Brain drain at Clark County

At last night’s rowdy meeting of Clark County commissioners, a former county employee told the triumvirate of David Madore, Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart what their staff thinks of the unstable leadership they’ve provided over the past year.

“Your employees fear you,” said Rekah Strong. “They’re not engaged. They’re operating in a place of paralysis. You have a lawsuit that is filed against you (by a current county employee) for going against our (equal employment opportunity) practices and what we’ve committed ourselves to do for the past six years. … We’ve had a mass exodus of employees because people are fearful.”

Strong is the former Clark County Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. She resigned that position in July.

She directed her remarks to Madore and Mielke, saying when they appointed state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to a director position at the county, they’d completely botched the hiring practices she worked to protect during her tenure with the county. She also outlined the ramifications of their actions and asked them to reconsider their actions.

Here’s the whole comment:

Strong’s remarks that the county is suffering organizational brain drain appears to be on point. Here’s a list of members of the county’s senior leadership team that have bolted from the county over the past year.

  • Bill Barron, former county administrator; retired.
  • Glenn Olson, former deputy county administrator; took administrator job at Kitsap County, did not apply for Barron’s vacant role.
  • John Wiesman, former director of public health; resigned to take job as state health secretary.
  • Kevin Gray, former director of environmental services; resigned amidst political turmoil but withdrew whistle blower complaint against Mielke in lieu of financial settlement.
  • Jim Dickman, former budget director; resigned to take similar job with Pierce County.

That’s five people out of a list of 12 that I have in front of me who could be considered top level directors. I didn’t include the commissioner’s former attorney, Bronson Potter, who left for the city of Vancouver because he’s on the Prosecuting Attorney’s payroll.

But I suppose if you want to count Mark McCauley’s move from Director of General Services to County Administrator, that would mean 50 percent of the leadership team has been all switched up in the past year.

But if that list of departures is due to unsteady leadership is hard to say. I asked most of these individuals if the commissioners forced their hands. I got a lot of grins for asking that. I also got a lot of no comments, and repetitions that these were simply good choices for them personally.

So to have a former employee like Strong tell commissioners what staff really thinks of them is a new wrinkle. But is she right? I guess we’ll have to see if the exodus continues, because it sure appears nothing will change.

Strong appealed commissioners to “step back and think ‘what if we actually got this wrong and maybe we need to do something different’.”

Madore and Mielke both made comments at the end of the meeting indicating they still don’t believe there is any problem with the situation at hand.

Erik Hidle

Erik Hidle

Erik Hidle covers Clark County government for The Columbian. He can be followed on facebook at, on Twitter at @col_clarkgov or contacted by email at

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