Walla Walla County eyes adding 'go-to' position

The hiring of an administrator would represent a major change in county operations.

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WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla County commissioners Wednesday opened discussions on what could be a major change in the way they do business.

At a work session, Commissioners Greg Tompkins, Gregg Loney and Perry Dozier eyed creation of a county administrator position, a person who would be a central "go-to" figure for day-to-day operations.

The position would combine the duties of the human resources-risk management post now held by Jay Winter and public records officer duties now performed by Mark Spinks. Other responsibilities would include budgetary and administrative duties.

Winter is retiring at the end of this month and the public records officer job will be ended at the end of March. Because the funds for those two posts would be freed up to pay for the new position, no impact on the county budget is anticipated, Tompkins said.

Winter's position is funded as a full-time position and Spinks' is funded at 30 hours per week. Winter's annual salary was budgeted at $73,855 in 2010 and Spink's was $30,714, according to county records.

Along with Winter, commissioners were joined in Wednesday's work session by David Goldsmith, former county administrator for Jefferson County and interim county administrator for San Juan County. Elected officials, including county Auditor Karen Martin and Sheriff John Turner, also attended along with department heads and others.

Residents may comment on the proposal by mail or email, Tompkins said. Due to canceled meetings later this month, commissioners agreed to schedule further meetings, include a public hearing, on the proposal in March.

Goldsmith outlined how similar counties have created the position either by ordinance or by resolution. Along with Jefferson and San Juan counties, Franklin, Clallam and Okanogan counties have also created the post.

"In every county there is a 'go-to' person," Goldsmith said about the position. In some counties it is the clerk of the board, in others the personnel-risk manager. "What the county administrator's function would be is to focus on day-to-day issues."

While commissioners set the budget for all other elected officials and departments, an administrator would be able to see that priorities outlined by commissioners are carried out, he said. 'Somebody needs to be tracking to ensure those policy choices are being accomplished."

Another part of the administrator's job would be to coordinate business functions between department heads and elected officials, Goldsmith said.

"I like to think of the county as an aircraft carrier run by three admirals," he joked. But on a serious note, the county administrator "would work with department heads and elected officials to see that policy is carried out."

The county administrator would also help ensure proposals were "ready for prime time" before being brought before the board so commissioners could make a decision without having to send issues back to have questions answered.

While commissioners expressed overall support for creating the post, they agreed there are still issues to be worked out in regards to how the person would function in the overall scheme of the county government.

Commissioners also said the idea is not to create a barrier between themselves and county residents.

"We would not change the practice of people calling us," Tompkins said. "(What) we would change is the practice of who we would call" to resolve problems brought to them by constituents.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

Comments sought

Comments concerning the proposed creation of a county administrator position may be sent to:

wwcocommissioners@co.walla-walla.wa.us

Walla Walla County commissioners, P.O. Box 1506, Walla Walla, WA 99362

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