County manager McCauley may be on way out

Amid speculation about future, McCauley says he feels less secure now

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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Growing friction between the Clark County council and Acting County Manager Mark McCauley is fueling speculation that McCauley’s future with the county is in doubt.

In recent months, McCauley has increasingly pushed back against the council as they pursue controversial policies.

On Friday, reports were widely circulated on social media and among community officials that McCauley’s days at the county were numbered.

“Yes, it is true,” former Commissioner Betty Sue Morris posted on Facebook about the allegations. “I’ve spoken with several staff.”

Few details could be confirmed, but McCauley conceded, “I’m not feeling as secure as I once did.”

Pushing back

Clark County Councilor David Madore was once full of glowing praise for the manager, affectionately nicknaming him the “iPad Wizard” for his ability to quickly pull information online on his tablet.

But there have been signs in recent weeks that all is not friendly at the county council office, and sources who wished to remain anonymous indicated tensions reached a new height earlier this week when Madore apparently emailed McCauley, hinting that his job may be at risk. The Columbian has filed a public records request for those emails.

But there are several examples of McCauley pushing back against the councilors. At a meeting on Oct. 21, Councilor Tom Mielke and McCauley briefly bickered over the possibility of eliminating unfilled county jobs. Though Mielke argued for doing so, McCauley told him that not filling positions allows county managers to save money while ensuring they have money available to make new hires.

“What will happen is, if … you take away vacant positions, that will create pressure to use (the money,) or it will go away,” McCauley said. “That’s why we have managers in this county who turn savings back.”

Mielke argued that having unfilled positions hasn’t saved the county any money, despite McCauley and other county staff explaining that unused money allocated for staff returns to the county fund balance.

“That hasn’t been what’s happening,” Mielke said.

“Oh, yes it has,” McCauley responded.

In an August board time meeting, McCauley pushed back against claims by Madore that county administrative assistant Jennifer Clark was not adequately preparing meeting minutes.

McCauley defended Clark, describing the laborious process of writing meeting minutes.

“She has to play a section, listen to it, maybe rewind, re-listen to it to make sure she gets the full meaning,” he said.

None of the County Councilors — Madore, Mielke or Jeanne Stewart — returned a request for comment Friday.

Sources also said Environmental Services Director Don Benton is being pegged for the top job. When asked directly whether the rumors were true, Benton, also a Republican state senator for Vancouver, scoffed at the idea.

“It’s news to me,” Benton said. “I’m very happy with the job that I have.”

Benton’s own arrival at the county was mired in controversy the community will be hard-pressed to forget. Benton was appointed to his position by then-Commissioners Madore and Mielke, prompting outcry that his appointment was political cronyism.

‘At will’ position

McCauley’s future with Clark County, to some extent, has always been up in the air. He was unanimously appointed as acting county manager, a new job created under the Home Rule Charter approved by voters last year, in December. Before that, McCauley was the county administrator, a job he took after former County Administrator Bill Barron retired. The positions are similar, though McCauley’s appointment came with a pay raise — he makes $163,100 a year — and executive authority over all Clark County departments.

However, McCauley’s position is only considered “acting” until the full five-person council officially confirms him. Even then, he is an at-will employe who serves at the pleasure of the council under the county charter.

McCauley’s role is also unique in that it is the only county job appointed by the county council. The council is also responsible for setting the manager’s salary and contract. The position is exempt from human resource policies under the county charter.

All it would take, therefore, is a simple majority vote to remove McCauley from his position, and in turn, a simple majority to appoint his replacement.

But if McCauley is fired, his contract stipulates that he will receive six months salary, or $81,550, as severance and six months of health care coverage under the Federal COBRA program.

The county council next meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday. There is nothing regarding McCauley’s position on the agenda, but sources say the council could make a decision within the next few weeks.