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October 10, 2012
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By-the-book Douglas County treasurer faces challenger who wants to oversee public purse

Incumbent Jim Rudolph and challenger Rae Copitka see the job of Douglas County treasurer quite differently.

Rudolph, 67, who has served in office since January 2011, following the retirement of Sam Huff, sees his duties in a straightforward way.

In an interview with The News-Review’s editorial board last week, Rudolph said he oversees the county’s $178 million investment portfolio, maintains sound banking practices and ensures there is enough money on hand for the county to meet financial obligations.

Rudolph, who has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Montana, worked under Huff for two years. Previously, he was an accountant for Oregon State University and a finance manager for the Oakridge and Oakland school districts and the Umpqua Regional Council of Governments.

“I have a good background for what the treasurer does,” he said.

Copitka, 50, a self-employed minister and holistic health practitioner, said in the same editorial board meeting the treasurer should ensure that the county spends money only for “legitimate purposes.”

“I think what the treasurer’s office needs right now is a guard for the people’s money,” Copitka said.

Copitka said she disagreed with two 2007 decisions by the county commissioners to give $250,000 to the Winston Community Center and $500,000 to the Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center.

Neither expense was related to county government, Copitka said, even though the county has legal responsibilities to deal with stray dogs and predatory animals.

“It’s pretty plain and clear that the public funds are not to be used for private entities, public-private partnerships or nonprofit organizations. They’re to be used for the health, safety and welfare of the people, which means roads, infrastructure, power, those types of things that the public can utilize,” Copitka said.

If presented with such bills as treasurer, Copitka said, she would refuse to pay them.

“That’s part of the checks and balances in government, and I think the treasurer needs to be a huge part of that, especially in today’s economic conditions,” she said.

There’s nothing in Oregon law that gives a county treasurer discretion in deciding which bills to pay or not pay. The authority for expenditures rests with the county’s budget committee and board of commissioners.

“As treasurer, I don’t take part in the budgetary process,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph said the county’s chief financial officer provides him with a list of bills to pay.

Copitka was a member of the Lawmen ad hoc Steering Committee that in 2008 unsuccessfully petitioned county commissioners to change the way the federal Internal Revenue Service processes property liens presented to the Douglas County Clerk’s Office. The group, which claimed the IRS procedures were illegal, pushed for a requirement than IRS agents appear in person to file a lien and provide a thumbprint.

Rudolph said he made his first investment when he was in college and has decades of experience. He said working with Huff for the two years before he retired gave him the background to take over that responsibility at the county level.

He said he constantly looks at investment opportunities and analyzes whether more money can be made with a different investment.

Copitka said she has operated three companies and said she managed budgets of between $300,000 and $800,000. She said she also feels qualified to manage the county’s money.

The county, she said, has relied too much on the federal timber safety net and should manage its money better.

“I think this county is one disaster away from bankruptcy,” she said. “This is a serious situation.”

Rudolph said he’s optimistic about managing the county’s finances.

“I guess I’m not a doomsday person,” he said. “I want things to actually work. I want my investments to be sound.”

• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Nov 2, 2012 04:00PM Published Nov 20, 2012 03:17PM Copyright 2012 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.