Editorial: The haunting of Deschutes County

Deschutes County has failed again in its quest to find a new county administrator.

In the first round of hiring, nobody on the short list was worthy. In the latest round, one finalist suddenly discovered a family reason to bow out and another couldn’t agree to terms.

Is that really all there is to it? We don’t think so. The county has a weak spot.

Call it the ghost of Dave Kanner, and it’s driving off highly qualified candidates.

The commissioners summarily disposed of their last strong manager — Kanner — but beyond the echoes of his ghost, the commissioners operate in a system almost guaranteed to repel the skilled and energetic.

Two out of the three commissioners voted to fire Kanner more than a year ago. What terrible offense did he commit? None. They said it was about his management style — he lacked the warm fuzzies.

What he didn’t lack was leadership. He fought for fiscal caution, leaving the county in strong financial shape. He defended county employees in a battle with the district attorney. He also tried to protect taxpayers during negotiations with the county’s unions by striving to keep salaries and benefits under control.

All that and more, then he was shown the door.

The city of Ashland scooped him up as its city administrator a few months later, praising his skills and “collaborative management style.” Was that the style of management commissioners didn’t like?

Maybe a prospective new county manager could write off the dismissal of Kanner as a personality clash with commissioners Tammy Baney and Tony DeBone, but the three commissioners also work full-time in the county’s governance. Are there really enough policy matters for three full-time commissioners? No matter how devoutly they might wish to hold to their side of the policy/administration divide, there is only so much policy to go around.

We know the commissioners have to make difficult policy decisions, such as the one about a new jail. But any candidate who was watching that tangle may have taken a step back. Even if an administrator is not afraid of ghosts, a job candidate would fear for the ability to function as a strong administrator in the county’s set up.

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