Aberdeen selects Benton Co. man for public works

Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson says Malcolm Bowie, who recently resigned from a position as County Engineer in Benton County, has accepted the city’s offer to become the next Public Works Director, taking over the position from retiring director Larry Bledsoe.

Simpson says Bowie plans to start work Dec. 10. The City Council still has to confirm the decision and meets next on Dec. 12. Simpson said he’s spoken with each council member and doesn’t foresee a problem.

“If the council doesn’t confirm him, I guess we’ll pay him for three days,” Simpson said.

Bowie will be paid $101,042 a year. He is actually the city’s second pick for the job. The position was offered to Nick Mascia, an engineer in Surprise, Ariz., but he declined.

Simpson said he recently learned from a reporter at the Arizona Republic newspaper that Mascia is under scrutiny because of worker complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The newspaper reported Monday that one complaint was dismissed, one was resolved and two are ongoing. Some of the complaints date back to June, but at least one dated back to 2007, the newspaper reported. There were allegations of “racially charged remarks” in the workplace and bias complaints.

On Nov. 14, the newspaper reported plans by the city to conduct a management audit in the wake of complaints against Mascia’s department. The article came out at about the same time Simpson had offered Mascia the job.

“I had no idea that any of that was happening,” Simpson said, noting Mascia had cited personal reasons for not taking the post.

As it turns out, Bowie has been in the news in his community, as well. The Tri-City Herald reported that Bowie had conflicts with Benton County administrators and that the county was facing potential lawsuits because of issues involving two road projects. He resigned in August rather than face potential disciplinary action.

Simpson said he hadn’t read the stories and didn’t know the details of what happened. Simpson said he never spoke to Bowie about the issues in Benton County.

But Bledsoe said he was familiar with the situation and spoke with Bowie about it “for a good 30 minutes.”

“From what I could tell, it was more about a conflict of personalities than anything,” Bledsoe said. “Bowie still has my support and I think he’ll do a great job in Aberdeen.”

Contact information for Bowie was not immediately available. The mayor said he would pass on a message from The Daily World.

“My brother-in-law is an engineer for the state of Washington and my wife told him that we were looking to hire Malcolm Bowie and we were told that the city would be very fortunate to have him,” Simpson said. “He comes highly recommended to us. He has experience getting state grants. He understands road issues and flooding issues. He’s going to be a great fit for us.”

The Tri-City Herald reported that Bowie’s resignation at Benton County came a day before he was scheduled to appear at a disciplinary hearing. On one road project, the county claims his miscalculations on crushed rock and fill dirt could cost taxpayers $364,000. On another project, the county administrator said the county faces the potential of a lawsuit from a nearby irrigation district and a railway for moving a canal closer to the railroad tracks without prior approval.

A public records request filed by the Tri-City Herald shows Benton County Administrator David Sparks sent Bowie a five-page letter Aug. 7 describing Bowie’s “misconduct and ongoing performance issues, and the potential for … termination.”

Bowie’s resignation letter filed the next day claims he had been in a “work environment with an element of hostility” for three years, according to the Herald. Bowie called the county’s claims “scathing, inaccurate and slanderous.”

On Aug. 20, Bowie’s attorney Kammi Mencke Smith of Spokane sent a letter to the Benton County Commission demanding the county stop spreading inaccurate allegations about Bowie’s job performance, according to the Herald. Smith wrote that Bowie will “not hesitate to file a defamation lawsuit” if he becomes aware the inaccurate allegations are published.

Mencke Smith didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Besides being the county engineer for Benton County, Bowie was interim county engineer for Franklin County at the same time. Bowie took the Franklin County role between February and August in the wake of an embezzlement scandal in Franklin County that created a need for outside help to oversee duties.

Bledsoe, the current Aberdeen Public Works Director, pointed out that the fact Bowie managed to hold roles for both Benton and Franklin counties speaks to his strength as a candidate.

“There’s always two sides to every story,” Bledsoe said. “I would say there’s a strained relationship between the county administrator and him and that’s why he resigned.”

Bledsoe said disagreements with railroad property lines and change orders happen and Bowie shouldn’t be looked at in a negative light because of that. Bledsoe said he also doesn’t think it’s a huge deal that Bowie purchased more fill and dirt than needed.

“That’s not uncommon practice,” Bledsoe said. “You just keep the fill and dirt for the next project. … It may cost more one year, but it balances out.”

The city of Aberdeen paid $20,000 for Issaquah-based consulting firm Prothman Consulting to recruit candidates for the Public Works position and to vet candidates. Greg Prothman said he knew both Mascia and Bowie had been in the news recently.

“We were aware of both controversies way ahead of time,” Prothman said.

Prothman noted the complaints against Mascia were triggered by employees who had recently been laid off.

“I found no wrongdoing in what Nick did,” Prothman said. “When we see cities going through layoffs, inevitably there’s more and more people who file complaints.”

Prothman said he’s unsure why the mayor didn’t know about the situation, noting that it had been in the paperwork Prothman turned over to the city.

“If I thought there was any substance at all to it, I would have talked about it in detail with the mayor,” he said.

Prothman said that he also “dug into” the story with Bowie.

“Malcolm managed his way through a tough, controversial issue and I don’t think he did anything wrong,” Prothman said. “He was asked to take on a controversial road project and my read is he got hung out to dry by the county. We talked extensively about the situation.”

Steven Friederich, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3927, or by email: sfriederich@thedailyworld.com.