Opinion

Tri-City Herald: Franklin County administrator needs clear qualifications

Of all the counties, you’d think Franklin County would be unusually driven to find an exceptional county administrator.

But maybe the memory of a 22-year, $2.8 million embezzlement scheme by the county’s public works director already has faded, along with the woes at the TRAC center, or the many other challenges the county faces.

Red flags are flying. First, was the awkward announcement of the departure of long-time administrator Fred Bowen, who had already taken a job with Benton County as its road superintendent. It’s an odd move for someone who had the top job in Franklin County and came with a significant pay cut — $71,000. Bowen was making more than $113,000 a year when he left Franklin County. Do the math.

Then, the commissioners somehow approved a dumbed down job description for the county administrator’s position at a higher rate of pay and without taking a formal vote.

They assigned the county’s human resources department to find qualified candidates. This shouldn’t be too difficult since much of the population of the Tri-Cities is qualified now that the key elements of the job requirements are a bachelor’s degree and “progressively responsible organizational management experience, preferably in the public sector.”

Before this search began, the job required a bachelor’s degree in public administration, business administration or a related field. It also specified at least four years of significant responsibility in “government administration, budgeting, fiscal management, program management or allied field.”

That makes a lot of sense, considering the job is to oversee the operations of an entire county government.

But at least one commissioner doesn’t see it that way. “I’m a firm believer that you hire for attitude and train for skill,” Commissioner Brad Peck said.

So if you’ve got a good attitude, a bachelor’s degree and a little management experience, there’s a job open in Franklin County that starts at $116,000 per year. Dust off your resume.

On top of all of that is the strange decision not to hire a search firm from the outset. That’s what you do with jobs at this level. The recent hires by the city of Pasco and the Pasco School District for their top jobs were the result of using just such a firm.

A first round of job applications came in by the April 10 deadline and the selection of results was not what the commissioners apparently had expected. They are now asking the human resources department to consider a search firm. Prodding from the other elected officials in Franklin County came in the form of a letter to commissioners last week asking them to hire a search firm.

Auditor Matt Beaton expects a search would cost about $25,000, or about four-hundredths of a percent of the $60 million budget the administrator will manage.

But as much sense as it makes, there’s no guarantee a search firm will be enlisted. Commissioners will have to take a formal vote in a public meeting. Let’s hope they now take the correct path for finding a new administrator. And that whatever search firm they end up hiring as a result of that vote has the wisdom to point out the weaknesses in the new job description.

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