Franklin County commissioners may hire two people to replace the public works director, who was fired after the discovery of a suspected embezzlement of nearly $3 million by an employee in his department.
Commissioner Bob Koch said Wednesday that "after thinking about it" he was willing to split the job duties and have two managers to provide better oversight in the department.
Tim Fife lost his job for poor management of the department and of Dennis Huston, the department's accounting and administrative director who is suspected of stealing county funds for more than a decade.
Huston, who was fired in February, is not chargedwith a crime but is being sued by the commission. State officials still are investigatingthe criminal case.
Franklin County officials now are trying to figure out how to improve oversight of the department and prevent future thefts.
And they will continue to use Benton County's professional engineer Malcolm Bowie as a substitutepublic works director/engineer.
Koch noted Benton County separates the public works director and the engineer positions, rather than having one person do both.
"It is set up that way, and it seems to be working OK," Koch said.
Commission Chairman Brad Peck said the two jobs may be compatible, but having one person doing bothcould be difficult. Finding the right candidate with sufficient talents for both skill sets could be a challenge, he added.
Koch said the new director wouldn't need to be paid as much as Fife was for his dual role as public works director and county engineer. Fife was paid $107,817 a year.
Huston made $76,164 a year as the public works accounting and administrative director.
He is suspected of routing funds to himself by submitting false invoices for an out-of-business company that he created a bank account for.
Fife and Guy Walters, assistant public works director, were among those initially placed on leave, pending the results of an investigation into the missing money. All but Fife were allowed to return to their jobs.
Peck said he would consider allowing Walters, who intends to retire later this year, to serve as interim public works director until a replacement can be hired.
He said hiring a separate county engineer, who must be a licensed professionalengineer, might bringbetter management to the department, but he didn't want to increase salary expenses.
Peck suggested eliminating Huston's vacant positionand shifting the public works accounting responsibilitiesto county Auditor Matt Beaton.
County Executive Fred Bowen said Koch's proposal has merit and Commissioner Rick Miller agreed.
"This is not a bad idea," Miller said. "The county has grown over the last 20 years, and this would provide professionalism we need in these areas."
No decision was made Wednesday, but Koch said Franklin County needs to get its public works management problems fixed soon.
In a related action,commissioners voted to extend Bowie's contract as Franklin County's interim director of public works/county engineer.
Bowie will continue to work for both counties through July 31. The contract, which covers Bowie's hourly rateof $47.78, excluding over-head, would have expired April 30.