Senate Democrats challenge dismissals

Staff writerNovember 23, 2013 

Democrats in the state Senate said Friday that leaders of the Republican-dominated Senate majority are unfairly pushing out two top nonpartisan committee staff directors.

According to statements from Democrats, leaders of the conservative-leaning Senate majority have asked Richard Rodger, director of Senate Committee Services, and Sherry McNamara, the department’s deputy director, to leave their jobs managing nonpartisan legislative committee staff.

Sen. Karen Fraser, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom and two Republican senators told McNamara and Rodger on Thursday night that they should find new jobs by early January. The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene for its regular 60-day session Jan. 13.

Fraser, D-Olympia, wrote in an email to Democratic caucus staff Friday that the move was “outside the normal Senate process for terminating an employee.” She said Senate rules dictate that a bipartisan Senate Employment Committee make those decisions, but as of Friday no meeting of the Employment Committee had taken place.

In an emailed statement Friday, Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson said the action by Tom and Senate GOP leaders “is shocking for a number of reasons.”

Nelson told The Seattle Times that she feared the decision was retaliation for Rodger and McNamara not filling nonpartisan staff positions with “some political-type individuals.”

“Interviews were done. Those individuals were not hired. … I’m very concerned that may be the underlying cause of this,” Nelson, D-Maury Island, told the Times on Friday.

But in a written statement, Nelson said, “as of yet, I have heard no specific details on why these two employees had their careers stripped of them.”

Tom, a Medina Democrat who leads the Senate majority coalition of mostly Republicans, didn’t return calls for comment Friday.

Republican Sen. Don Benton, chairman of the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee that handles administrative matters, said Friday that he could not comment on personnel issues.

“That would be inappropriate,” said Benton, who is from Vancouver.

Nelson’s office said Rodger and McNamara “have served in committee services for years” and that she and Fraser aren’t aware of any complaints against them.

In a statement emailed to The News Tribune, she said “the abruptness of the dismissals, without any indication of complaint against Richard or Sherry, to me, reeks of ulterior motive.”

“Nonpartisan staff are here for years, often decades, and serve both parties equally,” Nelson said in the statement. “They are not usually subject to the whims of the majority party.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209 melissa.santos@ thenewstribune.com

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