Sheila McLaughlin reports
Picture three people who argue frequently.
One has been accused of screaming obscenities at workers. One accuses the others of hiding important meetings from him. The third solicits signed statements from staff to prove the other wrong in the press.
Now imagine they’re all your bosses.
These are Butler County’s elected commissioners, and it took them a year to find a county administrator, the fourth in four years at a time of significant budget challenges. The search was marked by months of infighting that revealed itself in public earlier this week.
The discord past and present led one job candidate to call Butler County “a political environment that’s anything but stable.” Even one commissioner agrees there are, as he put it, “elements of dysfunction.”
Accusations are still flying about disagreements that slowed down the hiring process even though Charles Young, a former deputy city manager in Hamilton, is expected to be appointed today as the commissioner’s fourth choice for the administrator’s job.
Three candidates who earlier received offers from among more than 29 applicants walked away for one reason or another.
One of them, Michael Hinnenkamp, who is the administrator in Springfield Township, said commissioners couldn’t offer him enough money.
He said he asked “north of $150,000” a year. County officials said it was more like $175,000 and a car. Hinnenkamp makes $135,000 annually in his current job. Young will be paid $125,000.
“It never made sense financially to … leave for the same (money) and have to drive up there and deal with a political environment that’s anything but stable,” Hinnenkamp said this week. “They’ve got some difficult challenges and personalities. It’s a long, long culture (of infighting) there.”
Commissioner Chuck Furmon refused to vote on Young’s job offer earlier this week. He said the number of qualified applicants fell short of what he expected.
“They’re going to be smart enough to do their research. There’s been elements of dysfunction and just nitpicking and what have you,” Furmon said. “I’m sure it’s in the back of their minds.”
Advice: ‘Park your ego at the door’
Trouble in the commission office is nothing new.
An exclusive story by The Enquirer showed that Commissioners Cindy Carpenter and Don Dixon were planning secretly to fire most of the administrative staff and make their own appointments just before Carpenter took office in January 201l.
Almost from the beginning, Furmon has accused Carpenter of verbally abusing and threatening employees, even saying she would like to “line them up and shoot them.” That episode and others prompting the county’s director of management and budget Pete Landrum to hire an attorney to keep Carpenter from trying to fire him.
Earlier this month, Furmon chastised Carpenter in a letter for a “loud angry unprofessional rant” in which she allegedly threw out the F-word when yelling at the interim county administrator.
Now, the administrator hire is at the center of the discord.
• Dixon and Carpenter have accused Furmon of holding up the process by walking out on or altogether skipping important candidate interviews. Carpenter said he’s missed 90 percent of the meetings. Furmon denies it.
• Furmon blew up in a meeting on Monday saying Young’s appointment was rushed and already planned by his colleagues behind his back. Then he accused them of shunning him from an executive session on Young’s job offer. He said the meeting location was changed and no one told him about it.
• Furmon’s allegations prompted Dixon to present signed statements to The Enquirer from two employees who said Furmon was told where the executive session was being held.
Dixon last week told The Enquirer he was in no hurry to hire an administrator and wanted to let a new commissioner who replaces Furmon in January help hire an administrator. Dixon erroneously blamed Furmon for planting this story in the press.
Within a couple of days of that interview, Dixon scheduled a special commission meeting to offer the job to Young.
David Lair, who is the Geauga County administrator, said the personality conflict in Butler County wasn’t the reason he turned down an offer to become administrator. Lair said he had done some online research before interviewed for the job and knew about the problems.
He was ready to take the job, but said a move wouldn’t have worked out for his family.
“They need somebody down there,” Lair said of Butler County.
The public rarely sees what the administrator does, he said.
But it’s a touchy job because the position entails making sure the county runs smoothly and keeping projects on track. That means the administrator has to build consensus between politicians who don’t always agree.
“One of my famous sayings up here is ‘Park your ego at the door.’ I think egos running amok are one of the most dangerous things,” Lair said.
Commissioner: We need ‘stability’
When Young takes charge on the sixth floor Thursday, he’ll have a lot to tackle.
The 54-year-old engineer joins Butler County after losing his job as Hamilton deputy city manager in February in what officials described as a organizational restructuring. He made $151,840 a year in that job, which put him in charge of the city’s utility services.
Young said earlier this week he would not discuss his abrupt resignation from Hamilton in February.
“I’d rather not go into it. I’d much rather focus on the future with Butler County and where we’ll be heading as we move forward,” he said.
Dixon said Young’s engineering background will help save the county consulting fees as it plans to improve a $100 million water system.
Carpenter wants Johnson to coordinate county services for the $300 million, 2.5 million-sqaure-foot Town Square, which could open in May 2014 in Liberty Township at Liberty Way and Interstate 75.
Butler County is contributing $30 million in tax increment financing and other funding to help make road improvements and build a parking garage.
Carpenter also wants Johnson to update the county’s organizational chart and complete new job descriptions for employees who have survived several rounds of layoffs and taken on extra work.
Of all the finger-pointing that goes on in the commission office, Carpenter offered her own viewpoint.
“The currency here is gossip. What is the word that keeps being used? Dysfunctional?” she said.
“The sooner we get stability here, the better off we’ll be.”