County will pay Silliman $68K

Former Clark County freeholder hired to assist board of commissioners

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

The former Clark County freeholder and one-time Republican legislative candidate hired to assist the board of commissioners will receive an annual salary of $68,280.

The county's agreement with Peter Silliman, hired last week as a research assistant/policy analyst for the commissioners, falls toward the middle of a range of salaries offered for the type of position, according to the county's human resources department. In addition to the salary, he'll receive county benefits, including health coverage, which will also be offered to his 13 dependents. Silliman has 12 children and is married.

Silliman's salary and benefits came to light this week after he reached an agreement with the county regarding his employment. Commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore, both Republicans, approved creating the position in April. Silliman starts in the position in August.

A telecommunications engineer at CenturyLink, Silliman said his job with the county would pay him roughly "15 percent," or around $12,049, less than his telecom job.

Commissioner Ed Barnes, a Democratic labor leader, has criticized the process for the latest hire, saying the tapping of a libertarian-leaning former legislative candidate and freeholder to assist commissioners could be viewed as political cronyism. He stopped short of calling it that himself.

Silliman strongly disputed that his hiring was an act of political cronyism, saying that simply because he shares some of the commissioners' political views doesn't mean that was why he was hired.

"All this is, is a Republican hiring another Republican," Silliman said. "But that's not cronyism."

Silliman said he will sign up for county benefits once he starts work next month.

He will be eligible for the county's family medical, dental and vision programs. The medical program, for example, requires that employees pay $121.76 a month for coverage. The county's contribution for the plan is significantly higher. The two options available, through Regence and Kaiser, will cost the county between $1,500 and $1,700 a month, according to the county's Human Resources Director Francine Reis.

Reis said an employee's monthly contribution for the family plan does not increase based on the number of dependents.

Process questioned

Commissioner Barnes said he had concerns about the finalists who were interviewed, saying four out of the five candidates had connections to the local Republican Party or to fellow commissioners Madore and Mielke. While Barnes ultimately voted to give Silliman the job, he said he did so only because Silliman was the best candidate available from the small sampling of job finalists interviewed.

Although the county posted the job in April and received dozens of interest letters, Barnes was not involved in reviewing résumés. That was because of the timing of the hiring process. Commissioners Madore and Mielke in June appointed Barnes to fill an empty board seat.

The county has hired political figures before. In 2011, the county hired Cowlitz County Commissioner Axel Swanson, a Democrat, as a senior policy analyst following his failed re-election bid.

Madore hired a personal assistant, Anna Miller, after he took office in 2013. She had been an aide and donor to Madore's campaign.

And in May 2013, commissioners Madore and Mielke tapped Republican state Sen. Don Benton to head up the county's environmental services department. The controversial move resulted in claims of cronyism and unfair hiring practices. The county settled a workplace discrimination lawsuit filed by the department's former interim director earlier this year for $250,000.

Madore said in a phone conversation last week that he was surprised by Barnes' language, considering the commissioner signed off on the hiring. He said the county followed the proper hiring process.