Clark County Commissioner David Madore, a Republican, wants to hire his former campaign manager to work as an executive assistant in his office, at no cost to the county.
Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, has a number of issues with that plan, including concern that it would politicize an apolitical office.
And Commissioner Tom Mielke, a Republican, said he wants legal counsel to figure out what the ramifications of hiring an aide will be before he makes a decision on the matter.
That talk dominated a nearly two-hour-long board meeting of the county commissioners Wednesday afternoon.
Last week, Madore brought Anna Miller, the campaign manager of his successful bid for county commissioner in 2012, into the county offices to serve as an aide to him in his daily duties as commissioner. But Miller will have to wait until at least Monday, the earliest county counsel said it could form a legal opinion on the matter, to return to the office as a staffer for Madore.
Madore's plan is to have Miller work in his personal office most days between noon and 5 p.m. Miller would be paid, but not by the county. After the meeting, Madore said Miller's salary will be paid from "my own pocket, not from (his company) U.S. Digital." He declined to say how much Miller would be paid, as he said she is a private employee.
That private label is one reason Stuart takes issue with the hire. Stuart believes that brings up issues of confidentiality and using public resources.
"You have an independent employee," Stuart said. "If you have that person working in a public building, they must fulfill a public purpose if they are using a public resource."
Stuart pointed out that Miller has been parking in the county's lot, to which Madore quickly held up a receipt showing he had paid for an extra space.
Politics a factor?
Stuart also said he is concerned by Miller's robust history as a member of the Republican party.
"I do have significant issues with politicizing an apolitical staff," Stuart said. "I couldn't tell you if anyone (in our office) is a Democrat or a Republican, and I don't care."
Commissioners currently share their administrative staff among the three of them. For example, County Administrator Bill Barron serves as the top county administrator to all three commissioners, making more than $170,000 per year. During a brief break in the discussion, all three commissioners laughed when they argued if he was a Republican, Democrat or had Libertarian leanings.
Miller said after the meeting she has been involved in a volunteer capacity with the Clark County Republican Party for "at least 15 years."
While on the executive board in 2012, she was one of the members who voted in favor of disciplining former commissioner Marc Boldt for falling out of line with the party's views. Miller said Wednesday her vote was made because Republican Boldt had endorsed Stuart for commissioner in 2010, and other Democrats throughout the years, and that communication had broken down between him and the party.
Later that year, Miller led Madore's campaign in his successful election victory over Boldt.
Miller said she resigned her position as office manager for the party last week after accepting the new position with Madore. She also no longer serves on the executive board.
Madore said he's inviting Miller in as his guest, and that her 30 years of experience as an executive assistant is the more critical component of the hire.
"Surely you aren't telling me I can't have a guest," Madore said to Stuart, before adding that he would not dictate who Stuart could invite to his office.
Madore also said he didn't see why her political background should matter, as that should not be the basis for not hiring a staff member.
Madore said during his election bid that he intended to hire his own staff, and he said this is fulfilling that claim.
"I only have a certain number of hours in the day," Madore said, indicating that Miller can help him with several aspects of the job. "I have a big, long list of stuff to do. It's very ambitious. …She can help."
Madore stated many times he believed having an executive assistant was critical to his success.
Mielke sat and listened for most of the nearly hourlong discussion between Madore and Stuart. Eventually, he said he agreed with Stuart on one point, that private staff shouldn't be dictating edicts to the rest of the office.
Stuart said he had heard from administrative staff that Miller had given them "tasks" to accomplish. Madore said that was a misunderstanding, that he had signed off on the requests, and he would make sure she did not direct staff on any matters in the future.
Still, Mielke said he would prefer to wait and make a decision until a legal opinion could be presented on the matter.
In the meantime, Mielke requested that Madore "give a couple of days for the recommendation … and have Anna not be there."
After a bit of verbal wrangling on that point, Madore acquiesced.
"The considerate thing for me to do here is to cool it," Madore said. "To ask Anna not to come in."
Stuart thanked Madore, saying he appreciated the move both personally and professionally.
After the meeting, Madore said the matter might lead to some level of policy discussion. During his back-and-forth with Stuart, he commented, "I'm surprised we don't have our own staff."
Snohomish and Pierce Counties both list personal aides to county council members on their websites.
Al Sanders, a spokesman for King County, said King County Council members also have their own personal staff.
"Members are given an office budget, and from that budget they can hire staff," Sanders said.
Sanders said he would check if any restrictions are in place on who can be hired in regards to political involvement, but did not respond with information by press time.
Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington State Association of Counties, said the organization doesn't have a position on best practices for hiring staff. He noted that typically it is larger counties that choose to hire personal aides for commissioners or county council members.
Glenn Olson, deputy county administrator, said he thought it might be appropriate for the commissioners to discuss the issue at a policy level, noting the power a personal staff member could carry.
"The person attached to you is extraordinarily powerful," Olson said. "The issue to sort out is can the commissioners have that (staff)?"
Madore said while he is open to talking about a change on how commissioners hire staff, at this point he wouldn't be in favor of attaching additional payroll to the county budget.