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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Benton hire is an Insult

Local environment entrusted to man with virtually no qualifications for the job

The Columbian
Published: May 2, 2013, 5:00pm

Clark County Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke could have easily proved that hiring state Sen. Don Benton as the county’s director of environmental services was not blatant cronyism: Run him through the standard hiring procedure. Showcase Benton’s supposed attributes for all to see. Allow him to rise above other contenders for the job.Instead, Madore and Mielke took the low road. They insulted their constituents by rushing to hire a political pal who lacks even the basic qualifications for one of the most important jobs in the county.

Two key dates should be kept in mind:

March 17 — Madore tried to persuade County Administrator Bill Barron to rewrite the job description for director of environmental services. (That rewrite has yet to occur. Barron on Thursday announced his early retirement). Essentially, Madore wants to morph the “environmental bureaucrat” into some kind of job creator. No objective assessment of this job reveals any such purpose.

April 26 — In an email to Madore, Benton signaled that he would “welcome the opportunity to lead this crucial department &#8230 .” Adding the county position’s six-figure salary to his legislative pay of $42,106 annually might help explain Benton’s enthusiasm.

Then came Wednesday’s blockbuster decision by Madore and Mielke to torpedo protocol and put a career politician in charge of the local environment. They must’ve been intimidated by this passage in the job description: “at least eight years of responsible management experience directing complex environmental services.” They conveniently overlooked the “highly desirable” ranking of a “master’s degree in public administration, environmental services.”

More than just environmentalists shudder at the thought of how this decision might impede the protection of local streams and air quality. More broadly, caring county residents cringe at the thought of what damage might be inflicted on department operations by a man who was once shunned by his own political party.

Twelve years ago, Benton was elected chairman of the state Republican Party. Eight months later, he was booted from the job because of questionable handling of party finances and his dictatorial attempt to move party headquarters. Will that same modus operandi be applied by Benton to the county’s crucial and already contentious relationships with state regulatory departments? We suspect so.

Observers of Benton’s legislative record can easily believe his declaration that this new post will be a part-time job. His spotty attendance in the Legislature is legend. From 2009 through 2011, Benton’s missed-vote totals languished among the bottom five legislators.

No doubt, Benton boasts many political trophies, serving in the Legislature since 1994 as both state representative and state senator, and rising to leadership ranks this year in the senior chamber’s majority coalition. But his political ventures beyond the Legislature have been failures. Voters rejected his bid for Congress in 1998. He lost a race for county assessor in 2002. Last year, his run for re-election was less than spectacular; even as an incumbent, he won by just 74 votes.

Support for this outrageous decision by Madore and Mielke has been spotty at best, usually based on the logic of “because they can” or “others do the same or worse.” But that’s a shoddy way to run county business. And it’s a gross insult to the voters who hired them. Any campaign promises of increased transparency now dissipate in these new foul winds of cronyism.