2 longtime Benton Franklin Health District managers are laid off

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 5, 2013 

A shakeup at the Benton Franklin Health District on Friday has left two longtime managers without jobs.

Sandy Owen, director of preventive health services, and Bruce Perkins, environmental health director, were laid off Friday in a move one expected to save the district $60,000 a year.

But district Administrator Jason Zaccaria said the cost savings only were a small part of the decision. The two director jobs will be replaced by a new operations director position that will have a broader scope and some different responsibilities.

"This is not about people. This is about positions," Zaccaria told the Herald. "It is not a reflection on either of them."

Perkins said he had worked for the district for 39 years and was surprised to learn Friday morning that he no longer would have a job.

"There was no indication this was going to occur," he told the Herald late Friday.

Owen declined to talk about what happened. She had been director of preventive health services since 1997, and a Tri-City public health nurse for more than 30 years.

She was named Kennewick Woman of the Year for 2008 for her work helping low-income families as a public health nurse.

Health Board Chairman Bob Koch, also a Franklin County commissioner, told the Herald on Friday that he was surprised to learn Owen and Perkins were let go.

"I knew there would be a restructuring, but I didn't know who," Koch said. "I thought it would be lower level people."

Koch said Zaccaria functions like a CEO and has the authority to hire and fire district employees without getting permission from the board.

Koch said Zaccaria informed the Benton and Franklin county commissioners who make up the health board that a reorganization was coming, but did not offer specifics about which employees were being eliminated.

Shon Small, health board vice chairman and a Benton County commissioner, said that he and Koch met with Zaccaria on Thursday and were told about Owen and Perkins.

"The health administrator has been working on this for several months," Small said. "I was informed of the reorganization two or three weeks ago."

Small said the reorganization was part of a plan to make the health district more efficient and save money.

The board on Nov. 28 adopted an $8.9 million budget for 2013 that called for laying off a health services worker providing Medicaid outreach and a behavioral health worker in the First Steps program. Both programs were eliminated.

The budget left $500,000 in reserves, but Small noted that it used $100,000 in cash carried over from 2012 and thought it was appropriate for the district to look for more ways to save money.

"We're basically borrowing from money in savings," he said.

Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck told the Herald on Friday that he also was aware that Zaccaria planned a reorganization and knew that terminating Owen and Perkins was one possibility, but hadn't been told specifics of when the reorganization would happen or who actually would be eliminated.

Peck said he believes the board has an obligation to respect Zaccaria's decision-making and give him the room he needs to do his job.

"I am a firm believer in hiring capable and experienced managers and giving them the latitude to run the district," he said.

Miller said he also was told Thursday about a reorganization to save money, but not that Owen or Perkins would be terminated.

He said Zaccaria e-mailed him the new organizational chart Friday, but that it was too small to read on his phone.

"I didn't look at that," Miller said.

Benton County Commissioner Jim Beaver did not return a message left on his cell phone Friday evening.

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