Clark County Manager Mark McCauley made it clear that he wasn’t going to get into issues raised by candidates for the Board of County Councilors. However, McCauley does have some insight as to the performance of the county’s Environmental Services Department (DES).
Democrat Mike Dalesandro, a candidate for the county chair position in the Nov. 3 General Election, expressed his opinion last week that, if elected, he would propose a resolution to dissolve the DES.
Dalesandro, who is opposed in his bid for county chair by Marc Boldt (no party preference) and a write-in campaign for Republican Liz Pike (a state representative) believes the county could save as much as $700,000 over a two-year period by reassigning the administrative duties of the DES within the county’s existing organizational structure.
When asked by The Reflector on Friday how the DES is currently performing, McCauley said, “if you’re looking at the metrics, I think the department is performing very well. If you look at things like the quantities of recycled volumes and some of the many activities that they perform, such as the Recycled Arts Festival, objectively the metrics are very good.’’
The DES 2014 annual report is available online at www.clark.wa.gov. Some of the highlights listed include:
• Stabilized funding for the Clean Water Program
• Restoration projects on the East Fork Lewis River
• Code and ordinance updates
• Successful outreach events
There is also substantial evidence that the department has been successful in operating with less and less of the taxpayers’ money. For example, county budget documents show that the DES 2015-16 budget is just over $29 million, which is almost $8 million less than it was during the previous cycle.
Don Benton was appointed as director of DES a little more than two years ago. Commissioner David Madore brought Benton's name forward and fellow Commissioner Tom Mielke added his support for the nomination. Then-Commissioner Steve Stuart was opposed. Benton was later appointed by then-County Administrator Bill Barron.
Benton, a Republican who also serves as a state senator, said there has been no consideration at the county level to consolidate or eliminate the DES.
“Mark McCauley and I addressed this nearly a year ago at our annual all staff meeting last December by issuing a joint statement to staff at our department meeting where Commissioner Mielke was also present,’’ Benton said. “The statement made it clear there was no consideration either now or in the near future of consolidating or eliminating the DES. We thought we put it to bed.’’
Benton went on to say that the inference is that the idea of consolidating departments would eliminate his position, that of his secretary and the DES finance director – the administrative division of DES. However, he disputes the feasibility of such an idea.
“The finance manager is responsible for four protected funds that are highly targeted for audits by the state auditor and of course the general fund transfers between divisions,’’ Benton said. “It is ludicrous and terribly naïve to think that any other finance manager in any other department has the capacity to handle this work for four divisions without adding staff.
“The same is true for my administrative assistant, who also processes all of our timber invoicing and posting as well as numerous support assignments for the vegetation management division and the finance manager,’’ he said. “Then there is me. I have six direct reports for seven departments (permitting, clean water, solid waste, legacy lands, vegetation management special compliance, finance). Does anyone really believe that the management of these divisions can just be ‘added’ to someone else’s duties? Only someone completely ignorant of the operation could believe that.’’
In addition to pointing out his belief that the reduction of the administrative staff is unrealistic, Benton also defended the stewardship by DES of the taxpayer’s dollars.
“I finished the 2013-14 budget that I took over five months in at around 82 percent of the projected expense,’’ Benton said. “I am the only director at the county (any department of size) that submitted a 2015-16 budget for less expense than the previous biennium, nearly 8 million dollars less. I have the department in compliance with federal and state clean water law without being under court order to do so for the first time in many years. This means no more lawsuits.
“The big lawsuit I inherited could have ended up costing taxpayers $40 million and it was settled when I talked the plaintiffs into agreeing to a mediation where I negotiated a $3.6-million dollar settlement,’’ Benton said. “We received an award earlier this year for certifying more “Green Schools” than any other county in the state. I have just completed a reorganization of the Solid Waste division that results in an annual savings of nearly $200,000 forever. So, even if you could eliminate all three staff jobs with no effect to service or compliance – and you can’t – the total savings wouldn’t amount to a fraction of the multiple millions I have already saved Clark County taxpayers in the little over two years I have been there.’’
Benton, a veteran politician himself, believes Dalesandro’s proposed idea is politically motivated.
“We have streamlined the department very effectively and morale is way up, customer service is better than it has ever been, we are in complete federal and state compliance, we have no lawsuits pending or threatened and I am actually enjoying the job applying conservative values everyday, which is the real reason the political opposition would love to see me gone,’’ Benton said. “I personally think it is comical, however, it does create some morale problems when employees think they could be unemployed in January. It is actually a very cruel thing to do to people especially when there is no speck of truth to it whatsoever.’’