Clark County Council questioned on ‘obviously unqualified’ manager finalists

Residents criticize county manager finalists; Chair Marc Boldt says hiring pool limited while Councilor Julie Olson says there has been a thorough vetting process

VANCOUVER — The Clark County Council on Tuesday morning faced criticism from a pair of citizens who questioned the experience and qualifications of two candidates for the county manager position who were announced as the finalists last week.

One finalist, Shawn Henessee, is the city administrator of Pleasant Hill, Missouri, a city with a population of about 8,000 people. The second finalist, Rick Rudometkin, is the county manager of Eddy County, New Mexico, which has a population of about 54,000.

From left, Clark County Councilor Julie Olson, Chair Marc Boldt and Councilor John Blom listen to public comment during Tuesday’s meeting at the Public Service Center in Vancouver. Photo by Eric Schwartz
From left, Clark County Councilor Julie Olson, Chair Marc Boldt and Councilor John Blom listen to public comment during Tuesday’s meeting at the Public Service Center in Vancouver. Photo by Eric Schwartz

Calling the finalists “obviously unqualified,” Karen Hengerer used the public comment portion of Tuesday’s regular meeting of the council in Vancouver to question whether councilors are attempting to make the Home Rule Charter, which outlines the need and duties for a county manager, fail by ensuring qualified, professional leadership is not available.

“Suddenly it looks like a change in leadership focuses on people who cannot possibly have the experience needed to lead in a county of over 400,000,” Hengerer said. “How can either of these two suddenly lead us in a new direction?”

Jim Rumpeltes has served as interim county manager since June 2017, just after the council fired Mark McCauley. The county has been on a search for a permanent replacement ever since.

Councilor Julie Olson politely disagreed with Hengerer and one other speaker critical of the finalists, who are set to speak and answer questions during a moderated forum from 9 to 10 a.m. Wed., May 30, in the sixth-floor hearing room of the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

Olson said she believes residents will be pleasantly surprised with what the candidates have to offer, including experience and qualifications accumulated before they began their current jobs. She said the council has gone through a thorough vetting process.

“We went through their resumes. We looked at their backgrounds. We issued them a number of questions to answer. We narrowed it down from there, and we did Skype interviews,” Olson said. “We’re down to two. I think you’ll be pleasantly impressed with them next week when you have an opportunity to meet them.”

Clark County Council Chair Marc Boldt said after the meeting that the robust and growing national economy has led to fewer candidates for positions such as county manager.

He said there were 15 qualified applicants in the most recent application process. The council had previously narrowed down a list of finalists only to decide against hiring any of them.

“We have had a fairly limited number of applicants,” Boldt told ClarkCountyToday.com. “I’m looking forward to hearing from the two we have, but I think as I have talked about, at even bigger companies and other counties, because of the economy the pool just isn’t out there. It’s a very tight supply.”

Boldt also said that applicants from smaller jurisdictions sometimes have a greater command of many areas of government, as they are often called upon to act in more roles than those with more staff in larger cities and counties.

Olson agreed that the relatively slow pace in landing a permanent county manager has been partly due to the council’s desire to make the correct decision. She said she understands those who might be concerned by the comparisons between experience in a smaller jurisdiction and the realities of a larger one, but that combined professional experience came into play during the interview process.

“I think for us, and me in particular, we just can’t get this hire wrong,” Olson said. “We have to get it right. We have to get it right for our community. We have to get it right for our staff. And it’s important to us that we do that. This is the No. 1 job that we have that we’re elected to do, is hire the county manager so that we can implement the charter effectively. Until we do that, we’re going to be in a bit of a limbo mode.”

In addition to the size of the finalists’ current jurisdictions, Hengerer wondered if they had experience managing large staffs, navigating growth management issues or working with more than a handful of cities within their governing area.

“It seems obvious the Clark County Council is not looking for a leader, but someone with significant clerical skills who will take orders rather than set new direction,” she said.

Here’s the county’s press release from last week, which includes details on the May 30 forum and additional information on the candidates:

COMMUNITY INVITED TO MEET FINALISTS FOR COUNTY MANAGER POSITION MAY 30

Vancouver, Wash. – The Clark County Council invites residents to meet the finalists for county manager during a moderated forum 9-10 am Wednesday, May 30, in the sixth-floor Hearing Room of the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

The finalists are Rick Rudometkin, county manager of Eddy County, New Mexico, and Shawn Henessee, city administrator for Pleasant Hill, Missouri.

If you have suggested questions for the candidates, please send them to countymanagersearch@clark.wa.gov.    

Rudometkin has held his current position since 2013 and previously served as Eddy County Public Works director. He has 24 years of progressive local and municipal government experience. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business management at Woodbury University, Burbank, California. He also holds credentials as a Certified Advocate for Public Ethics and Certified Public Manager through the New Mexico EDGE program.

Henessee has been city administrator of City of Pleasant Hill since 2017, and served as county administrator for Marinette County, Wisconsin, from 2015 – 2017. He has extensive experience with county and local government departments and functions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wichita State University, a master’s degree in political science from University of Kansas, and a juris doctor from University of Missouri.

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About The Author

Eric Schwartz arrives as a reporter at Clark County Today with nearly 15 years of experience as a journalist. He most recently served five years as editor of The Chronicle newspaper in Centralia. Prior to that, he was an assistant editor, reporter and intern at the newspaper. Schwartz graduated from Forks High School on the Olympic Peninsula before attending Centralia College and Eastern Washington University, where he was the editor-in-chief of the award-winning college newspaper, The Easterner, and received the Edmund J. Yarwood award as the top performer in his class. He covered sports through a fellowship at The Tri-City Herald before taking a full-time reporting job with The Chronicle in 2007. After three years as a reporter at The Chronicle, he traveled to Kalispell, MT, and worked as a crime, courts and emergency services reporter at The Daily Inter Lake, where he won two first-place awards for spot news coverage from the Montana Newspaper Publishers Association. In 2011, he returned to The Chronicle as the assistant editor before being promoted to editor in 2013. Under his leadership, The Chronicle was the recipient of several C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Reporting, and the newspaper was twice given the General Excellence Award as the top performer in its category by the Society of Professional Journalists. Schwartz has also been the recipient of two C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for his own reporting and has garnered additional individual awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. Most recently, he and his staff were honored with a Key Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government for The Chronicle’s editorials and news coverage focused on transparency in county government.

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