Torches and Pitchforks

Since being seated at the beginning of the year, the five-person Clark County council has lurched sharply to the Left. A predictable three-person council majority of Boldt, Olson and Stewart, all Republicans, have ignored the principles of fiscal responsibility and smaller government. Principles their supporters firmly expected them to support. Instead, they have governed the county as rulers, not as servants, driving a perplexing agenda that seems to have more to do with returning the county to business as usual and sheer, petty vindictiveness than anything approaching good, responsible governance. The amazing thing about this council is that there’s no a Democrat to be seen. All five of them are at least nominally Republicans.  Boldt ran under no party preference, but he is, at this writing, still the Republican Precinct Committee Officer (PCO) for precinct 620.  Julie Olson is also a Republican PCO (precinct 483), and has filed to renew this seat without opposition.  Despite their positions as PCOs, Boldt and Olson are rarely, if ever, seen at Central Committee meetings. If you’re a citizen in their precinct, consider dropping them a line and asking them why they never perform their duties as PCOs.

Before the current council was seated, the business-friendly policies that had been implemented in the past four years have brought record job growth and sales tax revenue to the county, so much that the council established a comfortable cash reserve and was able to actually consider lowering property taxes by 2%.  I have to ask you, when was the last time that any government body voted to lower taxes without pressure from the electorate?

The current council’s bewildering decisions extend beyond those of fiscal and economic policy. Questionable land-use planning directives suggest high-level collusion.  Artificial property value disparities are created by promoting valuable high-density development in the city limits and preventing parcels from being subdivided in rural areas, driving land values down in those areas. This disparity provides the opportunity for huge profits in the urban growth region, if unscrupulous developers become aware of growth plans before they become public knowledge.  The County planning department has been unresponsive to requests by council members and has used questionable software tools that support their agenda, even after being ordered by a court to stop using those tools.  Their behavior has resulted in close scrutiny by members of the Council, which they have complained about as harassment.

The executive branch of County government lies with a senior bureaucrat in a position called the County Manager. In a shocking disregard for separation of powers, the charter specifies that the County Manager is hired and fired by a simple majority vote of the Council.  The charter further states that employment contracts be observed.

The powers of the County Manager are extensive. The County Manager serves at the pleasure of the Council, but all other county employees not under the Sheriff’s office serve at the pleasure of the County Manager. When the County Manager is complicit with a corrupt majority of the council, there’s no end of mischief possible.  Take, for example, the recent removal of four employees, including the manager of the Department of Environmental Services. All four of these employees were efficient and competent, and saved the County money in their day-to-day activities.  Notwithstanding the County Manager’s stated reasons of ‘seeking cost savings’, these employees were clearly removed for political reasons, because they posed resistance to the corrupt practices of the county bureaucracy. See: The Purge – Mark McCauley’s Revenge.

Under the charter, section 10.2, the county administrator became the acting County Manager when the charter took effect.  Once all five council members were seated, they could then appoint a permanent County Manager.  Under section 3.2, the County Manager shall be selected on the basis of his or her executive experience and professional administrative qualifications.

On Tuesday, June 7th, the County Council is apparently prepared to appoint acting manager Mark McCauley as the permanent County Manager.  According to the charter, he is to be selected on the basis of his executive experience and professional administrative qualifications. But the Council has eschewed the idea of conducting a proper candidate search to fill the position, so there’s no objective evidence that McCauley has the necessary experience and qualifications, and no evidence that he is the best candidate for the position among the possible applicants for the job. The evidence is quite the contrary as has reported for months.

Mark McCauley, Clark County Administrator
Mark McCauley – Interim County Manager

Further, aside from being “upgraded” from acting to permanent County Manager, the Council is seriously considering a multi-year contract with the typical lucrative severance penalty built into it.  While the charter states that the County Manager’s employment can be terminated at will by a majority vote of the council, it also states that the employment contract must be observed.  Placing a severance penalty on the employment contract serves as a serious impediment to the intent of the charter language, since the cost to the County of early termination may give the councilors serious pause when considering the removal of an incompetent, corrupt, or disruptive manager. Considering the rules of the Charter, there is no rational or ethical reason for the councilors to put roadblocks in the way of some future situation in which they need to correct an under-performing or corrupt County Manager. However if we suspend ‘rational’ and ‘ethical’ reasons, we can contemplate reasons that have to do with giving the top senior county bureaucrat more latitude to protect the self-interest of the small group of people in the Clark County political establishment.

Councilor Olson defends this action, making it hard to remove the senior bureaucrat, on the basis that it’s a standard practice when hiring government executives. This is an absurd assertion. Yes, it may be a standard practice, but nowhere is it a required practice or an ethical thing to do. The purpose of such a contract is to attract and retain quality executives in a competitive employment market. McCauley has no such contract at the moment, and doesn’t seem in any hurry to leave his position.  The idea of using it as a carrot to attract talent is moot, since the Council has done nothing to attract any talent, preferring instead to just accept the interim manager in place, without requiring any sort of screening or qualification search. It’s not clear at all that Olson’s assertion has any bearing on the hiring of McCauley. Such an employment contract would not be prudent, not be responsible, and does not demonstrate wise stewardship of the County treasury.

The big-government majority on the council is sticking to their guns on this action, despite protests that the selection of the County manager should be objectively competitive and fair, to place the most qualified applicant in the position. McCauley has already shown that he’s in collusion with the three-person majority of the council and will do their bidding, even to the point of purging County employees who don’t align politically with the majority, or show signs of being whistle blowers. Of course, the big-government majority on the Council is reluctant to take a chance on hiring someone else who might be more competent, more effective, more ethical and less pliable. An honest senior manager would reject the current culture of corruption with this cabal, whose main interest is their power and control. As we call them, our self-appointed ‘Ruling Class’.

This potential action (to promote McCauley) by the Council shows irresponsibility, contempt for the electorate, and a self-serving agenda that relies on the willing cooperation of a few key people in County government.  The council is not paying any attention to citizen’s objections on this rather obvious breach of good faith.  Perhaps it’s time to ramp up the volume of those objections until they can hear us now. Clark County citizens have this opportunity on Tuesday night, June 7th, at 6 pm on the sixth floor of the Public Services Center (1300 Franklin Street, Vancouver). Click here for all upcoming meetings.