Bad blood is no reason to split bicounty services. Commissioners should explain themselves

The Benton County Courthouse in Prosser.
The Benton County Courthouse in Prosser. Tri-City Herald

Ties that have kept Benton and Franklin counties together are unraveling, and we fear this time the damage may be beyond repair.

Benton County commissioners made it clear at their Feb. 5 meeting they want to split the Benton-Franklin Human Services Department, and set it up so each county runs its own agency.

While this has been something Benton commissioners have wanted for a long while, the issue had not come up for more than a year.

This past week — seemingly out of nowhere — it became a priority, and the timing is unfortunate.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a jury awarded $1.5 million in damages to Linda Robb, the former head of the bicounty human services department. She had claimed wrongful termination, and the only commissioner on either side of the river who voted not to fire her was Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck.

After the verdict, Peck publicly extended an apology to Robb, saying the judgment should send a message that employees need to be treated with respect.

At the time, he told the Tri-City Herald, “I’m apologizing on behalf of the county for the fact that she was not treated properly. Obviously out of the six (commissioners), I’m the one who I believe did the proper thing and stood up for her.

“So I wouldn’t want (Herald) readers to misconstrue that apology as somehow some form of admission of guilt. If there’s any guilt, I think there’s five people in line ahead of me.”

So let’s connect the dots.

Peck openly criticizes Benton County commissioners (as well as Franklin County Commissioner Bob Koch and Former Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller) and then Benton County decides to start breaking up bicounty services.

If there is more to this scenario, the public should hear what it is. Otherwise, it appears bad blood and personalities are the primary motive in dissolving a seemingly efficient, regional bicounty system.

Those are lousy reasons.

Newly elected Franklin County Commissioner Clint Didier — who has replaced Miller — blamed the court case for the renewed tension between the two commissions. Peck’s comments also were mentioned as Benton commissioners discussed splitting bicounty departments.

We would like to know how separating shared services is an improvement. Already there is concern that the split could affect funding in the human services department because some grants are given to larger, regional agencies.

Most people in the community believe it makes sense for Benton and Franklin counties to be partners, working together and pooling resources. Bicounty programs generally are in the best interest of all Tri-City residents.

The Herald reached out to Benton County Commission Chairman Shon Small to find out more on this issue, but he declined to talk about it.

The public needs more information. Benton commissioners should elaborate on the topic at one of their meetings so people won’t have to guess their motivation, because right now, it looks like ill will is driving their decision.