Crook County has recently replaced multiple retired department heads with new hires

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County has hired new department leaders.

One of the largest contributors to Crook County's years of steady progress is the longevity of the county workers who care so much for our community.

The local knowledge and connection to our citizens has enabled these workers to be a part of making Crook County what it is today. Just as summer turns to fall, many of our long-term employees have reached the next season in their lives. With these key members of the Crook County team retiring, we are seeing the baton being passed.

Being here from the creation of Crook County (or so it seems) gave Bill Zelenka unprecedented historic knowledge of our community. Finding a replacement would have been difficult had we not had Ann Beier. Ann was Crook County's planner prior to taking Bill's roll as the county's community development director in September 2017. She has more than 30 years' experience working for federal, state and local governments on land use and economic development issue.

The Community Development Department offers "one-stop permitting" for new development in Crook County. Ann and the department are committed to providing excellent customer service by helping our customers through often complex permitting requirements. We are increasing our efficiency while responding to record numbers of development requests. With increased growth in the community, Ann and her team strive to promote economic opportunities while maintaining Crook County's values and making this a great place to live and work.

With Ann stepping into the role of community development director, this left a gap in the Planning Department. After an extensive search, our community was lucky to find Katie McDonald, who we brought on as the Crook County Planner. She is a native Oregonian who has experience in various community development roles, including land use planning, grant coordination, and is a former Redmond Urban Area Planning commissioner. Katie is excited about working for our citizens, specifically in the areas of infrastructure, connectivity and economic development. We are excited to have a fresh perspective to this great department.

The county building inspector plays a pivotal role in the economic growth and development of our community. The county building inspector is tasked to ensure that local construction meets quality and safety standards while understanding the time lines that citizens, contractors, builders and developers are tied to.

Randy Davis is bringing integrity and fresh ideas to our Building Department. At 18, he was hired in the code enforcement division of Crook County. Through his years in that role, Randy shaped the current program we have today. In his short time as the Crook County building inspector, he has cross-trained building inspectors, providing more efficient services to our customers, reorganized procedures to provide more efficient and effective service, and grown his department's capacity to handle this robust growth that we are experiencing.

One of the top priorities of this county court has been to professionalize our county. Last July, in our reorganization of the Treasurer's Office, we hired Jeff Caldwell as the chief financial officer. Jeff will serve as the head of the Finance Department and manage all operations of that department. He comes to us with a long public budgeting and financial planning background in state government and public schools. His specialty is working with large bond-funded capital projects that will serve us well in our jail and heliport projects. He will be instrumental as we develop long-term financial and capital plans for the county. 

Among other things, Jeff is currently working on closing the books on the last fiscal year, reviewing this year's budget, and beefing up the Finance Department's team.

Jeff hired Debbie Palmer in August as an accounting technician. She was subsequently appointed by the county court as the interim county treasurer and is the lone candidate filing for the position in November's election. Debbie joins the team with more than 11 years of county finance, treasury and property tax collection experience and is well-respected among county financial officials around the state.

Prior to local government, she worked in several different accounting roles in the private sector. As the appointed treasurer, she will be focusing on streamlining processes in an effort to strengthen cash controls and improve efficiencies in all offices and departments. The entire finance team will focus on careful coordination and implementation, with the intent to provide more transparency and allow better overall financial planning and stewardship of county taxpayer dollars.

When it comes to having a healthy work environment, there is no substitute for a good HR department. Kim Barber recently returned to her hometown of Prineville to join the county team as our new director of human resources.

She has spent the last three decades working and living across the globe in such places as Boston, Salt Lake City, Hawaii and Australia. Kim has multiple degrees in behavioral sciences and a master's degree in adult learning from Harvard. She has worked in organizations of all sizes, served as a professor at the Utah School of Business and provided direction in how to be a better employee and manager.

Kim is on a mission. Too often, a company's human resources department has been the professional equivalent of being sent to the principal's office. Kim is working to ensure that Crook County's HR Department is here to support and challenge people, not to make them jump through hoops, constrain them with endless rules, or bury them with paperwork. Kim does a great job finding the balance between holding employees accountable and providing a fun and fulfilling work environment.

Finding an experienced person to replace Leroy Gray as manager of the landfill could have been a real challenge. We were fortunate enough to find someone with experience who also has deep ties to Crook County's Post and Paulina area. Jeff Merwin is the new manager at the Crook County Landfill. He has more than 20 years of experience in the different aspects of the solid waste industry, including operations, construction management, survey and environmental compliance.

Some of his top priorities are converting the scales to digital technology, making it more efficient for employees and customers, using GPS and mapping to ensure that we use the landfill property as efficiently as possible, and developing a community educational outreach program with a focus on school tours. We are blessed to have an employee with Jeff's background and experience leading our landfill in to the future.

As Crook County Judge, it is exciting to me to see new faces that bring new perspectives, ideas and goals to our county team. It is an added bonus to see many of them with historic ties to our community. The mix of these new team members reinforces my belief that as we move forward, we will continue to benefit from new ideas without losing our connection to our unique history and culture.

Seth Crawford serves as the Crook County Judge. He can be reached at 541-447-6555.

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