EVERETT — A top administrator in Snohomish County’s Public Works Department was placed on paid leave recently after higher-ups learned she had two felony theft convictions — from more than a year earlier.
Pam Miller contends she informed public works director Steve Thomsen about the criminal case long before pleading guilty in May 2013. Miller also said the case has had no bearing on her performance as an administrative operations manager, where her duties included payroll, grants oversight and internal investigations.
“If I was standing in a room with people, I would just ask for their forgiveness,” Miller said Tuesday. “I have done everything that I can to make it right. I am very sorry to anybody I have hurt.”
Miller, of Arlington, is just over a month shy of her 30-year work anniversary with the county. She earns about $128,000 per year.
As with other employees, she is entitled to a name-clearing hearing before a final decision is made about her future with the county. Citing personnel policies, Thomsen declined to provide specifics of that process or how the information about her criminal record came to light a “couple of weeks” ago.
“She was doing a fine job as the administrative operations manager,” he said.
The case against Miller involved money stolen from the Washington State Racing Pigeon Organization.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation in February of 2011, after the pigeon-racing group’s president reported suspicions of embezzling during Miller’s watch as treasurer. When the detective first approached her, Miller requested an attorney.
“She is currently working as a manager at Snohomish County Public Works and can therefore be easily contacted if necessary,” the detective noted in his report.
Miller pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree theft in May 2013. Charging documents state that the theft took place between 2002 and 2011.
Miller received a first-time offender waiver and promptly complied with the conditions of her sentence: paying $10,000 in court-ordered restitution and performing 40 hours of community service.
Miller spent much of her career in the county planning department, where she served as a fire marshal and a division manager. While there, she was one of the employees who helped confront rampant harassment of female employees under former planning director Craig Ladiser. The stress, she said, contributed to her bad judgment. She moved to public works in 2010.
“I have tried in my job for the county to do the absolute best job I can,” she said. “I live here, I care about this place.”
It’s unclear what Snohomish County managers could have done to discover Miller’s criminal charges sooner.
Like most employers, the county performs criminal background checks on all new hires, human resources director Bridget Clawson said. The county doesn’t routinely check on active employees to see if they’ve had trouble with the law. Instead, they expect employees to come forward on their own.
“We ask every applicant for employment if they have been convicted of a felony,” Clawson said. “We ask every employee to notify us if they are convicted of a felony, particularly one that would be job-related.”
In that respect, the county’s policies appear similar to many other employers, in both the public and private sectors.
More than two-thirds of employers perform pre-hire checks, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Data isn’t as readily available for post-hire screenings, though it is standard in industries such as law enforcement and child care, reports the Alexandria, Virginia-based organization for human resource professionals.