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News / Clark County News

Press Talk: Benton’s looking over his shoulder

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor
Published: January 23, 2016, 6:10am

The noose is tightening around Boss Hogg Benton’s high-paying county job.

Acting County Manager Mark McCauley now is restricting Boss Hogg’s liberal use of putting down county work hours when he’s not actually in his county office.

Oh my!

You know Boss Hogg, right? That would be County Environmental Services Director Don Benton. And that would be state Sen. Don Benton. They ain’t twins. That’s one person actually being able to magically do two jobs at the very same time.

So he’s been collecting two government paychecks ever since his cronies slipped him in the back door for a $115,000-a-year county job.

No qualifications, no job interview, no nuttin’. If you’re buddies with the M&M boys, it’s just a wink and nod and — presto — the county job is yours.

You know the M&M boys, right? That would be County Councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke.

What a cast of characters we’ve had to live with for the last three years.

But now, the times they are a changin’.

• • •

If you’ll allow me to deliver a little more history: Things were made so bad by these bad actors, voters around these parts put in a new form of government. It weakened the powers of the M&M boys, added two new councilors and created a much more powerful county manager.

All of this added up to nothing but trouble for Benton.

Benton has to answer to McCauley. And McCauley’s beginning to play hardball. Benton will no longer be able to game the system, taking county taxpayers for a ride.

McCauley told Benton that when he’s doing his janitorial — I mean senatorial — work, he can no longer say he’s working on county stuff from Olympia. He’ll be on a leave of absence. Not a complete leave of absence, mind you. If Benton can manage to sneak away from his Senate duties in Olympia, he can scoot down here to his county office, and he’ll be paid.

• • •

For those with a good memory, when Benton was first hired as a county director, he signed paperwork saying he’d take a leave of absence when he was up in Olympia. But with the backing of the M&M boys, he was able to tear up that agreement.

Instead, he would somehow manage to do his county work while up in Olympia. He’d also be able to work strange hours — late at night, early in the morning and even on weekends — so he could keep his fat county paycheck flowing.

Strange, if you think about it, right? I mean, how many county staffers is he “managing” on the weekends and late at night?

But the good times are coming to an end.

Ever since Benton has been a county director, I’ve been asking McCauley if he planned to do something about this silliness. The answer always came back status quo.

But when I asked again this week, I was in for a bit of a shock. McCauley shipped me a letter he’d written to Benton a few days earlier.

“Effective immediately please be advised that as a county employee and department director, you are expected to be at work during the county’s regular business hours — Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You may no longer report work time on your time sheet unless you are in county offices and that time is during regular business hours.

“While the Legislature is in session, the division directors in the Department of Environmental Services will report directly to me.”

Oh my!

As you might imagine, Benton was not a happy camper when he heard about this change. He shot an email back to McCauley:

“I do not understand what I am being punished for? You have taken away my ability to telecommute which greatly impairs my ability to … pay my bills.”

Yep. The free county taxpayer money spigot is tightening. In fact, through Benton’s email, we learned he has been charging county taxpayers for working as much as 25 hours a week while in Olympia.

And about his ability to pay the bills? I found this part of his complaint particularly befuddling.

Workers’ paying the bills should be a real concern for all of us. But remember, Benton is a hard-right conservative. He would be the first to tell you that government is bloated and we should never — never! — have someone on the government payroll just so he can pay the bills!

Yet when it’s his job, his paycheck, he manages to construct a different point of view.

And, oh, that part about having Benton’s county department reporting directly to McCauley. That really has Benton twitching.

“Mark,” he wrote back to McCauley, “there is no need to have my managers reporting to you. I know you are very busy running the entire county.”

You see, Benton does a lot of stupid stuff. But he isn’t stupid. He gets that once McCauley realizes how little Benton is needed, the noose will tighten even more. In fact I suggested a similar scenario on what to do about his county job in a column just a couple of weeks ago.

“What the county should do is force Benton into a leave of absence when he’s up in Olympia doing Senate work. Benton won’t like it, of course. Not only will it reduce his take-home pay, it will support the notion that the county can get along without his position.”

Benton’s Senate job is also in jeopardy. He’s up for re-election this year and would struggle to hold on to his seat even if he had been a saint the last 12 months.

But he’s caught between a rock and a ham sandwich. On the one hand, he wants to be able to tell voters how hard he worked up in Olympia this session. But his opponents might keep track of how often he’s running back to Clark County to pick up those extra county taxpayer dollars.

• • •

In the end, you have to give McCauley credit. With his increased authority, he is acting in a professional manner for the betterment of the county.

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You also have to give credit to the new conservative majority of County Council Chair Marc Boldt and Councilors Julie Olson and Jeanne Stewart. Together, they are trying to clean up the mess the M&M boys have made and are forging a new, more constructive path forward. And one of the biggest messes the M&M boys made was Benton.

Things are looking up.

Columbian Editor