The Aberdeen City Council paid homage to retiring Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe Wednesday night, and confirmed his replacement at the same time. But a few council members had questions for incoming director Malcolm Bowie, who resigned from a post in Benton County amid a bit of controversy.
Bowie (pronounced Boo-ey) spent about three years as Benton County’s county engineer, but he resigned a day before he was scheduled to appear at a disciplinary hearing. 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.
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.
Rather than have a question and answer session play out on the floor of the council chambers, Mayor Bill Simpson formally introduced Bowie at a meeting before their main meeting in a conference room.
“Is there anything you feel you need to bring up?” Councilman Doug Paling asked Bowie.
“No, you all know that I resigned from my last position and that’s been pretty well thrown out there for anybody to look at,” Bowie said. “These series of events brought me here and once I got here and felt the family atmosphere and the team atmosphere and saw the amount of support for your employees, I felt at home here. That’s a big thing to me.”
Councilman John Erak said he had no reservations about Bowie’s confirmation, but he questioned the expenditure Bowie made on crushed rock and fill at Benton County.
“When you over order like that, do you stock pile that part?” Erak asked. “Is that what you did?”
“That was the beauty of it and we happened to have a project half a mile from where this other road project was and we were able to haul it, stock pile it, and we were able to secure the land and we were just going to use the fill the next year on a federally-funded project so for $350,000 we were going to be able to get back 75 percent of the cost to do the project the following year,” Bowie explained.
Erak asked if the county road project had gone over budget.
“We were under budget even with all of this,” Bowie explained to Erak.
Bowie started his job on Monday, three days before confirmation, a point that rankled Councilwoman Alice Phelps.
Phelps was the sole council member to vote against the confirmation, noting that the mayor had overstepped his bounds and that the council should have had been given an opportunity to review Bowie’s qualifications before he started work. Phelps said the mayor had never told her of issues Bowie had in Benton County.
“My understanding of my role as a council member is to represent all the citizens of the city of Aberdeen,” Phelps said. “In the issue of hiring a new public works director, it is of vital importance to choose someone who is qualified and has experience in our local condition as his decisions will affect not only Aberdeen, but the whole county. As a council member, I believe it is the duty of all of us to review the resumé of our future employee and to check out any questionable issues as we have the responsibility of confirming the appointment. With the Tri-City Herald, I have received numerous citizens’ concerns. My duty to my ward and to this city is to investigate the concerns of the people.”
Bowie said he’s hoping to leave the situation in Benton County behind him and have a “new beginning in Aberdeen.”
Prior to his post in Benton County, he worked about a year as a public works director in Molalla, Ore., six months as an engineer for Clean Water Services in Oregon, spent almost four years as a city engineer in Lebanon, Ore. and, before that, was an engineer for the city of Spokane for three years.
Bowie will be paid $101,042 a year, an increase from his last post, where he made $99,000, according to his resumé.
Bowie said that he’s been learning about the city’s flooding issues and getting up to speed on other city issues. He will work with Bledsoe for another week or so.
Councilman Frank Gordon suggested Bowie steer clear from art projects, an issue that generated a bit of controversy under Bledsoe’s tenure with the addition of several pieces of artwork downtown.
“Art is a sticky wicket for a public works director,” Bowie said. “Larry gave me some advice — don’t get involved in art.”
Council members praised Bledsoe’s work on several other projects, including the work with Franklin Field and installation of pumps, which reduced the city’s flooding issues during the past decade.
Councilman Jerry Mills pointed out that Bledsoe was also responsible for the renovations at Lake Aberdeen. Although the lake is not an official park, the added playground equipment and picnic tables have made it popular among the region’s recreation areas.
Community activist Tori Kovach also praised Bledsoe for his work in helping him fix up the area near the Wishkah Bridge, which became Kurt Cobain Landing. Bledsoe’s work with other city employees improved the grading at the area and paved the way to better acceptance of Kurt Cobain in the area. Bledsoe also pushed for the installation of signs directing tourists and others to the landing, which draws thousands of people a year to pay homage to the late rock singer.
Bledsoe said he’ll leave his post on Dec. 20, but still has plans to finish up a couple last projects from his home in Idaho.
“Mr. Bledsoe, you have been a wonderful man to work with,” Simpson told him. “You’ve answered every question that’s been given to you and sometimes given us answers we don’t want to hear. You have saved our city for many years. You will be missed.”