The truth is Sarah Wilson was fired.
Wilson, who served as comptroller under Benton County Judge Bob Clinard, was fired for a good reason. Namely, it' s that she hid from her employer information pertinent to the position of financial and public trust she held. And in the world of democratically elected local governance, she also committed the unwise act of putting her boss in a political bind. He lost trust in her because she wasn't honest with him about matters that mattered, he said.
What’s The Point?
The firing of the county comptroller over issues of trust was the right move, but county taxpayers paid a price for it anyway.
But as of a few days ago, the official Benton County paperwork will show Wilson resigned. It is a fiction created by a legal system that has a penchant for expediency and a propensity for outcomes that fall short of truth and justice, but save money and avoid dragged out conflicts that might not serve political futures well.
Benton County recently agreed to pay Wilson $43,000 in salary and benefits rather than allow her to go through with her appeal of the firing. That's six months of pay and benefits for doing nothing.
Clinard, in a termination letter, explained that he fired Wilson because she chose not to disclose her marriage to Scott Stober. Now, normally, who an employee is married to wouldn't be of concern, but Stober also happens to the the former public services administrator for Benton County. He was arrested July 30, 2013, on theft of property charges. The property he was accused of stealing belonged to the county. He pleaded guilty this year and awaits sentencing.
Wilson was never implicated in any of Stober's activities. But Clinard said she specifically denied a relationship with Stober then later acknowledged they had married. After such a breach of trust, was Clinard supposed to keep her on staff? Of course not. Clinard -- and any employer with any sense -- must be able to trust his employees. Clearly, Clinard's trust in Stober was violated, so who can blame the county judge for wanting to ensure those remaining on staff were trustworthy? He had to let Wilson go to live up to his obligation to the people of Benton County.
But as with many legal tangles, it's not so much about right or wrong as it is about negotiating the least amount of damage. Half a year's salary and benefits, plus the county's pledge not to oppose Wilson's application for unemployment benefits, is a steal in the legal world. Litigation over the firing would have cost much more.
So, we get it. We're not so naive as to believe truth and justice is always the desired outcome, but we can still wish it were. It's also grating to see someone get unearned money from taxpayers simply because it's the least costly way out of the mess.
The lesson from this unfortunate episode is it pays to fight a firing from a public position, even when the firing was the right thing to do; and government references on Benton County government employees are meaningless. How can anyone trust a reference knowing that at least one, and probably more, exist as a result of capitulating to a legal settlement?
You really can't make this stuff up. Or can you?Commentary on 08/11/2014
Print Headline: Legel Pact Over Firing Unsettling