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Oct. 2, 2022

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Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee resigns

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter

Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee has resigned amid recent doubts about his future with the county.

Following scheduled executive sessions Friday morning, the Clark County Council accepted Henessee’s resignation effective immediately. In accordance with the county charter, Deputy County Manager Kathleen Otto will fill Henessee’s position in the interim.

“The council thanks Mr. Henessee for his dedication and service to the county,” a county news release reads. “We wish Mr. Henessee all the best in the future.”
Councilors said that Henessee submitted his resignation Thursday. Public notice of the executive sessions — one “to evaluate the qualifications of an applicant for public employment or to review the performance of a public employee” and another regarding “potential litigation” — was also provided Thursday.

“I thought that was very unfortunate,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said of Henessee’s departure. “I’m disappointed because I thought he was doing very good work in the county to right previous wrongs.”

Henessee was hired in June 2018 and started work the next month.

His three-year contract includes an annual base salary of $170,000, monthly car allowance of $450, benefits and retirement coverage under the Washington Public Employees’ Retirement System and up to $12,000 for moving costs. It wasn’t clear Friday if councilors asked for Henessee’s resignation, or which termination and severance pay provisions of the contract will apply.

The contract establishes a severance package of six months’ worth of salary and health insurance if he is terminated by the council — which includes any request by the council that he resign. That would entitle him to an $85,000 lump sum plus the health insurance coverage, unless he obtains other insurance.

If Henessee resigned without being asked, he was required to provide 30 days’ notice. He would also be required to forfeit any moving reimbursements for resigning within two years of being hired.

Henessee could not be reached for comment.

Finding a new manager

Henessee spent 17 years working mainly for county governments — and most recently as administrator of Pleasant Hill, Mo.— before moving to Clark County. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Law, he has also worked as a lawyer specializing in land-use issues.

His future with the county was called into question after he interviewed for a city manager position in Joplin, Mo., earlier this year. Several councilors learned about the interview after reading news reports from Missouri, causing frustration among some members of the council.

“Unfortunately, it is clear that it’s not a good fit for Shawn Henessee and Clark County,” Councilor Temple Lentz said March 4.

Other councilors, however, expressed disappointment over a perceived lack of support from the council toward the county’s top administrator.

“If you don’t have the full and complete support of everyone on the council, it makes everyone’s job harder,” Council Chair Eileen Quiring said March 4.

The county council completed Henessee’s first performance evaluation in November.

The evaluation lauded Henessee’s handling of the county budget, contracts, an urban holding package and relationships with community organizations. It dinged his management of workplace culture, communication and public interactions.

Councilors will begin their second search for a permanent county manager since former administrator Mark McCauley was fired in 2017.

In 2014, voters approved a new county charter, which added two councilor seats to what was then a three-member board of county commissioners. It also decreased the council’s role in overseeing daily county operations, delegating to the county manager, and retained its policy-making authority.

Several few years in, some of the kinks of the charter continue to be smoothed out, Medvigy said. “We’re seeing some friction points having nothing to do with our county manager but how our county charter is arrayed.”

On Friday, councilors wished Henessee luck with his future pursuits.

“The entire county council is committed to finding a great county manager to help us move Clark County forward,” Lentz said. “We have complete faith and confidence with Kathleen Otto as our county manager, and while there’s a lot going on, we’re committed to a strong search for a new great candidate.”

With the county’s COVID-19 response taking priority, however, the search likely won’t be completed soon.

“At this point, especially with our emergency status and focus on the coronavirus, we’re very strapped for resources at this time,” Lentz said. “There’s been some conversation, but no formal plan has been adopted.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter

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