Rod Runyon says the skills he used in his own financial services and insurance business over 15 of the past 25 years— research, risk assessment and helping clients meet financial goals — are among his most valuable skills in his role as Wasco County commissioner.
Runyon is seeking his second term as commissioner in Position 3, facing challengers Chuck Langley and Bridget Bailey.
A resident of The Dalles, Runyon keeps informed by attending meetings throughout the county.
“This is how you learn,” Runyon said. “The city of The Dalles may be the major population and voting block — I clearly understand that — but it’s not just about one committee in the county, it’s about the whole county. It’s all important.”
Runyon keeps a list of daily appointments. In 2013, he said he attended 368 meetings, a substantially larger number than the 75 to 85 held by bodies he officially serves on for the county. He said it’s not a part-time job to him.
“Sometimes, just being there can be effective,” he said.
Being present for discussions of community issues has not only been a strategy of his tenure in office, but also a campaign strategy. He attended commission meetings for a year before he ran last time.
“I didn’t just show up,” he said. “I did feel like I was ready to go.”
While in office, he served two years as the commission chair and presently serves as vice chair of the Veterans Committee for the Association of Oregon Counties and on the organization’s Legislative Committee. Other county assignments have included one term as chairman of the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections board and Mid-Columbia Housing, and boards of Mid-Columbia Community Action, Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, Mid-Columbia Council of Governments and The Oregon Consortium. He also received a governor’s appoint to the Oregon Regional Solutions Team North Central Advisory Group.
His passions as commissioner have been to support the county Veterans Advisory Committee, Veterans Ad Hoc Committee, Veterans Service Office and sheriff’s office. The Veterans Service Office, he said, has brought more than $1 million to the pockets of local residents in the past 12-15 months.
During his first term in office, Runyon and his fellow commissioners had the challenge of transitioning from a county judge as full-time administrator to a policy board of three “part-time” commissioners plus a hired administrative officer.
Runyon ran on a platform of improved transparency in governance and improving the county’s budget situation.
“I think we have stabilized a lot of areas of county government,” Runyon said.
In the past, the budget process usually involved the county judge and financial officer meeting individually with department heads as needed to develop the initial budget, he explained. Now the financial officer, administrative officer and one commissioner do the same work.
“But another element we’ve added is that now you have to plead your case to your peers,” Runyon said. The process is designed as a collaborative means of helping to prioritize budget needs.
With the exception of the Roads Department, which faces declining county payment revenues, Runyon said the county’s financial position has improved with growing reserves.
Runyon said he took creating more transparency in county government as his personal challenge. Central to that effort was to design a more informative commission meeting agenda. Runyon said he researched best practices, borrowed what worked and discarded the rest. The agenda now links to online resources so county residents can see almost all of the materials the commissioners see before meeting.
Still looming in the county’s future are answers to the Road Department’s shortfalls. A blue-ribbon Road Advisory Committee recommended that a road district would be the best solution to stabilize funding at a level that would allow workers to maintain county roads in good condition. Such a district would require a vote of the public.
“My feeling all along is that a road district was not going to happen,” Runyon said. “I don’t think it’s possible … Compression is going to be an issue.”
The committee’s other recommendations, a fuel tax or a licensing fee, wouldn’t raise the level of revenue needed to meet maintenance requirements, which would mean hard choices, Runyon said.
“Our whole framework, our whole view of the world has to change.
“The reality is, if the budget is not there, we are not going to be looking at new projects,” he said.