Just when Multnomah County commissioners were hoping to rebuild credibility with the public, along comes east county Commissioner Lonnie Roberts with his indefensible decision to award a $35,000 bonus to his departing chief of staff.

Gary Walker received the check - minus taxes - in late January or early February. Walker, who is moving to North Carolina, says he and Roberts agreed to the bonus before he was hired in 2001.

It was justified, he says, because he had turned down more lucrative employment elsewhere, and because he did full-time work for part-time pay - $34,000 a year.

It is true that Walker did a fine job as Roberts' chief of staff, but the $35,000 bonus was utterly inappropriate, nontransparent and downright slippery.

Multnomah County commissioners have discretion over the budgets that fund the operations of their own offices. But commissioners must remember that the county's money doesn't belong to them - it belongs to taxpayers.

The county must immediately adopt rules that either eliminate bonuses or base them upon easily understood criteria.

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