VIDEO: Benton speaks with KATU
Seattle Times May 5 editorial
• What: Clark County commissioners meeting.
• When: 6 tonight.
• Where: Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.
• Watch: The meeting is broadcast live on CVTV-23 and online at http://cvtv.org.
• On Twitter: Reporters from The Columbian will use Twitter during the meeting to provide updates. To get in on the discussion, use #benton with your tweets.
State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, was all smiles as he walked into work Monday morning.
Benton, who was appointed Wednesday by Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke to be Clark County’s director of environmental services, declined an interview before heading into the Public Service Center just before 11 a.m. for his first day on the job.
Benton directed questions to the county’s public information office, which later in the day said Benton was too busy for an interview. A spokeswoman for the county said Benton came into the office Monday mostly for meetings with human resources.
Clark County Administrator Bill Barron said Benton will be paid $9,138 per month, for an annual salary of $109,656. That puts Benton at step six of a 15-step system. Barron said Benton has yet to select benefits for the job.
The county agreed to allow Benton to take leave from the county job, either unpaid or through paid time off, for his work as a legislator.
Commissioners trade barbs
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the hire continued to roil the political waters among the commissioners.
On Saturday, Madore released a statement on his public Facebook page asserting that Barron inadvertently fueled the dissatisfaction of some community members by not updating the job description for Benton’s new position.
Not so, said Commissioner Steve Stuart in a Facebook response Monday afternoon. Stuart said no action was taken by the board to change the job description, so Barron would have no reason to update it. He castigated Madore for pushing the blame onto Barron.
In Madore’s post, he says the wrong job description was given to The Columbian, resulting in confusion over whether Benton is qualified for the role. However, the job description The Columbian used is the one posted on the county’s website.
“As you know, six weeks ago, I emailed a document to you (Bill Barron) that detailed the job description and qualifications for a new DES Director to meet our current needs.,” Madore wrote. “Your reply on March 18th stating that this was an ‘excellent description of the attributes we need’, confirmed that we were in agreement and on the same page.”
Madore continued: “In contrast to an old job description and the inadequate qualifications that we started with, the new leader was to be a non-bureaucrat with private business experience to better manage that department of specialists.”
Madore did submit a new job description for consideration, but Stuart says no action was ever taken on the matter.
“You based your admonition on a false statement and followed it to the conclusion you’re asking the public to believe,” Stuart said.
After rehashing Madore’s claim, Stuart says, “There was never agreement by the Board to change the DES Director job description per your suggestions. Though Commissioner Mielke had seen a draft of your suggestions prior to our only discussion of the matter, I had not, and there was no action taken by the Board to adopt your suggestions at any public meeting including Board Time. Thus, your entire premise – that the controversy stems from Mr. Barron not following our edict to change the job description – is false.”
Stuart said he checked with the county’s human resources department to see if direction was ever given.
“They told me, ‘No,’ ” Stuart said in an interview.
Madore also claims Kevin Gray, the previous director of environmental resources, may have been unqualified for the job under the existing job description.
“The previous DES director did not possess a degree related to environmental science, but instead, had an education in general management,” Madore wrote. “If an environmental science degree was required, the previous director would not have qualified for his own position.”
According to the job description on the county website, no degree in environmental sciences is required. The job description states that educational qualifications for the job include a bachelor’s degree and at least eight years of managerial experience directing environmental service functions. It also says a master’s degree in public administration, environmental services or a related field is “highly desirable.”
A résumé that Gray gave The Columbian shows he has a bachelor’s degree in management and engineering from the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. It also states Gray worked as the county’s deputy public works director from 1998 to 2009. In that position, Gray says, he was responsible for management of capital engineering, clean water, fleet services, wastewater treatment and development engineering.
Stuart said Gray was hired unanimously by the board after a “rigorous” hiring process.
As for Benton, he has a bachelor’s degree but no experience directing environmental service functions.
A message left for Madore went unreturned as of press time.
Barron declined to comment on Madore’s post.
Posted below is the unedited text of the commissioners' open letters which were posted on Facebook.
David Madore’s post:
The error at the heart of the controversy in hiring a new DES director stems from an oversight that resulted in giving the wrong job description and qualifications to our local newspaper. The position describes a specialist within the DES department, not a department head.
The previous DES director did not possess a degree related to environmental science, but instead, had an education in general management. If an environmental science degree was required, the previous director would not have qualified for his own position.
As you know, six weeks ago, I emailed a document to you that detailed the job description and qualifications for a new DES Director to meet our current needs. Your reply on March 18th stating that this was an “excellent description of the attributes we need”, confirmed that we were in agreement and on the same page.
In contrast to an old job description and the inadequate qualifications that we started with, the new leader was to be a non-bureaucrat with private business experience to better manage that department of specialists.
When that document was discussed with you and my fellow commissioners in a subsequent public board meeting, we agreed that you would provide us with a job description and qualifications consistent with that document. The focus was to provide a new kind of leadership to streamline the permitting process in full compliance with our state’s Department of Ecology and to champion fast efficient full-compliance permits necessary to solve our chronic Clark County jobs crisis.
With our fast pace and the heavy workload of undertaking so much so quickly, I can imagine how the wrong job description and qualifications got posted on our county’s website and given to our local newspaper. Please help us to correct the misunderstanding.
As we are scheduled to vote on a resolution to speed the permit process and to remove all permit fees for Clark County job creators this Tuesday, our success will depend on our ability to handle the anticipated flood of new permits now. The sense of urgency that drives us to do everything we can to open the floodgates to local private jobs without further delay, demands that we fill this vacancy on an expedited basis. We cannot afford to miss this building season or to frustrate our customers due to a continuing leadership vacancy.
Our community will be relieved to learn that this error was unintentional and will better understand the differences between the internal expertise possessed by DES staff and the unique attributes that define a dynamic leader that is capable of maximizing the effectiveness of our outstanding team of specialists.
Steve Stuart’s post:
I was greatly disturbed to see your “open letter to Bill Barron” published on your Facebook page, attempting to blame our County Administrator for the recent controversy in your hiring of Don Benton as the new DES Director, for two reasons:
1) True leaders do not attempt to deflect controversy and blame to their subordinates, especially in this very public way, for actions those leaders take. It shows weakness and a willingness to pass the buck when issues get heated. Even IF there was an “oversight” on Bill’s part, which there wasn’t, “the buck stops here.” This controversy is not Bill’s, it’s yours, Tom’s, and unfortunately, by extension, mine.
2) You based your admonition on a false statement and followed it to the conclusion you’re asking the public to believe.
First and foremost, you stated that your proposed changes to the DES Director job description were “discussed with [Mr. Barron] and my fellow commissioners in a subsequent public board meeting, [when] we agreed that [Mr. Barron] would provide us with a job description and qualifications consistent with that document.” Since you said “fellow commissioners” in the plural must mean I was in attendance, and that I agreed. There was never agreement by the Board to change the DES Director job description per your suggestions. Though Commissioner Mielke had seen a draft of your suggestions prior to our only discussion of the matter, I had not, and there was no action taken by the Board to adopt your suggestions at any public meeting including Board Time. Thus, your entire premise – that the controversy stems from Mr. Barron not following our edict to change the job description – is false.
I will not debate your justifications for hiring Don Benton that follow the false premise, as I believe it’s inappropriate and is in fact illegal to debate policy matters outside a public forum. I don’t want to send you anything at all in response, I find it distasteful, but your letter was beyond the pale and as the Chair of this Board, with the most experience attempting to preserve the public’s trust and organizational integrity, I will not sit by quietly while you attempt to sully the reputation of one of our greatest employees.
In the future, if you have an issue with one of our County employees, please bring your concern to the Board first, and we can talk about how to address it with the affected people in an appropriate and productive manner.
For now, recognize that when a real leader makes a mistake, they recognize it, own it, apologize for it, and learn from it moving forward. If Bill Barron had made a mistake, I guarantee he would do exactly that. I’ve seen him do it. This wasn’t his mistake.
Chair, Clark County Commission