In the end, the process worked as voters intended.
While the recent firing of County Manager Mark McCauley by the Clark County council came as a surprise to many residents and generated varying questions about the still-new home rule charter, it reflected a system of government that was approved by 53 percent of voters in 2014. That system includes an elected five-member council that sets policy and a hired county manager to implement that policy and oversee the day-to-day operations of county departments.
Undoubtedly, this places the manager in a difficult position. As former County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris put it, “They have to be a leader for the staff, but they have to be a follower of the board.” Yet it is an arrangement that is common in many county and city governments, and one that is akin to managerial positions at large companies. The directors of a company might not have daily contact with employees, but they define the direction of the business and expect their managers to carry it out.
By all accounts, McCauley did this fairly well. County council Chair Marc Boldt stressed that the firing was not related to any particular incident and said, “We feel Mark got us through the tough times, but we didn’t think Mark could bring us into times that are extremely challenging.” Councilor Jeanne Stewart said, “There has just been a good consensus that we needed leadership for the organization as a whole.”
The five-person council voted unanimously to not renew McCauley’s contract, which expires at the end of the year. He is entitled to six months severance pay under a contract that pays him $169,460 annually. Members voted 4-1 to terminate McCauley’s employment immediately (Stewart cast the dissenting vote) rather than allow him to linger through the rest of the year in a lame-duck position. Deputy County Manager Bob Stevens will take over the duties of county manager while a search for a full-time replacement begins.
Boldt stressed that the council desires a manager with a sense of “vision” in addition to the ability to carry out day-to-day management. For an organization that has a biennial budget of more than $300 million and more than 1,500 employees, this is a reasonable goal. Suggesting that Clark County should still be run as a mom-and-pop shop in which the executives handle the minutiae of daily tasks ignores the complexity of the organization.
As with any personnel decision, details of the situation are difficult to ascertain. County councilors have been reluctant to publicly provide specifics regarding their decision to terminate McCauley’s contract or to detail the reasoning behind it. There has been no indication of improper behavior on McCauley’s part, meaning that it is reasonable to take councilors at their word. Boldt said county officials seek somebody who will “actually lead” rather than simply manage, and that is the prerogative of the councilors.
Most important, that is the prerogative of voters who selected a form of government that is still being sorted out. There is nothing revolutionary about this arrangement, with many municipalities employing a strong-manager system. If the public is not happy with the decision, citizens can express their displeasure at the ballot box when councilors come up for re-election.
Because of this, complaints about the charter ring hollow. The dismissal of McCauley does not reflect a flaw in the charter, it reflects the fact that the system is working as intended.