Clark County works to fill pair of vacancies

Heads of economic development and public works sought

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Three weeks after Clark County's economic development director resigned for a lower-paying position in Portland, commissioners are taking steps to fill the void.

At stake is a position responsible for some of the widest-ranging duties within the county, including its primary job of marketing the county as a place for businesses.

But first, there are questions commissioners want answered. They include whether the county should hire internally or expand its search to consider outside candidates. On top of that, there's also the question of whether the position would also perform the duties of the county's railroad coordinator. The county's railroad coordinator position is already filled by Jeff Swanson.

With the duties of the railroad coordinator tied into it, the new economic development director would also be responsible for managing the county's 33-mile short-line railroad.

At a Wednesday board time meeting, Commissioner Tom Mielke expressed some concerns about making the position's duties too expansive.

"You could put us into a corner where we have nobody qualified if we ever advertised for this job," he said. "It's narrowed down with such high qualifications that I don't think anybody exists with all of these abilities."

There are other questions, too.

By combining the economic development director duties with those of the railroad coordinator's job, the county would have to address what to do with Swanson. He would either be transferred, or the county would open the director's position up internally.

Commissioner David Madore, meanwhile, said he was looking for someone who would be a "champion for business."

Hiring a new economic development director is a priority for the county, said

Axel Swanson, the county's senior policy analyst. The position provides outreach to businesses looking to locate to the county and works to retain existing industries.

A new director would replace Kelly Sills, who departed the county last month to become the parking control manager for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

Sills was the latest department director to quit his county post, part of an exodus that some believe is prompted by discontent within the county's professional ranks over the county commission's leadership. Sills took a lower-paying job in Portland and he now must pay Oregon income tax.

The county plans to have further discussions about the hiring next week and present what steps are required to fill the position.

The economic development position isn't the only one the county has to fill permanently. The county has yet to decide who will permanently replace Pete Capell as the county's public works director. Capell took Camas' city administrator job in January.

Since December, the public works department has operated under an interim director, Heath Henderson. With his 90-day review period up this month, the county is poised to decide whether to hand him the position permanently. For now, Henderson is currently paid $9,759 a month because he's working on an interim basis.

Before the potential hiring of Henderson, the county will talk to public works employees and other directors from around the county to gauge what they think of him.

Mielke strongly opposed such review, saying it was an unnecessary step, given that Henderson is a 12-year county veteran and has received high marks in his interim role.

"He's done an extraordinary job," Mielke said. "I don't want to get into a popularity contest."