Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson said Tuesday he will step down July 31 after more than 33 years in office.
Robertson was first elected commissioner the year Ronald Reagan was elected president. Those who have worked closely with him say Douglas County would have been a very different place without his leadership, especially in securing federal timber payments to help pay for county services.
Robertson said he has loved serving the county, but his family needs him more now. His son David Robertson, 26, of Eugene has suffered complications from a head injury he received four years ago. David Robertson was hospitalized two weeks ago after a severe seizure.
Doug Robertson also said his 70th birthday two months ago made him question how much quality time he has left to enjoy and to spend with his family and his wife, Emily.
Commissioner Susan Morgan said Robertson has served longer than any other commissioner in the state and his shoes will be hard to fill.
“It definitely is going to be a huge sea change for the commission and the county,” Morgan said.
Commissioners will appoint a replacement who will serve at least through the end of the year. Voters will choose someone in November to complete the final two years of Robertson’s term.
Morgan said Robertson’s accomplishments are many, but one that stands out is his lobbying for repeated extensions of federal safety-net payments for Douglas and other rural counties.
“Douglas County would be a far, far different place today without that contribution,” she said.
Robertson noted Tuesday he has been a county commissioner for half his life.
“That’s a long time to be a commissioner. It’s a long time to be anything,” Robertson said.
He said he has loved helping people on issues large and small.
“It’s been an incredible education and experience. It really has. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Robertson said. Robertson is the president of the Association of O&C Counties and has lobbied extensively for legislation which would allow greater timber harvests on Oregon & California Railroad trust lands.
It is a job he will leave unfinished when he steps down next month.
“In what capacity I’ll be able to continue working on that, I don’t know. That clearly has been my passion and focus of my work for many years and that clearly isn’t fixed yet. In a perfect world that would be done,” Robertson said.
He expressed optimism that management of O&C lands will be reformed.
“We have our entire Oregon (congressional) delegation and the governor focused on the O & C situation, and we’ve never had that,” he said.
Robertson also said he has enjoyed helping people on problems that might seem small but are big for them, such as land use issues.
He said he also found satisfaction in seeing the community come together to support Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park east of Oakland. Volunteers raised $65,000 to avoid a proposed clear-cut at the park after Robertson worked out an agreement in which county commissioners gave the group time to come up with the funds.
Robertson said he hopes the person chosen to fill his shoes will have budgeting and administrative experience. Over the past three decades, financial management of the county government has become increasingly complex, he said.
State Rep. Tim Freeman, who was elected in May to replace Commissioner Joe Laurance, said Tuesday he does not plan to take office before January.
Douglas County Clerk Patricia Hitt said this morning that Freeman could be appointed to fill Robertson’s Position 3 seat until the end of the year and then take the Position 2 seat voters elected him for in January. He would have to step down from the Legislature.
Freeman, a Roseburg Republican, said he had hoped Robertson would stay longer. He said he will step up his preparations to take on the O&C issue.
“Hopefully, there’s some way he can continue to help us drive that issue. He is so clearly the expert at it,” Freeman said.
Freeman termed Robertson’s decision to devote more time to family “admirable,” but said the county will feel his loss. He said Robertson has been a role model.
“Clearly Commissioner Robertson has a wealth of knowledge that will be missed. It will be hard to replace him. He served Douglas County very well for a very long time,” Freeman said.
Bob Ragon, executive director of the Douglas Timber Operators, said that he was shocked Tuesday to hear Robertson was retiring.
He said Robertson is the most knowledgeable person and the best spokesman for O&C timber counties. He also said Robertson was both a personal friend and a friend to the timber industry.
“It will be a tremendous loss for us, quite frankly. I think he’s an excellent county commissioner,” Ragon said.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.