The complexion of the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners will change next year following a surprising announcement from one of its three members.
"My four-year term ends in January 2021 and it was a difficult decision, but I have determined that I will not be filing for re-election," Position 2 commissioner Rick Olson said in a prepared statement.
Olson, 68, said health challenges over the past year didn't weigh into his decision, which he'd been contemplating over the past several months.
"I've always had a passion for public service and over the past few years I feel I have lost some of that passion and love," he said. "With the divisiveness of government -- which is now prevalent over our entire political spectrum, causing friends to be pitted against friends, neighbors against neighbors and family member against family member -- I find it more agonizing and difficult to make decisions and build consensus among citizens and feel I need to step back and re-evaluate my future role in community service and politics."
Olson didn't rule out a future in public office, although he's been frustrated with the system under which the county is run and the oftentimes onerous mandates of state government.
"As commissioner I have at times felt that as a … Oregon general law county, much of the local control is dictated by the state and takes much of the local decision-making ability regarding critical issues away from the Board of Commissioners and limits the board's ability to act in the best interest of its citizens," he said.
A possible solution is to transition Yamhill County to another system.
"I feel that in the future and to give more local control to the county, its citizens and the Board of Commissioners, that the citizens of Yamhill County need to re-evaluate whether the county should continue to be a general law county or consider moving toward a home rule county to give the citizens more say in the make-up of the board, how board members are elected and how critical decisions are made, thus giving more ability to its citizens to have a say in the decision-making process and ensuring all areas of the county are equally represented," the McMinnville resident said.
When Olson completes his four-year term in early January he will have spent more than 40 years of public service as an appointed or elected official in McMinnville and the county, including eight years as McMinnville mayor and four years on the town's city council.
He was also a firefighter, fire officer and EMT in the McMinnville Fire Department, where he also served for three years as the department's public information officer.
He also ticks off involvement with numerous other agencies, ranging from chairman of McMinnville Water & Light board to other city, county and state board positions.
Olson said his hope is that he accomplishes a number of things before he leaves office in January.
"During my last year as commissioner I am hoping to further work toward completing the space needs analysis, conducting strategic long-range planning, modernization of the county's website to make it easier and better for the citizens to conduct business and obtain county information, improving the notification and selection of open seats on various committees, setting of goals and objectives and defining the critical priorities of the county on both a short-term and long-term basis so citizens are better informed of the issues and areas that impact the county," he said.
Olson recalled fondly his time in office.
"It has been a pleasure and honor to serve Yamhill County in the capacity of commissioner," he said. "I have learned a great deal about county government and how complex and difficult it is and how it differs from that of the most cities. I will take with me the great satisfaction of working on worthwhile projects and issues with many outstanding and caring partners, groups, individuals and citizens throughout the county."
As of Tuesday's filing deadline, two individuals have filed to fill Olson's position on the commission: Barbara Boyer and Lindsay Berschauer.
Boyer, a McMinnville resident, has a bachelor's degree in plant science from the University of Connecticut and is a self-employed farmer with a background in the nursery industry.
She has been a member of the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District since 2004, the Oregon State Board of Agriculture since 2011 and began serving on the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board in 2018.
Berschauer is a Carlton resident who is self-employed and has a bachelor's degree in justice studies from Arizona State University.
She is a current member of the Yamhill County Budget Committee and a former board member of the now defunct Newberg Rural Fire Protection District.
The other two positions on the commission are held by first-term commissioner Casey Kulla and second-term commissioner Mary Starrett. Neither is up for re-election in the May primary.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.