All Politics is Local

Benton didn’t use county email for politics

During his last year working as the head of the Clark County Department of Environmental Services, Don Benton really didn’t want reporters emailing him about Donald Trump or really any other politically charged subject.

That’s the conclusion from the records the county released in response to a request from Oregonian reporter Rob Davis concerning Benton, a former Washington state senator and early Trump backer who landed a permanent position in the new administration as a senior White House adviser.

I’ve also been filing records requests concerning Benton’s time as head of the Clark County Department of Environmental Services trying to get a sense of what kind of manager he was. Late last month, Davis filed a request for the following records:

All emails, including attachments, sent to or from don.benton@clark.wa.gov, from Jan. 1, 2016 to present, including any of the following keywords: “EPA”, “Trump”, “Pence,” “transition team”, “transition”, “beachhead”, “coal”, “oil”, “gas”, “regulation”, “Obama”.

What Davis got back was two pages of emails between Benton and Portland’s KGW. Benton did not want to talk politics, at least not using his county email.

In April of 2016, Shelly Swanke, KGW assignment editor, wrote to Benton at his work email asking about Trump visiting Clark County. At the time, Trump was still campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination and there was talk of him holding rallies in Washington in anticipation of its primary.

She wrote:

“Don,

We are hearing/seeing that Donald Trump may be making a visit to Clark County next month. Can you confirm that? Also I understand there might be a recording of the phone call saying the campaign is coming…if so could we get a copy of that?

Please “reply to all” so my co-workers will see your response as I will be leaving soon.”

Benton wrote back:

“I cannot , do not and will not respond to any political inquiries at my work email….I work very hard to keep personal and county business separate.”

Benton provided a private cell phone and email. But that didn’t stop Cheryl Calm, who was also working the station’s assignment desk, from sending Benton another email asking for a heads-up when plans were confirmed.

“Please do not send these emails to my work mail,” responded Benton.

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