By Meg Olson
Former Whatcom County park ranger Ben VanBuskirk is taking the county to court over the working conditions that he says drove him out of a job he loved eight months shy of retirement.
“I have filed suit for back wages,” Vanbuskirk said, and the county was served with the complaint on October 4.
VanBuskirk was the resident manager of Lighthouse Marine Park from 1989 until 2009, when the family moved to Blaine after he was given responsibility for additional county parks. In June 2016, now responsible for over 40 properties, he resigned, citing an untenable workload.
In an opinion piece published in Northwest Citizen, guest writer Michael Chiavario, also a former employee of Whatcom County Parks and Recreation, used VanBuskirk as an example of what’s wrong with the county parks department.
“Imagine never being off work,” he wrote, “even when you are at home or on vacation. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week. Year, after year, after year. Your phone rings and, because your boss requires you to always carry and answer your work phone, you leave your family’s Christmas gathering 120 miles from your workplace to make adjustments to equipment. It doesn’t matter that someone else who is much closer to the problem could do the job.”
VanBuskirk said Chiavorio was a former colleague who left the parks department under circumstances similar to his. “The old school is really getting chased out,” he said.
Chiavorio is calling for legislative changes that would dismantle what he sees as increasingly top-down management, from the county executive’s office down, that leaves experienced employees reluctant to weigh in on decision making.
“This does not serve the taxpayers well,” he wrote. “Workers with years of experience are in an excellent position to offer suggestions, evaluation and criticism to directors who, in some cases, have been in their positions for less time than those they direct.”