Double standard? State senator defends job appointment

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Accusations of political favors and a backroom deal has sparked a bitter feud in Clark County.

One county commissioner is accusing the other two of changing the rules and hiring their political ally.

Republican state Sen. Don Benton, who represents Vancouver, is in familiar territory. He once went on KATU questioning whether a political opponent negotiated a backroom deal. Now, the two Republicans on the county commission gave him his new job without the lengthy application process. The story was first reported by The Columbian, which is KATU's news partner.

Benton says he doesn't believe it was favoritism. He says just like the president and governor, Clark County commissioners can appoint anyone they want to be a department head, including making him the director of Environmental Services.

Benton denied there was any special deal made behind closed doors.

But Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, has one word for the deal: "Cronyism."

He says the two Republicans didn't go through the hiring process that's been in place to make sure a candidate is qualified.

The commissioners who appointed Benton said they couldn't wait because there were too many jobs in jeopardy. They needed to fill the position that has a strong say in which projects get permits.

"Political crony is a fallacious argument," said Commissioner Dave Madore.

In 2002, Benton was running for county assessor. KATU obtained an email written by his incumbent opponent, Linda Franklin. It said: "I will be away from the office in March."

Even though Franklin said it was a misunderstanding, Benton suggested his opponent had negotiated a backdoor deal to do what's called a "retire-rehire," or double dipping.

"I think an informed population will need to decide for themselves whether they view this as ethical behavior," Benton said at the time.

Today, if the shoe was on the other foot, Benton says there'd be no reason for him to be outraged.

"Again, there''s nothing unethical, there is no backroom - look, am I qualified for the job? The answer is yes, very well qualified for the job, based on my experience," he said.

Commissioner Madore said just because things like hiring were done one way in the past doesn't mean that's how they will continue to go.

About 150 people, a lot more than usual, have expressed interest in speaking at Tuesday's commissioners meeting about this situation.