County manager finalists answer questions in public forum

County Manager Candidate Forum (05-30-18)
Complete coverage of the May 30, 2018, Clark County Manager candidate forum moderated by interim county manager Jim Rumpeltes.
Video courtesy https://www.cvtv.org/

The three men talked about the challenges facing Clark County, their experience, and why they want to come to the Pacific Northwest

VANCOUVER — UPDATE 5/31/18 12:15pm – Well that was fast. After speaking with the candidates, the council voted unanimously on Thursday morning to begin working up a contract with Shawn Henessee, out of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. Stay tuned for full coverage later today on ClarkCountyToday.com.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Clark County residents got their first chance to hear from the three men vying to become the next county manager on Wednesday. During an hour long special meeting, Interim County Manager Jim Rumpeltes asked a number of questions in a public interview.

This is the second go-round for the search to replace Mark McCauley, who was fired last May. The previous two finalists were deemed to be not a good fit for the county after their own series of public and private interviews in February.

Clark County Interim Manager Jim Rumpeltes asks questions during a forum for county manager candidates Wednesday. Photo by Chris Brown
Clark County Interim Manager Jim Rumpeltes asks questions during a forum for county manager candidates Wednesday. Photo by Chris Brown

Members of the county council have faced criticism this time around as well from some citizens, who question the qualifications of the candidates, due to the fact they come from places with much smaller populations than Clark County. Rick Rudometkin, who currently serves as county manager in Eddy County, New Mexico, said their listed population of 54,000 is not entirely accurate, given the boom in the oil and gas industry in that part of the state.

“That was eight years ago,” he said. “Right now we’re estimating about 70,000-75,000 permanent residents in Eddy County … Within the next three years we anticipate, with oil and gas coming back the way it is, it’s going to be about 100,000 permanent and about 150,000-180,000 transient population in and out of our county.”

Rudometkin added that Eddy County’s industries, as well as tourism at Carlsbad Caverns, provides a major chunk of the state economy for New Mexico.

“We are almost the number one revenue producer for the whole state, as far as operating goes,” he said. “Last couple of years we’ve given New Mexico, in one year almost 900 million dollars for the state.”

Rick Rudometkin, county manager in Eddy County, NM, answers questions during a forum for county manager finalists. Photo by Chris Brown
Rick Rudometkin, county manager in Eddy County, NM, answers questions during a forum for county manager finalists. Photo by Chris Brown

The 55-year old added that he has been elected to a number of boards in New Mexico, also works as the county lobbyist, and serves as a volunteer firefighter in his limited spare time.

Shawn Henessee is currently city administrator in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, a town of just over 8,000 residents. “I work at a relatively small city right now,” he said, “however I worked for thirteen years at a county with over 650,000 residents.”

Henessee served as an assistant director in Jackson County, Missouri, as well as a county administrator in Marinette County in Wisconsin. The law school graduate is a member of the Washington State Bar and cut his teeth working on laws around zoning and growth issues.

“I don’t care how much experience you have, you have a learning curve,” said Henessee. “I would say probably the most important learning curve that anyone has when coming into a position is learning the personalities of the employees.”

A third candidate, Keith A. Regan, was added last week. The managing director of Maui County, Hawaii with a population of around 165,000, called public service his passion, and touted his loyalty.

“The only reason why, at this point in my career, that I’m looking for other opportunities is because the term of the elected official that I work for is ending,” said Regan. “So I want to take the experience and skills that I’ve gained over the years, and bring them to a place where I can put down roots and grow my family.”

Shawn Henessee, city administrator for Pleasant Hill, MO, answers questions during a forum for county manager finalists. Photo by Chris Brown
Shawn Henessee, city administrator for Pleasant Hill, MO, answers questions during a forum for county manager finalists. Photo by Chris Brown

Regan called Clark County and the Pacific Northwest “Number One, next to Maui” on the list of places he and his wife would like to end up. He told ClarkCountyToday.com he was unaware of any controversy over his two competitors for the job, and doesn’t believe he was added just to have a candidate with experience in a place with a larger population.

The candidates were also asked what they felt the primary challenges were for Clark County, and all pointed to the proximity to Oregon as a key factor creating revenue challenges for the area.

“Clark County is the most impacted by the dichotomy between Oregon and what things cost,” said Henessee. “With the income tax being very high in Oregon, and the lack of a sales tax, and candidly, I think it’s going to be extremely difficult to change that, because much of the rest of the state is not going to see the exact same impact as Clark County sees, and many people are used to and expect that, so they want to have that option. If you’re a Washington resident you can go over there.”

“I think we need to really look and focus on bringing businesses and other things here, so that people will stay here and buy,” added Rudometkin, “and understand that what they’re doing, and what they’re spending on, can only go into the county’s coffers to make a better place to be.”

“There’s some financial concerns going forward in regards to General Fund operations,” Regan said, “so being aware of what that means, how that’s going to relate to the rest of the organization, and how we’re going to have to address those funding concerns going forward, I think is going to be a big issue for Clark County.”

Keith A. Regan, managing director for Maui County, HI, takes notes during a forum for county manager finalists. Photo by Chris Brown
Keith A. Regan, managing director for Maui County, HI, takes notes during a forum for county manager finalists. Photo by Chris Brown

As for why they want to be here, Rudometkin and Regan pointed to personal reasons.

“Just take a look around. I mean this is, by far, one of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Regan, who added that his 13-year old son, who is a Boy Scout, is excited by the opportunities the area represents.

“I got married for the first time when I was 47. I’m 55. So I stayed single for a very long time,” said Rudometkin. “I got to do a lot of neat things, but then I met my wife and my world changed. All for the best. I love my wife, and I love my daughter. Giving them the best is extremely important to me.”

“I love this area,” said Henessee, “This is the reason why I got admitted to the bar in Washington is because I want to live and spend my time here. Yesterday in the 90-plus degree heat of Missouri does nothing but enforce that,” he added, drawing a chuckle.

In wrapping up their pitches, Rudometkin had the chance to go last. He took a moment to acknowledge his fellow candidates, saying he felt any of them would be a good choice.

“We’re in it for the long haul. We’re in it for the right reasons. And we are dedicated. I am dedicated, to do what I need to do.”

The manager candidates were set to have a series of interviews with the council members Wednesday afternoon, and a closed session on Thursday. A decision is expected sometime in the next couple of weeks.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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