Serving Franklin County, WA

Johnson survives second termination attempt

Commissioners 'table' discussion until next week

PASCO – Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson narrowly survived a second effort to terminate his employment during a commissioner meeting Tuesday night, April 6.

Commissioners voted 2-1 to table discussion of firing Johnson until after he meets with Commissioner Rocky Mullen. That vote followed a motion by Mullen and second by Chairman Clint Didier to fire Johnson.

“I move that we terminate the employment contract with the county administrator, Keith Johnson, effectively immediately,” Mullen said in bringing up the subject near the end of the already 2-plus-hours long meeting.

“I’ll second that motion with discussion,” Didier said.

Commissioner Lowell “Brad” Peck came to the defense of Johnson, noting that he previously supported the administrator when Didier had moved to terminate him.

Didier moved to fire Johnson during a meeting earlier this year. That motion died without support from a second commissioner.

“You let Mr. Johnson go, good luck finding someone as competent and capable and credentialed,” Peck said.

Peck was among the commissioners who voted to hire Johnson more than five years ago. Neither Didier nor Mullen was a commissioner at that time.

“Good ones are hard to come by,” Peck said. “You should be exceedingly cautious letting a good one go. I think you’d be making a tremendous mistake.

“As a guy that’s got twice as much experience as you two combined, I think you ought to consider that."

“I believe it’s in the county’s best interest that we move forward,” Mullen responded.

An explanation

“Can I get the benefit of an explanation,” Johnson asked. “It’s appalling to me that no one from this board discussed this with me beforehand … I feel like I’m owed an explanation.”

Johnson found some support in the audience, with resident Michelle Andres interrupting the meeting, which prompted Didier to ask her to sit down or “please leave the room"

She refused, but stood in the back.

After getting the meeting back to order, Didier spoke up, noting he had met with Johnson about his job performance.

“Well, Keith, I had a meeting with you. And I told you that we had a management problem in this courthouse,” he said. “We have departments that are not functioning very well.”

Didier said Johnson’s management has “got us into some jeopardy,” declining to explain further.

Peck then challenged Mullen to explain why he wants to terminate Johnson.

Mullen said his motion was due to activities being kept from him within county government.

“I feel that there are things happening in the county that aren’t being shared, at least not being shared with me,” he said. “I’ve been here over three months and had no direction whatsoever, as far as what is taking place in the county. That concerns me.”

Mullen said he believes Johnson is intentionally leaving him in the dark.

“I have probably 50 open major projects for the county at any one time,” Johnson said. “I would disagree that you have been left in the dark.”

“Is it my job to educate you on how to be a commissioner,” Johnson asked rhetorically of Mullen.

Johnson accused Mullen of failing to ask questions and cutting off support needed to do the job.

“You wouldn’t let me have the resources that I have, or that I need,” he said. “You’ve called those into question and stopped me from having the staff ability to do that. And now you turn around and are blaming me for a lack of management in the courthouse.”

An emotional Johnson said he didn’t think he was being treated fairly.

No performance reviews

Johnson then claimed commissioners have never reviewed his job performance.

“You’ve had one,” Didier responded, noting Johnson was reviewed last year and that the administrator was present.

Didier also noted that he recently asked Johnson about his failure as administrator to conduct any performance reviews of county department heads.

“It’s not been a practice in the courthouse,” Johnson said. “But I don’t have a problem with my department heads.”

Johnson then urged commissioners to talk to other others around the Tri-Cities about his performance.

“Ask them how they think I’m doing,” he said. “You guys aren’t here often enough to know what going on in the courthouse. I don’t know how you can make an astute observation of the challenges in the courthouse by being here a few hours a week.”

Johnson said Franklin is the fastest growing county in the state, and that he doesn’t have the staffing needed to do the job.

He further noted the county loses employees to Benton County because “they don’t feel like Franklin County is a good place to work… They don’t get the support from this board.

“If it makes you feel better to blame me for that, knock yourselves out.”

Personal attacks

Without being recognized to speak, Peck jumped in firing verbal shots at Mullen.

“I can’t imagine somebody, frankly, firing a subordinate because the subordinate didn’t teach him how to do his job,” Peck said. “I’m sorry. If I had known you needed more help learning how to be a commissioner, I would have come to you. You’ve got one of the most experience commissioners in the state offering to coach you.”

Peck bristled as he recounted being previously “rebuffed” by Mullen.

Mullen quietly responded by saying he didn’t think it appropriate to meet with commissioners after the election. He further noted it was illegal to meet individually after being sworn in.

As Peck continued, Didier attempted to call the meeting back into order.

“We’re in discussion and I have the floor,” Peck said, even though he had not been recognized by Didier to speak.

The chairman again tried to get the meeting refocused on termination of Johnson and end Peck’s beratement of Mullen.

“By your own admission, you don’t know what’s going on,” Peck said, moving to table the motion to fire Johnson.

Mullen provided the second to table firing.

“When do you have time to meet with me,” Mullen asked Johnson.

The administrator said he’ll meet “whenever its convenient with you.”

The motion to table passed, 2-1, with Didier opposing.

“The motion carries, we table the motion to next week,” Didier said.

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

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Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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