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A career well spent

After 12 years of public service, Crook county Judge Scott Cooper announces he will not be seeking re-election

by: KEVIN GABOURY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County Judge Scott Cooper reviews juvenile department records with Debbie Patterson, who is the Juvenile Department director.

Citing a need to spend more time with his three daughters, Crook County native and County Judge Scott Cooper announced this week that he will resign at the end of his term.
   "Most critically, I have three important reasons for leaving," Cooper said, referring to his daughters. "And their names are Olivia, Meredith and Cecily. It's occurred to me that the time I have with them is awfully short. Everybody warned me that it was going to go by in a blink of an eye....And I'm heeding that warning that you take advantage of the time when they're little."
   Cooper, whose term expires on Dec. 31, 2008, made his announcement on Wednesday.
   "It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve, but now is the time to reclaim my life as an ordinary citizen, to spend more time with my young children and my wife and to pursue - at least for a while - new interests and new passions unhindered by the burdens of public life," Cooper said in his statement. He added that "I am definitely grateful for the contributions that the employees have made, the elected officials and the department heads in particular, in transforming us into a cutting edge, 21st century government that is looked to for leadership by other counties in Oregon."
   "One of the things about county governments is, if they are not proactively led and driven, that they tend to be functioning poor to fair," the Republican said. "With huge effort, you can make them function well and because of the way they are designed, they can seldom be great. And we have a county that is somewhere between good and great in how it functions. That is a real credit to cooperation and commitment among elected officials, staff and also many of our citizen volunteers."
   Cooper said that initially he did not fully appreciate how much volunteers help the county's operations. He later made it a goal to recruit "good people" for the volunteer positions and keep those positions filled.
   "And it's due to the input of all these people who are (running) 23 separate divisions that we have been able to move the county forward at a time when Crook County has faced more growth and change than at any previous time in its history," Cooper said.
   He also noted that in his seven years on the court, he has worked with several different county commissioners.
   "So three separate courts in seven years is a lot of change at the top," the county administrator said. "But one of the things that I've liked about all three of my courts is that we've always been able to be professional, even when we disagreed with each other. We left our court differences at the court table and we conducted ourselves with a view toward putting the interests of citizens first instead of personal bias and concern. And that's been universal across all three courts. That sense of collegiality has been somewhat different from what other counties in the state have experienced."
   For now, Cooper is not sure what line of work he will be in after his term ends.
   "I'm not sure what I'll do after I leave," Cooper said. "My career background is in non-profits, journalism and government."
   Accomplishments in his administration
   "During my term, I am proud that we have not been forced to go to the voters for additional revenues to balance the budget," the judge said. "Despite the impending loss of nearly 60 percent of the Road Department's operating budget due to the loss of `county payments', we have rebalanced in such a way that preserves services, saves jobs and maintains the historic balance of the road fund. During my term, we have managed to significantly enhance county reserves, transform money-losing ventures such as the county landfill into profit centers, maintain competitive compensation and benefits for employees without reductions in staff and still generally leave the county in better fiscal shape than it was when I found it."
   "And I am leaving it with all services intact or improved," he added.
   "The other thing would be that the county that I inherited functioned as 23 separate Crook counties," Cooper said of the departments. "There was a great deal of autonomy within the various departments."
   He said county personnel have managed instead to think of the county as a system and that what they do affects other departments.
   "A big part of that was the work we did on information technology," he said. "There was no unified e-mail system. Most employees did not have access to a computer."
   With the technological changes, "that's been huge for letting us work with each other and share information in real time with each other instead of working as separate divisions."
   "The most remarkable thing to have happened during my seven years is Crook County's meteoric growth," the county administrator said. "Twice in my political life, Crook County has been the fastest growing county in the state, creating a platform to offer new economic opportunity for citizens. Unemployment levels, unacceptably high when I took office in 2000, fell last year to levels not seen since the late 1960s, and the number of employers in the county has increased by 50 percent since 2000. The housing boom made millionaires overnight of some residents. Not surprisingly, growth in bank deposits at one point led the state. When I took office in 2001, Crook County was a community questioning whether it had an economic future. Today that question has been answered resoundingly in the affirmative."