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News / Clark County News

Press Talk: About that county manager’s job

By Lou Brancaccio
Published: January 6, 2018, 6:08am
2 Photos
Mark McCauley
Mark McCauley Photo Gallery

Yep, 2017 is now a bit of a blur, and most of us are happy to begin the new year with a clean canvas.

OK, OK, a few of us have some lingering stuff still hanging around. Like that leftover Christmas turkey in the fridge. And all those bowl game bets you made on Pac-12 football teams. What were you thinking? Oh my!

County government has a pretty big leftover as well.  An empty, permanent county manager’s position. Mind you, that’s the top dog in the day-to-day running of county government. Now, for those of you paying too much attention to the miserable weather (relax, July isn’t that far away) the county manager’s position came open when county councilors bounced Mark McCauley out of the job in May.

McCauley, by the way, landed a nice job as the director of Jefferson County’s Central Services Department. I contacted him a few days ago, and he’s happy: “Job is great, Port Townsend is great, new house is great.” So he’s doing fine.

But the county is still looking for a permanent successor.

Now, it’s not like county government has gone without. They hired — on an interim basis — a guy named Jim Rumpeltes. I don’t know Rumpeltes at all, but I do know that if this were the Mafia and someone left a big mess of bodies and blood, they’d bring in a guy known as “The Cleaner” and baddabing, baddaboom, stuff is sparkling. Now, this ain’t the Mafia, but Rumpeltes’ main job was to evaluate what McCauley left behind and create a sort of road map on how to clean things up.

To be clear, Rumpeltes could have come in and said something like, “The joint is running like a Rolex, nothing to do here.” But more likely, in an operation as large as county government, you’ll find something. Fair enough.

But exactly how long does it take one to look through the closets and under the desks? And why is it taking so long to find a permanent replacement? In a few days, Rumpeltes will have had this gig for six months! What’s the holdup?

Even though it’s standard operating procedure to bounce guys like county managers pretty regularly, part of it may be the way McCauley left. That could leave a few applicants nervous. Also, you don’t want to rush this kind of a hire. It’s important to get the right person. But when I spoke to council Chair Marc Boldt earlier this week, he threw something else in the mix. The council sort of fell in love with Rumpeltes and kinda wish he’d stick around … forever.

“We like Jim so much it’s hard to push forward. But since he will not apply we have to.”

Yep, as noted earlier, Rumpeltes took the job only on an interim basis. He never had any interest in the permanent gig.

So where is the county on its search?

“We have narrowed it down to six and will interview up to four in February,” Boldt said.

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I also asked Boldt what he felt was the biggest flaw Rumpeltes found in his evaluation on how county government was being run.

“Probably we have (promoted) people on likability rather than leadership.”

Hmm. That’s a pretty damning charge. And when I contacted McCauley again on Friday, he wasn’t thrilled with that evaluation.

“Wrong, totally wrong. Demand concrete examples. Where is his leadership?” McCauley said.

Now, Boldt didn’t provide examples, and I suspect he won’t do that publicly. But it meshes with something Boldt told me earlier. He felt McCauley was too nice. Fair enough. There are worse things to be accused of.

All of this county worker/promotion talk opens the door to the entire debate on county employees’ pay, benefits and retirement. In other words, when you compare government workers to private workers is the county being “too nice?” Are the people who are paying for the bulk of what county workers get — the private sector — getting the same deals?

I had a wide-ranging discussion with Boldt on this and other issues a while back. And you should know that Boldt is known as a guy who cares deeply about county employees. Yet, he said one of the areas a new county manager should look at is what county employees are getting.

“On a job-to-job basis, when you take your pay and benefits and probably job security, the county (workers) win out.”

Look, Boldt gets that most county workers are high-quality, hard-working, passionate, dedicated people. But being fair to the private sector that pays for most of what county workers get should be a player, Boldt said.

So this should be an interesting 2018 for the county.

And throw out that leftover turkey and pay off all those losing Pac-12 bets. It’s a new year!