Last year, Spokane County employee Ron Hormann was named Washington state’s “County Engineer of the Year.”
Last week, Hormann was forced out on his ear, replaced with a Republican activist and campaign contributor to County Commissioner Phil Harris.
County officials said the move was not political, but done to promote team management.
Bill Johns, 49, who ran a pair of losing, low-budget campaigns against then-House Speaker Tom Foley, is now acting county engineer.
He and his wife, Mary, contributed $325 to Harris’ successful 1994 campaign, election records show.
Hormann, a Valley resident who kept a tight lip publicly during more than 26 years with the county, the last eight as county engineer, said he chose retirement June 30 rather than be demoted from his $72,000-a-year post.
He is the latest manager to be ousted in a purge county commissioners say will streamline government and reduce costs.
“It is just terrible what they (commissioners) are doing down there,” Hormann said Friday. “There’s no direction as to why they’re doing it. I can only assume they want to give more freedom to developers. It’s a disaster.”
Last month, commissioners fired the top three planners in a move critics charge will undermine growth management and speed unchecked development. The engineering department also enforces growth-related regulations.
Commissioners say the planning reorganization saved taxpayers $230,000 a year in salary and benefits.
Public Works Director Dennis Scott takes full responsibility for replacing Hormann and said he never knew of Johns’ support for Harris.
Commissioners said they signed off on Johns’ promotion based on Scott’s recommendation.
While Johns was below several senior managers in rank and seniority, Scott said he was the most qualified to be county engineer.
Johns has been a civil engineer for 22 years and helped manage road, sewer and bridge construction projects since joining the county in 1988.
“I needed to have a team player on board,” Scott said. “I felt there was resistance” from Hormann.
Johns, who earns $52,000 a year, now heads a department with 240 employees and an annual budget of about $60 million. He said his experience with the federal government and with Spokane city and county have prepared him for the job.
It’s not known when the county will hire a permanent county engineer or whether Johns will be selected, Commissioner Steve Hasson said.
Known for his unabashed railings against Foley and big government, Johns ran as a write-in candidate for Congress in 1990 and was on the ballot in 1992.
“I hope there was no politics,” Johns said of his promotion. “I would not like that myself.”
Harris said he had nothing to do with the promotion.
“We raised $75,000 and out of that, 400 people donated from as little as $5 to $1,000,” he said of his campaign. “I can’t believe anyone would think like that. If you work for government and support a candidate of your choice, does that mean you should never get a promotion?”
Hasson concedes Johns’ promotion smacks of “politics, cronyism and Republicanism. He (Johns) is a very political animal.”
But, Hasson adds, “That just isn’t the case. We want the best and brightest in there.”
Hormann was too autocratic and an impediment to the county’s goal of participatory management, Hasson said.
In June 1994, Hormann, 55, received the Washington State Association of County Engineers’ highest honor after being nominated by Spokane County commissioners Pat Mummey and Skip Chilberg.
Mummey did not seek re-election last November, and Chilberg resigned in May to take another job. Neither could be reached for comment.
“There’s only one thing permanent in this world and that’s change,” Harris said. “Some people take it hard.”
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