Henrickson gets the call: Mason County hires county administrator, blending duties of DCD chief while making him local government's chief executive
By SEAN HANLON
County workers have a new boss with the power to hire and fire department heads after a series of unanimous votes Tuesday by the Mason County Commission.
Ron Henrickson, a recent import from Blaine, Minnesota, is the first Mason County Administrator, a position which absorbs his old responsibilities as director of community development while making him the local government's chief executive. The action required commission approval of a $33,525 amendment to the 2002 budget.
Mason County now becomes the 22nd county in Washington to employ the services of a chief executive, leaving only eight under the direct administration of their elected officials. Six counties have moved to this form of government since 1997.
"THE COUNTY administrator would supervise the department heads and all operations that are under the board's control," said Skip Wright, the county's human relations director.
Henrickson studied economics at the University of Minnesota. He was the general manager of a toymaking firm for a few years before starting a career in government that has lasted 20 years and counting. His focus during his years in the Minnesota communities of Fairfield and Blaine was on planning and community development. He joined the Mason County staff early in 2001.
The resolutions passed by the commission set his salary at $82,744 per year under the terms of a contract that expires on March 1, 2006. The county will hire an executive assistant to work at his side.
Commissioner Bob Holter said Henrickson has proved himself by his handling of growth management and other thorny issues addressed by the county's community development team. "No one has gone through a more thorough public testing process than Mr. Henrickson," Holter said.
THE 3-0 VOTES to establish the position followed a brief public hearing at which two of three citizens spoke against the idea. Harold Fitzwater said the county hasn't informed people about the full cost of hiring an administrator and questioned whether the action by the commission followed the Letter of the law.
"I would ask if the county administrator could be hired without calling for applications for the position because there are more than one qualified person for any position," he said.
John Komen of Mason Lake objected to the suggestion that Henrickson will be a "buffer" between the general public and "a constituency of two," his way of describing how the administrator can be hired and fired by a majority of the three-person board. "There was no public process whatsoever," Komen said. "You simply decided ahead of time who would be the administrator and expected the public to accept that."
Komen also made an issue of the financial aspects of the move. He said the cost of hiring an administrator includes an expense account, travel, a $300 monthly car allowance and a salary of $42,672 for the administrator's assistant. "You've provided way too much authority for an official who is not elected by the people," Komen said. "This administrator will have a constituency of only two people. All he needs to have his job is the votes of two commissioners."
RAY HANSON of Union spoke in favor of the move to bring the administration of the county under the authority of a chief executive. He said he and a friend, Harvey Warnaca, looked into the idea a few years ago and found it worthwhile.
"You people sit up here and have to do things that you shouldn't even have to mess with," Hanson told the commission, adding later that he and Warnaca "did find that the counties who had taken this step had gotten more efficient government."
The proposal was also supported by letters sent to the commission by three local residents, Ben Settle, Linda Gott and Russ Denny. After the votes were taken, Budget Director lone Siegler said she does not yet know exactly how much the new position will cost next year.
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