A Spokane County manager was suspended Tuesday for hiring a friend over a more-qualified applicant, and for lying during an investigation of the hiring.
Risk Manager Claude Cox, 43, will be sent home for three days starting today and will lose $638.
Cox is paid $55,261 a year to minimize workplace accidents and the county’s exposure to lawsuits.
“… Mr. Cox improperly conducted himself and in so doing, prejudiced and influenced the hiring process,” states a report by Jim Lindow, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Telephone calls to Cox’s home and office were not returned Tuesday.
Lindow’s decision to suspend Cox followed a monthlong investigation into the hiring of safety officer Terry Hentges.
An April 14 story in The Spokesman-Review revealed that Hentges, a friend of Cox, was fired by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries in January for warning Deaconess Medical Center of a surprise inspection and then ignoring major safety violations there.
Cox’s wife, Linda Cox, is the Deaconess safety manager.
Hentges and two women candidates were interviewed as finalists for a temporary county safety officer job that paid $30,127 a year.
Two search committee members judged one of the women as more qualified than Hentges. But Cox, the third member of the committee, said she was too shy for the job and would be intimidated by the road crew, the investigation found.
“Claude said she was too nice and the road crew would ‘eat her up,”’ the report states. “Mr. Cox’s decision to override the panel recommendation could give the impression of favoritism.”
The county’s employment policy doesn’t address favoritism or cronyism, but states that the “most qualified applicants” should be hired.
Hentges got the job Jan. 30. As a result of Lindow’s investigation, Hentges’ position will not be renewed when it runs out July 1.
Lindow found that Hentges visited Cox’s office four times during one week before he was even interviewed for the job.
In another case, an unidentified employee in the risk management department overheard Cox tell Hentges on the telephone, “We will have to go through all the hoops and then we will get you in here,” the report states.
The two other members of the search committee - Clyde Carpenter and Nancy Lyons - both work for Cox. They told Lindow during the investigation that the Hentges hiring was biased and that the process was a “waste of time.”
They also said Cox called them into a meeting after Lindow began his investigation and tried to “influence” their potential testimony, the report states.
At one point, Cox told them the investigation was a “shame because Terry Hentges could lose his job and he had a wife and kids to support.”
Lindow called Cox’s meeting with them during his investigation “inappropriate.”
Carpenter and Lyons also told Lindow they had lost respect for Cox as a result of the Hentges hiring.
Carpenter, a safety supervisor, refused to comment Tuesday. Lyons, a safety and health specialist, could not be reached.
When questioned April 22, Cox lied to Lindow when he said the decision to hire Hentges was “unanimous,” according to the report.
Lindow said he was prohibited by the county’s civil lawyer from commenting on the report. Information on how many county employees have been suspended was not available.
Commissioners John Roskelley and Steve Hasson applauded Lindow’s investigation and concurred with his decision to suspend Cox.
“We’ve got to do what’s right as far as the employment process,” Roskelley said. “We have to be consistent and follow the process.”
Hasson said he was “disappointed” with Cox, who holds a “real position of trust.” He noted that Lindow uncovered “clear wrongdoing.”
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