Clark County commissioners deserve praise for devoting ample time, attention and deliberation to replacing County Administrator Bill Barron. The position — basically the manager of county government as overseen by county commissioners — is too important to local residents for commissioners to rush this process.
Barron will retire on Sept. 10 after 14 years of guiding county government through periods of great progress and prosperity, but also in recent years of great tumult and budget-wringing anguish. And as Commissioner David Madore said earlier this year, "We need to be very careful and very purposeful in that selection. We won't come in and immediately just pick a guy."
The commissioners also appear to be taking the right approach in searching first for a qualified in-house candidate. That could prove beneficial in at least two ways: money saved by not having to hire a national recruiting firm, plus the ease of transition that could occur if a longtime county employee is promoted to the position.
As Erik Hidle reported in Tuesday's Columbian, the county's human resources department is not equipped to handle a nationwide search, and an outside recruiting consultant could cost $20,000 or more. And two possible candidates — Deputy County Administrator Glenn Olson and Public Works Director Pete Capell — each have about 16 years' experience with the county. "I still come back to the same thing, (that) I believe we have talented people within our reach," County Commissioner Tom Mielke said.
Madore is concerned that the new county administrator might prove to be a temporary position because there are rumblings about pursuing a home rule charter, and the county executive might become an elected position. But we don't see this replacement as being temporary. Months if not years could be required for the complicated freeholders' election, extensive public participation, commissioners' decisions and a ballot measure for voters to decide. For now, the best approach is to make the best hire for a permanent position, then see how any possible change in the style of county government plays out over the long term.
Although the commissioners appear to be on the right track in replacing the county administrator, there remains the glaring contradiction between this task and the recent replacement of the county's environmental services director. As local citizens know painfully well, and to the continued chagrin of numerous people who still offer testimony at county meetings, Madore and Mielke abandoned protocol to appoint state Sen. Don Benton to that position on May 1.
Benton — like Mielke and Madore a Republican — has no environment-related qualifications for the job. At the time, Barron told Madore and Mielke they were "obliterating every (hiring) process we've had for 14 years" and that the appointment would "devastate the organization." They ignored him.
So, while we salute the county commissioners for exercising full deliberation in replacing Barron, the effort now by Madore and Mielke to embrace due diligence after the Benton fiasco is the height of hypocrisy.