When the city of White Salmon recently hired Donna McDaniel as the replacement for Kelly Ingraham, the longtime city clerk-treasurer who resigned to take another job in February, there was an unexpected change: The new employee's title was switched from "clerk-treasurer" to "director of finance."
That did not escape the eye of City Council member Richard Marx, who questioned Mayor Linda Jones about the unannounced alteration at the July 20 council meeting.
"I was wondering why her title is not clerk-treasurer," Marx asked.
"We're changing things around in the city," Jones responded. "We're trying to be more efficient, and use expertise we're not currently using. There is not a difference in salary, and the job description doesn't change much."
At that point, the city's attorney, Deborah Phillips, pointed out that the city, by law, has to have someone serving in a clerk-treasurer position.
"It's totally fine to have a director of finance, but it needs to be director of finance/clerk-treasurer," Philips explained. "You just need that title."
That apparent miscue drew the wrath of another council member, Penny White Morris.
"Why did we even rearrange City Hall staff without finding out what's appropriate, and changing titles without the City Council knowing about it?" questioned Morris. "Once again, the city is doing bad business."
Morris also asked if changing the titles of City Hall employees meant the pay scales would eventually have to be upgraded as well.
Jones said the "director of finance" title was more fitting for the duties of the position, and pledged that the pay scales would not have to change as a result.
"This job title seems more appropriate and more professional," she said. "But if it's in an ordinance that we can't do that, I'm fine with that."
"If job descriptions change, doesn't the City Council need to know?" Marx asked.
Jones said the council members would be advised when the proposed changes to the job descriptions of several city employees have been finalized.
"You will be made aware when they are complete. They are not completed yet," Jones said.
"Has it had the City Council's approval to change? We're entitled to that before it's sent off to anybody," Marx said.
Attorney Phillips, however, said the mayor has a great deal of leeway in how the city is administered.
"I beg to differ. The mayor is the chief executive, and management is in the mayor's hands," explained Phillips.
Marx said he was not convinced by that explanation.
"You're saying the mayor can change job descriptions without the council's approval?" Marx said.
"The mayor has a broad range of authority," Phillips explained.
Phillips then suggested that the discussion about job descriptions was not appropriate for a public council meeting.
"This is not the proper forum for this," Phillips said.