In Our View: Still No Leg to Stand On

Clark County's hiring of Don Benton no less egregious with passage of time

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More and more, the justification for hiring state Sen. Don Benton as Clark County's director of environmental services is looking about as sturdy as a one-legged stool.

As Stevie Mathieu and Erin Middlewood reported in Sunday's edition of The Columbian, Benton's management experience — trumpeted as one of his qualifications when he was selected for the $109,656-a-year job — has been overstated.

Benton founded National Consulting Services Inc. in 1989, but the company's primary employees appear to be himself and his wife. And Benton said he managed between 80 and 100 people for T.H.I.S. Computer Solutions Inc. in Vancouver, but he worked there for only seven months in 1997, the company didn't have that number of employees, and that particular job experience was not even listed on his résumé.

All of which apparently missed the scrutiny of Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke, who bypassed established hiring protocol, ignored the protestations of fellow commissioner Steve Stuart, and violated all rules of common sense in appointing Benton to the position in May. Astute observers noted that Benton had no experience in environmental affairs and that the job description called for "at least eight years of responsible management experience directing complex environmental services or related operations."

All of which, months later, means that the hiring remains a head-scratcher. In a July interview with Erik Hidle of The Columbian, Benton explained why he thought he was a good fit for the job: "I think the primary reason is I'm very good with people. . . . I'm good at managing. I've managed companies."

Now, the cynic might point out that an old rule of interviewing is to pull out the, "I'm a people person; I'm good with people" defense when you run out of things to say. Far be it from us to be cynical.

But we will point out that Benton filed a complaint against fellow senator Ann Rivers, R-La Center, this year, saying that Rivers went on a profanity-laced tirade against him on the floor of the Senate. And we also will point out that former Sen. Cheryl Pflug said such a complaint was the height of hypocrisy, claiming Benton once verbally harangued her on the floor: "He put his face up against mine and yelled 'F--- you! F--- you!" she told The Columbian. And we'll also mention that a former business associate told the paper, "I don't have a comment about Don, other than I would never do business with him."

Yet while Benton's qualifications as the county's director of environmental services appear to be about as clear as sludge, the fact that he has that job is not really his fault. This travesty continues to rest on the shoulders of Madore and Mielke. After forcing out the previous director, attempting to rewrite the qualifications for the position, and receiving word that Benton was interested in the position, Madore and Mielke rammed through the hiring of their fellow Republican.

There was no vetting of candidates, no interview process, no adequate explanation for why Benton was hired. The deed was done months ago, and still the stench lingers.

Madore and Mielke likely hope that scandals are short and memories even shorter, and that syrupy rhetoric can smooth over the bumpiest of potholes. But a vigilant public and press can hold politicians accountable, no matter how much time has passed. And that leads to one conclusion: Those who performed the hiring — and those who defend it — still don't have a leg to stand on.