Reader Opinion — Willis story shows need for ethics code

We don’t want Chicago politics here! I appreciate The Daily World highlighting the county’s destructive policy of permitting nepotism, cronyism and patronage. Getting taxpayer funded jobs should not be about who you know but rather how good you are. Merit, not birthright, should matter. County Commissioner Terry Willis should resign for having hired an unqualified relative for a job then not fixing the problem. Willis claims she didn’t know her 17-year old granddaughter wasn’t qualified, but when the county had to create a job for the minor because she couldn’t do the job for which she was hired, Willis should have replaced her with a qualified adult. Instead, Willis allowed the mistake to go uncorrected. In 2010, commissioners, including Willis, approved a change in hiring policies that, essentially, makes nepotism legal in the county. Why would Willis want nepotism legal? Perhaps Willis thought awarding jobs to friends, relatives and political supporters was a job perk. How is it possible Willis was interviewing applicants and didn’t even know the job requirements? How can she be trusted to hire anybody else after this? Or to sign contracts? Or to negotiate?

The new policy states that family members of county employees “shall not be denied employment or advancement opportunities because of their status as a family or household member of another employee.” But that is not the same as allowing the relative working for the county to do the hiring. Willis should have recused herself in the matter and let an impartial supervisor do the hiring without knowing the family connection. This act probably would have uncovered the minor’s lack of credentials. Similarly, how many good, honest Grays Harbor workers over the years have been passed over for county employment because of relaxed rules that allowed incumbents to preferentially hire their friends and family members?

In a just world, Willis should resign. I know she doesn’t grasp the ethics violation she committed, but perhaps the voters do. In any case, Willis should apologize to the taxpayers, and reimburse the county for her mistake – the full cost of her granddaughter’s employment. If, in her arrogance, she continues to deny she did anything wrong, the voters should vote her out.

But we need to take this issue further. County workers should be subject to a published “Code of Ethics.” When I requested one from the county, the only document they could send was a 1992 Code of Conduct specific to spending federal grant funds. This is not enough. Since our government officials have difficulty restraining themselves, we need a code to include open government powers; to ensure impartial and honest labor actions; to impose limitations on governmental authority; and to provide a cost benefit analysis of major programs or rules before a decision is made. We in the county do not have the luxury of permitting an imperial Commission.

My thanks to The Daily World for trying to clean up the Harbor.

Randy Dutton is a resident of Montesano.