Commissioners to step back from summer jobs program

MONTESANO — The Grays Harbor County commissioners authorized Public Services Director Kevin Varness to move forward with hiring up to eight college-age students for the county’s road crew this summer, but say they don’t plan to be part of the direct hiring process.

All three commissioners say that former Commissioner Terry Willis clearly made a mistake when she personally interviewed and then hired her then 17-year-old granddaughter for the summer jobs program last year without consulting her fellow commissioners. Nepotism became an issue when Willis ran and lost her re-election bid last fall. Willis said last year that the issue was not politically prudent, but defended her right to do it.

Commissioners said Monday morning that they will no longer directly interview candidates, although one of them may join Varness in the interview process and they may also look over applications. Ultimately, though, Varness will make the final decisions on hiring.

“We don’t want any re-runs from last year,” Commission Chairman Herb Welch said.

“No, that’s for sure,” Commissioner Frank Gordon said.

“I don’t think we’re going to have that problem again,” Welch said.

“Not anymore,” Cormier said.

Per the county’s union contract, it is allowed to hire up to 10 seasonal workers or summer interns. Two adult workers have already been authorized to be hired this summer, leaving eight for the summer work program.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, be able to work outdoors and employees may need to get a flagging card for some of the positions. Students must be enrolled in college or about to head to college. Last year, the positions paid $10 per hour for up to five months.

“We have a lot of young people and we need to make sure it’s really fair county-wide,” Gordon said. “We don’t want any favoritism here.”

Gordon said by using Varness, it treats the process like any other employee hire.

Welch said he also is insisting that the positions be advertised, not just spread by word of mouth, which has been the practice in the past, Welch said.

“We need more people to be aware of these positions and that they can apply,” Welch said.

“This isn’t a job program for county employee kids or friends. … Equal opportunity means equal opportunity.”