone from bad to worse for California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. If he hasn’t already done so by the time this is published, it’s truly time he left the building.

First, he was implicated in ongoing federal grand-jury proceedings. Next, in response to a seemingly endless stream of complaints from his staff, he was the target of inquiry by the State Personnel Board. That examination painted Shelley, a former Democratic assemblyman from San Francisco, as an out-of-control boss who often flew into rages and made off-color remarks to those working for him.

But a recent scathing report from the Bureau of State Audits is the worst hit yet. State Auditor Elaine Howle minced no words in describing Shelley’s office as having displayed gross mismanagement and established shabby financial practices.

Among other things, auditors pointed to possible criminal violations that Shelley’s office may be involved with in relation to federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds. Shelley executed “poor oversight” in the handling of HAVA funds, stated the report. In fact, auditors believe Shelley evaded financial controls and competitive-bidding requirements when his office passed out more than $3 million in these funds. HAVA, which gave money to states to buy voting machines as a result of the national election fiasco in 2000, is controversial in many circles because it does not require safeguards or standards for electronic voting machines. To his credit, Shelley was a proponent of reforms that would require voting machines to have a verifiable paper trail. But that fact alone doesn’t forgive much. Now, California may have to repay all or some of the $3 million that might have been spent inappropriately.

Last week brought a new development for Shelley. Representatives from the federal Election Assistance Commission said they might move up their review of Shelley’s HAVA expenditures. The federal panel clearly seems alarmed at the growing evidence about what was happening in California.

In response to the state audit, Shelley came forth with an apology and agreed that some matters had been handled inappropriately. And certainly, we don’t doubt that his office has had a very difficult year, considering the out-of-the-blue gubernatorial recall election that it had to orchestrate. But an apology and an excuse are simply not justification for all that has happened.

Of course, many of the people gunning for Shelley are Republicans who would love nothing more than to vanquish a Democratic statewide officeholder. But abuse of power is really not a partisan matter. When discovered, it should be acknowledged and expelled. Shelley should step down from office. Then, perhaps the office of the secretary of state can get on with its business of running fair elections in California.