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Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Nov. 28, 2023

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Clark County manager’s job hunt clouds future locally

County councilors have mixed reaction to Shawn Henessee’s recent interview in Missouri

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter

Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee’s future with the county is in doubt after the administrator recently sought employment elsewhere.

Henessee interviewed for a city manager position in Joplin, Mo., earlier this year. While Henessee was one of four finalists, the city ultimately selected Nick Edwards, a Joplin native and former assistant city manager in Lee’s Summit, Mo., according to the Joplin Globe.

Henessee said Wednesday that he has not applied for any other positions.

“I think that Clark County is a wonderful place,” Henessee said. “I intend to keep working in Clark County, but I can never guarantee that that will always be the case.”

Councilor Temple Lentz said that she and some other members of the council were not informed about Henessee’s job interview until they saw news reports from Missouri.

“Unfortunately, it is clear that it’s not a good fit for Shawn Henessee and Clark County,” Lentz said. “It’s too bad that, rather than address it and work with the council on the areas where Shawn’s experience doesn’t match the needs of the county, he chose to look for other work and not inform the council.”

Henessee said he decided to apply for the position for a mix of personal and professional reasons, but he didn’t offer specifics.

“I’m focused on my obligations in Clark County,” Henessee said. “It’s a lot of different factors. I don’t really want to get into specifics. It was a professional opportunity for me.”

In an interview with KOAM-TV in Pittsburg, Kan., Henessee discussed some of the challenges he was hoping to tackle in Joplin and briefly mentioned his current living situation.

“I’ve been on the West Coast for a while. It’s very expensive out there,” Henessee said.

Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring said that Henessee told her in confidence about the job application.

“It’s saddening to me, because I think he’s an excellent county manager,” Quiring said. “He’s going to continue working as our county manager until he isn’t.”

Quiring added that Henessee has not “felt the support” of other county councilors, stopping short of naming them.

“If you don’t have the full and complete support of everyone on the council, it makes everyone’s job harder,” Quiring said.

Job performance

In November, the county council completed a performance evaluation of Henessee’s first 16 months on the job.

The evaluation, obtained by The Columbian through a public records request, complimented Henessee’s crafting of an urban holding funding package, which further made way for future development around the 179th Street/Interstate 5 interchange. It also credited him for his handling of the county budget as well as his relationships with community organizations.

“Shawn demonstrates a willingness and desire to follow the direction of the county council,” the evaluation reads. “When given a policy directive, he does a good job of following through to completion and not leaving work half done.”

In January, a Clark County Auditor’s Office report found numerous flaws in how the county maintains contracts signed before Henessee’s tenure. The evaluation also mentions that he has reviewed previously executed contracts and suggested improvements for future contracts.

“His background and experience working in both the law and growth planning have been helpful to the council over the past 16 months,” the evaluation reads.

The evaluation also called for Henessee to create a more positive work culture for county employees and improve interactions with the public. Specifically, it mentioned setting goals with staff, performing regular performance evaluations and seeking opportunities for professional development, including his own.

“Shawn could better communicate with direct reports and other county employees, being present and increasing visibility at all levels of the organization,” the evaluation reads. “While Shawn has done a good job executing policy, we also see an opportunity for growth in empowering department heads and key staff.”

Previously, the most recent evaluation of the top county administrator took place in 2016, before two councilors were elected and while others had recently started their positions. Mark McCauley, the county manager at the time, was fired months later.

Between June and the time the evaluation was completed in November, the county council held nine executive sessions “to evaluate the qualifications of an applicant for public employment or to review the performance of a public employee.” Henessee is the council’s only employee.

Councilors at the sessions said that most of the sessions — several lasting just a few minutes for brief check-ins — were used to discuss the evaluation format.

“I gave him superior marks on just about everything,” Quiring said. “He certainly met the goals that he set out to achieve when he first came.”

Lentz noted that she is committed to employees’ longevity with the county and helping them improve their performance. But she highlighted Henessee’s communication skills as an issue.

“We’ve had multiple experiences where council intent was misunderstood or misinterpreted as it relates to staff executions and policy direction,” Lentz said. “That said, it is a difficult job. We have many issues that Shawn may not be responsible for, but they are, nonetheless, his problem to manage.”

‘Topic of conversation’

Henessee started his job as the county’s top administrator in July 2018. Weeks earlier, the county council hired him and approved his three-year contract, which included a base salary of $170,000, a monthly car allowance of $450, benefits and retirement coverage under the Washington Public Employees’ Retirement System and up to $12,000 for moving costs.

His contract mandates that the county pay him a severance package of six months’ worth of salary and health insurance if the council fires him. The severance package would not apply if Henessee is fired for “acts of willful neglect of duty, dishonesty in the performance of job duties, misconduct, malfeasance or nonfeasance.”

Should Henessee resign from his position, he is required to provide written notice 30 days in advance. If he resigns within two years of starting the job, he would need to forfeit any moving reimbursements.

Before joining the county, Henessee spent 17 years working mainly for county governments. Before moving west, he served as administrator of Pleasant Hill, a small town in Missouri.

The University of Missouri School of Law graduate has also worked as a lawyer specializing in land-use issues, but he said he found public service more fulfilling.

Henessee said that he knew his most recent application would surface at home regardless of whether he landed the Joplin job.

“Trust me, I was well aware that it would be public,” Henessee said.

Quiring noted that while Henessee remains in his position, she expects the county to run smoothly.

“Shawn is still with us,” Quiring said. “I’m sure someone will snatch him up if he continues to look.”

Lentz said that during Henessee’s evaluation last year, councilors committed to regular check-ins about his performance. She noted that one of those discussions is slated for later this month.

“I think that he’s a good guy, but I don’t think his skills match the need for the position,” Lentz said. “I wish him well, but clearly he’s looking for other opportunities, and we as a council need to be looking for the best fit for Clark County, and we’ll clearly be having those discussions soon.”

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