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Phil Stenbeck enjoys the challenge of helping people make use of their property

TERESA JACKSON/MADRAS PIONEER - Phil Stenbeck is the new community development director for Jefferson County.For the past two years, Phil Stenbeck was the eastern regional representative for the Department of Land Conservation and Development.

He wasn't looking for a job, but when Jefferson County had an opening for a community development director, he applied.

He was the planning director for the county from 2011 to 2012.

When he left, people were very friendly. "It's hard to not want to work for them again," he said.

What attracted him to the job was the "connection to the community and the opportunity to work for the Community Development Department again," he said.

Stenbeck has a long history in Central Oregon. He was Prineville's planning director, and he served as a planning assistant in Crook County.

"I've been a planner in Oregon for 25 years," he said. "Central Oregon's got a community feel that I really like. It's a beautiful place."

Oregon's land-use program is complex, and Stenbeck finds that fascinating.

"One of the things you'll find about Jefferson County that I find unique and interesting to me is the fact that it is an agricultural community," he said, adding that many communities are transitioning away from agriculture.

For the Community Development Department, that means understanding more than housing regulations. Stenbeck can quickly list a variety of regulations his office needs to understand — from big game habitat protection to making sure people don't put their septic system too close to their well.

Building in the county is also more complex than building in the city.

Stenbeck likes the challenge.

A shelf in his office has a bright green book that stands out: "Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People" by Mahrazin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald.

It was a textbook he used in 1985 during a weeklong course in leadership decision-making from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

"To this day, I don't know how I got invited," Stenbeck said.

He found himself surrounded by all kinds of people; his roommate was an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense.

"It was very fascinating," Stenbeck said. "It was an amazing experience, and it's helped me since."

"Everybody has blind spots or biases, and I don't mean that in a negative way," Stenbeck said.

In planning, "the skillset is one where you're trying to make a really good decision every single time, and that's hard to do because you form habits," Stenbeck said.

The course pushed him to to think, "What am I missing?"

That's helped him do the work he loves.

"People have dreams about their property, about what they want to do with it," Stenbeck said. "... It's very fulfilling to help people with their projects and get them through the process."

At the same time, he wants to help guide people when they don't know what they need to do.

"We protect people in terms of life, safety and welfare," he said. That includes fire safety and making sure people have access to electricity, plumbing and roads.

The job also includes adjusting to change and preparing for the future.

One of the biggest changes Stenbeck has seen is the growth of the hemp industry. While growing hemp doesn't require a permit, some of the ways it gets processed does.

The county is also beginning work on a transportation system plan, which is necessary to get state and federal funds for roads.

The year has brought many changes in county staff. A building official, a sanitarian, a plans examiner and the planning director all retired or changed jobs. The county has also approved the hiring of a code enforcement officer, which Stenbeck said should help deal with complaints.

The combination of strategy and customer service, along with the rural setting, drew Stenbeck to planning.

He came from a background of chasing cows through a barn to tag them, but he also had family members who were real estate agents.

"It just seemed like the right thing for me," he said.

"At the end of the day, we talk to people about using their property and try to help them accomplish their dreams."


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