Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler is fulfilling his goals for the elected office — but he isn’t done yet.
“I’d like to continue building on what I’ve started here as long as the voters let me,” said Wampler, who will seek a fourth term in office.
When he first took the job in 1992, Wampler wanted to develop a team approach to management. He believed that by eliminating any duplication of duties he could maximize both manpower and his financial resources.
The key to increasing efficiency, said Wampler, was to establish a “well-rounded” training program that would promote the individual talents of his 18 deputies.
“It’s about improving working relationships and getting the right people in the right place to accomplish our mission of public safety,” he said.
Wampler believes he has successfully met that challenge by being able to provide coverage to a growing population base with roughly the same workforce. During his tenure, he has added only one deputy to his staff, which also includes 13 emergency service dispatchers, a civil deputy, animal control officer and administrative assistant.
By delegating specific duties to qualified individuals, Wampler said that his $3.1 million annual budget has stretched farther. He has also presented that principle to the NORCOR board of directors, on which he sits, during discussions over expenditure of the regional jail’s $5 million yearly budget. Wampler said his agency has never been forced by budget constraints to drop out of the Mid-Columbia Interagency Task Force, a team that has successfully fought local drug dealers.
Wampler’s plan has been simple. Learn about the interest of each officer, such as hunter safety, and help that individual receive specialized training. Then, instead of replicating that expense, have the new expert take charge of that program and teach his peers.
“It’s a good management practice to empower your employees and get them more involved. Once they’ve gotten the basic experience under their belt it’s time to expand their horizons,” he said.
Wampler’s secondary goal 12 years ago was to upgrade his equipment so that his deputies were ready to respond to any community need. To accomplish that task, he enlisted the grant writing help of Karl Tesch, emergency management coordinator, and Dwayne Troxel, undersheriff. By scoring federal funds, the sheriff’s office is now outfitted with two planes, three power boats, a snowcat, several four-wheel drive vehicles and protection gear for scenes involving hazardous materials.
In fact, Wampler has managed to obtain the only portable decontamination unit in the Gorge — and now regularly loans equipment to other agencies when there is a need. And he said all of those acquisitions have been made without dipping into his agency budget.
“A big part of our reason for having this stuff is so we can share it with other people,” said Wampler. “Compared to other agencies around the state we’re in great shape with budget and personnel issues.”
He carries two specialties into the ranks of the county law enforcement office — those of handyman and pilot. Wampler has always had a strong interest in mechanics and has taken it upon himself to be the “fix it guy.” In fact, he has been able to turn many worn pieces of surplused equipment into operable vehicles.
Wampler tries to save money on repairs by personally inspecting machinery and doing the work to keep them rolling. He has also scouted out many lost or injured hikers from a plane, a service that takes both time and labor. He said that calls for help from outdoor recreationists are coming in more frequently with a growth in local tourism.
“When disaster strikes, I want to be the first guy there and the last to leave. People are now spreading the word that if something happens to them on our trails we are going to be there,” said Wampler, who is also under contract to provide law enforcement coverage for Cascade Locks.
Wampler is undaunted by having Police Capt. Kevin Lynch as an opponent in the sheriff’s race. He said that facing competition goes along with holding an elected office and can’t be taken personally.
In fact, Wampler said he has a good relationship with his challenger and anticipates a campaign that will be based on issues and not personalities. “I’ve worked with Kevin for years and he’s a good policeman,” said Wampler, who once served at the same rank with the city law enforcement agency.