A temporary worker whose last job with Spokane County sparked allegations of cronyism started a new county job this week.
Terry Hentges’ first job was as an “extra help” safety officer, a position that expired June 30. County officials say he performed well.
This time, he’s a “temporary” safety officer, hired to work through the end of the year.
Hentges’ initial hiring in January led to a three-day suspension for his boss, Claude Cox.
County officials decided Cox “improperly conducted himself and in so doing prejudiced and influenced the hiring process.”
Hentges was fired by the state Department of Labor and Industries for tipping off Deaconess Medical Center about a surprise inspection and then ignoring safety violations there. Cox’s wife, Linda Cox, is the Deaconess safety manager.
In January, Cox hired Hentges even though two members of a search committee thought someone else was better qualified. Cox was the committee’s third member.
The investigation by Jim Lindow, the county’s chief administrator, concluded Hentges and Cox were friends, although Hentges says they only had a professional relationship. This time, “Claude Cox was not involved in (hiring Hentges) at all,” said Ben Duncan, county director of human resources.
Of the 12 people who applied, an interview committee rated Hentges the best qualified, by far.
“The interview process this time was extremely lengthy,” said Hentges. “It was a lot different than last time.”
The new job pays the same as the old one - $2,560 a month - and has the same duties, said Duncan. Again, Cox is Hentges’ boss.
As a temporary worker, Hentges may become permanent if there’s enough money in next year’s budget, said Duncan.
“Terry scored 276 (points) out of 315,” based on his skills, experience and knowledge of job-safety laws, said Duncan. “The next closest to him was 218.”
The interview committee was not told the 12 candidates’ names until it ranked them based on their background and answers to written tests, said Duncan. It then interviewed the two top candidates.
Diane Levin, a committee member and the city of Spokane’s risk manager, said the committee never discussed the fact Hentges was fired for what state officials called “gross misconduct and negligence.”
“What we were asked to do was evaluate candidates for their knowledge and abilities, their skills,” said Levin. “We were not asked to do reference checks.”
Past job performance “should be evaluated by the hiring department as part of the hiring process,” Levin said.
Duncan and Cox both knew Hentges’ background, but took the committee’s rating as a recommendation to hire.
Said Hentges: “… I’m just trying to find a job to feed my family.”
Hentges said he didn’t do anything wrong when he worked for the state, and that his former union is challenging the firing.