WA Senate Democrats say conservative majority has fired top nonpartisan staff

Staff writerNovember 22, 2013 

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

Sen. Karen Fraser, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said in an email to caucus staff that leaders of the conservative-leaning Majority Coalition Caucus have asked Richard Rodger, staff director of Senate Committee Services, and Sherry McNamara, the department's deputy staff director, to leave their posts.

Fraser, D-Olympia, described the move as "outside the normal Senate process for terminating an employee." Senate rules dictate that a bipartisan Senate Employment Committee is responsible for appointing a director of Senate Committee Services.

Fraser said no meeting of the Employment Committee has taken place.

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said she understood that Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom and other members of his caucus had made the decision to terminate McNamara and Rodger.

"Apparently it happened around 6 last night,” Nelson said in a statement. "Rodney Tom had abruptly called a meeting yesterday of the Employment Committee, who normally votes on these decisions, and just as abruptly cancelled it about 5:30 last night."

Tom didn't immediately return a call for comment Friday.

"I really find this action by Tom and others to be stunning," Nelson's statement said. "...As of yet, I have heard no specific details on why these two employees have had their careers stripped from them.”

Republican Sen. Don Benton, chairman of the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee that oversees administrative matters, said Friday that he could not comment on personnel issues. "That would be inappropriate," said Benton, who is from Vancouver.

Here is Fraser's email she sent Friday to Senate Democratic Caucus members and staff:

Dear Colleagues---

I am stunned to let you know that the MCC Leadership have advised Richard Rodger and Sherry McNamara that their services are no longer needed and they should find other opportunities by early January.  My understanding is that Senators Tom, Parlette, and Fain consulted in advance and made this decision.

This is outside the normal Senate process for terminating an employee.  Senate F&O policy is that an adverse action of this type shall be  through a vote of the Senate Employment Committee, of which Senator Nelson and I are members.

An Employment Committee meeting was scheduled for late afternoon yesterday, with extremely short notice, and then abruptly canceled.

At 6 pm, a meeting took place where Senator Tom advised Richard Rodger and Sherry McNamara of the MCC Leadership decision that they should leave Senate employment by early January.  Richard and Sherry were told at that meeting that there were enough votes on the Employment Committee to formalize this action.

I want to emphasize that NO meeting of the Employment Committee has occurred, and that as of now none are scheduled.

I'm advised that at the end of the meeting Richard and Sherry shook hands with each person there.

I did ask Senator Tom for the reason for this major decision, but was given no details.

And Nelson's statement from Friday:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 22, 2013
Nelson expresses shock over the dismissal of non-partisan staff by the Republican-held majority leadership

OLYMPIA – Washington State Senate Democrats’ newly elected minority leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, reacted to news she received earlier that two top non-partisan committee staff were relieved of their jobs by the Republican controlled majority caucus.

“Apparently it happened around 6 last night,” Nelson said. “Rodney Tom had abruptly called a meeting yesterday of the Employment Committee, who normally votes on these decisions, and just as abruptly cancelled it about 5:30 last night.”

Nelson and Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, are the two minority party members that serve on the Employment Committee, neither of whom were consulted on this decision. The two non-partisan staff were Richard Rodger and Sherry McNamara, both of whom have served in committee services for years. Neither Nelson or Fraser have any knowledge of a complaint against them.

“I really find this action by Tom and others to be stunning,” Nelson commented. “This is completely outside the normal process for major employment decisions, and as of yet, I have heard no specific details on why these two employees have had their careers stripped from them.”

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