VANCOUVER — At a special meeting held Friday afternoon, members of the Board of County Councilors voted unanimously to terminate County Manager Mark McCauley, effective immediately.
McCauley, who has served Clark County in a leadership capacity since the retirement of former Administrator Bill Barron in 2013, was the first appointed to the county manager position after voters approved the Home Rule Charter in November 2014.
“I think we’re looking for a change of direction and leadership,’’ County Chair Marc Boldt said at Friday’s meeting. “With that said, we realize the service that Mr. McCauley has done for all of us.’’
Boldt said Friday’s abruptly called meeting was the result of circumstances in recent days.
“Council set this special meeting to consider options for renewing the county manager’s contract put on today for two reasons,’’ Boldt said. “Some of the circumstances that happened in the last couple of days and also with our traveling conflicts. It was easier for me to get out of a meeting I was in in Eastern Washington than having two councilors fly back from meetings they have next week.’’
Boldt offered no other explanation for the council’s action and he did not allow public comment at Friday’s meeting.
Chris Horne, representing the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office, cited Section 3.2 of the Home Rule Charter, which authorizes the Council to appoint or terminate the employment of the county manager by a three person majority vote of the five councilors.
Horne then read from Section 10 of McCauley’s contract, which covers the extension or renewal of the contract, pointing out that if the contract was not renewed, and if the councilors elected to immediately terminate McCauley, the county manager was due a severance package of six months salary and COBRA medical insurance coverage.
“You may make an immediate management change, in which case, under the Charter the baton would be passed on to the deputy county manager,’’ Horne said.
The Deputy County Manager is Bob Stevens,
Councilor Julie Olson moved that the council not renew McCauley’s contract and Councilor John Blom seconded the motion. The motion passed by a unanimous 5-0 vote.
“It’s clear based on everybody’s presence here today that these are difficult and painful decisions,’’ Olson said. “As we go through this process, the council participated in a long and thorough evaluation process. As a result of that process, I believe it’s in the best interest long term of the county that we move in a different direction in terms of management and leadership. I want to thank Mr. McCauley for his service to the county. He he led the county through some difficult periods and I want to thank him for that and i wish him the very best going forward.’’
Blom added his appreciation for McCauley.
“He’s someone who has always been a mentor to me,’’ Blom said. “In business, every relationship has it’s time. Because something was good for a long time doesn’t mean it’s always good for both parties going forward. I want to echo the thanks to Mr. McCauley for taking us through some challenging times, but I agree the relationship needs to change.’’
Jeanne Stewart is the longest serving member of the council.
“I’ve been here through some of those rough times that Mr. McCauley helped the county get through,’’ Stewart said. “They were probably more than rough. Rough is a nice way to put it and I’ve appreciated his work. He’s a hard worker. He loves the employees. Those are all important characteristics to me.
“What I’ve come to see in conjunction with the other changes that have incrementally occurred regarding the implementation of the Charter have led me to believe that we need a different thrust in management and leadership,’’ Stewart said. “The process of implementing incrementally the Charter has not been easy for anybody. It’s taken a lot of interpretation and sometimes legal actions. While I appreciate what Mr. McCauley has done, we need to go some additional directions.’’
Councilor Eileen Quiring made the motion to terminate McCauley’s employment immediately, which passed by a 4-1 vote. Stewart offered the only opposition.
“I have some concern about that for the reasons that our development of our succession plan for Clark County has not been developed,’’ Stewart said. “It’s important to have a succession plan, so I have hesitation about an abrupt end. To see Mr. McCauley be able to hold the organization the way he has, while we are in the process, to me seems a good direction.’’
Boldt expressed confidence the councilors will be able to complete that succession plan quickly.
“I think we have within the Charter and rules of practice, we have it lined,’’ Boldt said. “Our (Deputy) County Manager Bob Stevens will take over. He has stressed that he wants to do it as little as possible. We will work on that immediately.’’
Quiring also expressed confidence in the councilors’ ability to navigate through the transition.
“We don’t have a plan in stone since we are really making this decision right now,’’ Quiring said. “We do know it calls for the deputy director to take over and I understand that Mr. Stevens doesn’t want to do that for a long time, so we will probably go about hiring an interim manager and then do a search for a full-time manager at some point. Those are the options before us.’’
Boldt closed the meeting with a message for the staff members and citizens who attended the special meeting.
“To the employees who are here and the citizens all around, I want to stress we don’t take these actions lightly,’’ Boldt said. “We take a sizeable amount of time. We take serving each and every employee and citizen very seriously. We do this today for the long-term future of the county. Due to our great respect for Mr. McCauley and our employees, we will have limited, specific information going forward. With that, we believe we have a great future.’’