Benton critics stew, vent after public comments delayed (with video)

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: May 8, 2013, 12:38 AM

 
photoClark County Commissioner David Madore, foreground, addresses an issue at a Clark County Commissioners meeting at the Clark County Public Services Center Tuesday.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

Clark County Commissioners meeting

Related stories:

Today: County job means pension bonanza for Benton

Monday: Commissioners quarrel on Facebook on Benton's first day

Sunday:

Benton predecessor forced out

Seattle Times weighs in on Benton controversy

UPDATE AT 12:30: When the meeting ended at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart said he will ask the board to reconsider the appointment of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, as it broke the board rules the three of them signed in January.

Stuart made a distinction that it did not break a law, but the rule to allow the county administrator to take lead on all hirings.

No decision was made Wednesday morning. The board next meets for board time discussion at 1:30 p.m. today.

Facing a meeting hall packed to capacity with people looking to comment on the hiring of Sen. Don Benton, Clark County commissioners chose to suspend the rules of the meeting and push the public comment period back nearly four hours on Tuesday night.

With Democratic Commissioner Steve Stuart opposing the move, Republican Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke elected to move the public comment period until after a public hearing on a fee-waiver proposal. The two Republicans said the move was made in an effort to save county staff time.

That hearing began shortly after 6 p.m. and lasted until just after 9:30 p.m.

During the long hearing on fees, one woman yelled out an objection to the situation, bellowing: “You switched the agenda; this is our turn to speak!”

Commissioners took a 10-minute break before returning at 9:50 p.m. to open public comment.

When they returned, several names were called with no response, and someone shouted, “They went home.”

Comments were still being made after midnight on the topic of Madore and Mielke appointing Benton, R-Vancouver, to the job of director of environmental services.

At 11:15, 27 people had criticized the hiring of Benton, with three in favor.

Many speakers echoed Stuart’s concerns from last week, when the appointment prompted him to angrily leave a public meeting, saying the hiring was an act of political cronyism.

“I am appalled with the fact that you let go a veteran of the military, who went through the academy, who was qualified to be the director of environmental services, and hired somebody that is not qualified to be the director of environmental services,” said Edward Barnes, a longtime county labor leader.

Said Dave Ritchie: “Something needs to change with the county.”

Lehman Holder, a chairman of a local Sierra Club chapter, took issue with the Benton hiring as he was “no friend of our environment.”

“We ask you to revisit your decision, rescind Benton’s employment and open this job,” Holder said as he was interrupted by applause. Holder then held up his hand to quiet the crowd and finished his thought, “who in likelihood will be much less polarizing and partisan than Don Benton.”

Sunrise O’Mahoney read off a quote from Madore regarding integrity. She told the commissioners she had no hope they would change their minds.

“It’s embarrassing to be a citizen of Clark County right now,” she said.

A few people did support the hiring of Benton. Carolyn Crain and Christian Berrigan both told the commissioners the hire was a positive one.

Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard spoke at 11 p.m., saying he believed the two Republican commissioners had met beforehand to discuss the hiring.

“Today I still support Clark County, but I am ashamed of you and you,” Pollard said, pointing at Madore and Mielke.

Pollard asked the two men a series of questions about their integrity. He then told Stuart that while he had not seen eye to eye with him on some issues, he agreed with the curse word Stuart used when he stormed out of last Wednesday’s meeting.

Around 80 people gathered before the meeting to protest in front of the county’s main administration building. Some held signs demanding a recall of the two Republican commissioners.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.

View a video of the frustrated crowd and Madore and Mielke supporters on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.