Public time to comment loses appeal for Madore

By Erik Hidle and Stephanie Rice

Published:

 

To the tune of "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme:

Come and listen to a story about a man named Don

A poor public servant, thinking he was owed a song,

Then one day he was shootin' at a bridge,

And found himself a job that'll really fill his fridge.

Don Benton struck it rich by having his buddies David Madore and Tom Mielke give him a $109,000-a-year job that he won't even do full-time because of his other job as a state senator. We here at All Politics is Local feel the same way. About striking it rich, that is. We have such a wealth of material we decided another "Benton edition" was in order.

Can this get any richer? (We hope so!) Last week, the day after the marathon meeting during which a majority of speakers were against both the Benton hiring and Madore's proposal to waive development fees, Madore said he wants to move public comment to the end of meetings.

County business should be put first, he said.

But back when Madore was a regular citizen who routinely attended Vancouver City Council meetings, he had a different idea about when the public should be able to speak.

In 2011, the city council decided to limit public comment on nonagenda items to twice a month, at the end of meetings. (People wishing to speak about topics on the agenda, however, could still speak at the beginning.) The change came about because the same people were showing up at every meeting to protest the Columbia River Crossing.

In September 2010, Madore told The Columbian that he objected to Mayor Tim Leavitt's plans to move comment on nonagenda items to the end of meetings.

"Who are they to define what the citizens think is relevant to current city business?" Madore asked. "You could make it really simple: You could speak as long as you like as long as we agree with you. … Whatever it takes to silence the dissent."

At the council's Sept. 20, 2010 meeting -- which was after the Jeanne Harris "gavel down" incident -- Madore chastised the council for not reconsidering its position on the Columbia River Crossing and for not appearing to listen to the public.

Flash forward to May 8, when Madore said he never reconsiders a decision unless he receives new information. He said he hadn't heard anything new about the decision by him and Mielke to appoint Benton as the director of the county's environmental services department.

On May 7, he heard during public testimony that, among other things, Benton was ousted as leader of the state GOP for suspected misuse of public funds, has consistently voted against laws to protect the environment, has one of the worst attendance records in the legislature and is a bully, and that commissioners violated their own policy by appointing Benton instead of letting Administrator Bill Barron make the appointment. Several people said that rather than an appointment, Benton should have had to go through a regular hiring process. The job should have been publicly posted, they said. If Benton really was the most qualified candidate, he would have earned the job.

As the meeting wore on, Madore stopped taking notes and was accused by at least one speaker of looking "smug."

During the 2010 city council meeting, Madore said free speech includes the ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

"The fact that you've already made the decision doesn't take it out of the realm for us to address," Madore said.

The public may not have known about the decision until it was made, Madore said. (And this was about the city's endorsement of the Locally Preferred Alternative, a decision made in 2008 after a multiyear public process. In the case of the Benton hiring, not even Commissioner Steve Stuart knew about it until Mielke and Madore made the decision May 1.)

"It might be too late in your eyes, but we're just waking up to it," Madore told the council in 2010.

To watch videos of Madore from 2010 and last week, go to http://blogs.columbian.com/all-politics-is-local.

-- Stephanie Rice

Weak argument

There has been a fair amount of illogical argumentation raised in our always polite and never verbally abusive online comment sections regarding the Don Benton appointment.

I'd like to quickly address one that claims the hiring of Axel Swanson is the same as the appointment of Benton.

Swanson is the county's senior policy analyst. He was formerly a Democratic county commissioner in Cowlitz County. He lost his job in 2010 after voters elected James Misner, an independent.

The argument being raised is that Swanson's hiring is the same as Benton's situation. That is a really bad argument.

Forget all of the politics for a second, and let's look at how the two men got the job. Swanson went through the county's hiring process. Benton did not.

OK, sure, add the politics back in now. Swanson went through the county's hiring process. Benton did not.

You know what? Let's compare every single top-level staff hire the county has made in the past 14 years under the leadership of County Administrator Bill Barron. All those employees, including Swanson, went through the county's hiring process. Be it an external hiring, an internal hiring, a promotion or a new job created through the county's staff cuts and reorganization, at some point they went through a process with Barron at the helm.

Benton did not.

I'm not making a judgment call on whether or not Benton's hiring was right or wrong. But his hiring was different. That is a fact. It factually happened differently than how the county typically does it.

If you want to argue the process was bad or unnecessary, fine. That's not the point here. The point is that comparing the hiring of Swanson and Benton is a logical fallacy known as a false analogy. And it's one of the flimsier branches to grab out to as you stumble down the logic tree.

These things, very factually, are not the same. But if anyone can find an instance where that is not the case, where a top-level hire was done without a hiring process, contact me. I will absolutely look into it.

But come correct. I won't grab at weak branches.

-- Erik Hidle

Audience myth

Last week, it was easy to track the five people who testified in favor of hiring Don Benton. There was Chuck Miller, whose wife was hired by David Madore to be Madore's personal assistant at the county. Then there were Carolyn Crain and Debbie Peterson, both of whom received money from Madore, Tom Mielke and Benton for their failed legislative campaigns last year. Then there were Christian Berrigan and Dick Sohn, operations executive and assistant office manager/photographer, respectively, of the Clark County Republican Party, according to the group's website.

But wait. Who were these 45 or so people testifying against the decision to hire Benton? Who could possibly be there to criticize Mielke and Madore?

Sohn had a theory he shared, much to the delight of the audience.

Sohn noted that Commissioner Steve Stuart told speakers at the start of the meeting they only had to give their name, not their address. Now, that's something Stuart has been saying since he became chairman, but don't let a thing like facts get in the way of a conspiracy theory.

Sohn said at first he thought it was a time-saving move.

"Then I found out there were a lot of Portland shills in the audience, and I figured, 'Wow, that's why Steve didn't want anybody to know where they are from,'" Sohn said.

After the meeting, I received the sign-up sheets for both the fee waiver public hearing and for general (Benton) comment. The sign-up sheets for the waiver had a space for addresses, the other sheets did not. Many people signed both sheets, and I found the names in the Clark County voter database. The version available to me was last updated in February 2012.

The results of my fact-checking? It wasn't "Portland shills" who were testifying against the decision to hire Benton, but Clark County voters.

-- Stephanie Rice