Benton failed upwards, of course. He led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state — where Trump lost by 16 points — and then landed a position with Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency. Wearing out his welcome after three months, he was reassigned to lead the Selective Service System — a position with minimal duties because there is no military draft.
It was an appropriate place for somebody once described by a Seattle columnist as a “bombastic blowhard” who was “three parts bluster, one part bad manners.”
And while Benton, Madore and Mielke have been out of local politics for several years now, their stench continues to linger. Which brings us to the trial expected to conclude this week.
Benton and two other former employees have sued the county, claiming they lost their jobs after filing a whistleblower complaint. County officials claim a reorganization was already in the works. Again, this will be up to a jury to decide; the county’s actions are on trial, not Benton’s qualifications.
But the episode adds to the toll of the brief Madore-Mielke rule over county government, and it proves that poor decisions can have an impact long after they have been rectified. Contrary to common belief, old politicians don’t simply fade away.
Benton, whose only qualification for the environmental job was being a crony of two county commissioners, was hired at a salary of more than $100,000 a year. He continued to be paid at least a portion of that while working in Olympia as a state senator. The county paid $250,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by another employee over unfair practices in the Benton hiring. A judge levied a fine of $40,000 after county officials failed to turn over documents for the current lawsuit. And now taxpayers are funding the defense of a lawsuit.
Despite frequently railing against government waste as a politician, Benton has been slurping at the public trough for decades. And we all are poorer for it. Literally.
The cost of the Benton hiring — both financially and in terms of the county government’s integrity — has been exorbitant. And whether or not Benton and other employees were wronged, there is one conclusion to be drawn — perhaps Madore and Mielke are the ones who should be forced to defend their actions.