With a crowded field of eight candidates, the four serving Hood River County Commissioners faced a tough choice to determine who would be sitting alongside them for the next two years.
In a meeting that stretched over three hours, the commissioners first interviewed each of the candidates one at a time, and then spent an hour deliberating. After whittling the list to two, the board voted, and split down the middle on former Hood River City councilman Scott Reynier and Gorge Electric owner Karen Joplin.
After a few minutes of further deliberation, chairman Ron Rivers flipped his vote, and by a 3-1 decision Joplin was appointed the fifth member of the board.
"The background to her resume is in human services and other aspects that this board lacks," Rivers said after the meeting of what persuaded him to change his vote in Joplin's favor. "I think we need that."
Joplin learned of the decision late Monday night and the longtime Hood River resident was excited to get started.
"I've always had an interest in public policies and the issues that affect Hood River," she said. "I want to have a part in its future."
The purpose of the special meeting Monday night was to find a successor to Barbara Briggs, who stepped down from her District 1 position to late to remove her name from the November ballot. She subsequently won the election, meaning an appointment needed to be made to fill the first two years of her term before an election is held to fill the final two years.
In addition to Joplin's history in human services - she worked in childcare services for four years and was also a program coordinator for the Mid-Columbia Housing Agency and a member of the Klickitat-Skamania Development Council - a recommendation level for Joplin from Briggs also weighed heavily in her favor for the council.
"The letter from Barbara carries a fair amount of weight for me," District Commissioner Les Perkins said during the board's deliberation.
Joplin said she was honored to receive a recommendation from Briggs, whom she met while applying for a position on the budget committee, and said she greatly appreciated it.
All eight candidates - Joplin, Reynier, Hood River County Planning Commission member Bob Schuppe, former Ice Fountain Water District Manager Don Chandler, retired teacher and Cascade Locks city councilman Larry Cramblett, Cascade Locks motor carrier enforcement officer Randy Holmstrom, Hood River land surveyor James Klein and former Hood River County Planning Commission member and Indian Creek Golf Course founder Carl Martin - were asked the same 12 questions.
They spanned from general questions on knowledge of county funding sources, individual qualification and knowledge of county government to individual issues such as land use, affordable housing and the proposed casino in Cascade Locks.
The last point received particular attention from the board. With less than a week remaining in Gov. Ted Kulongoski's term and no sign that Secretary of the Interior Ron Hood is going to authorize the Confederated Tribe of the Warm Springs to build an off-reservation in Cascade Locks, the fear of the commissioners is that the casino issue could become the first big one that a new commissioner would face. If the Tribes are not authorized to build a casino in Cascade Locks, they would likely begin the process of building one on tribal land on the eastern hills of Hood River County.
The responses ranged from neutral to completely for the casino. None of the candidates interviewed expressed outright opposition to the casino, with Joplin saying "I think Cascade Locks needs jobs but it needs to be balanced with protecting the environment … it's a charged issue."
Reynier reiterated his position from his time on the Hood River City Council, saying he opposed a casino in Hood River but favored a location in Cascade Locks.
After interviewing the eight candidates, the commissioners cut the list to four, and then down to two with Perkins, District 2 Commissioner Maui Meyer and Rivers eventually voting for Joplin and the newly elected District 3 Commissioner Bob Benton voting for Reynier.
All four commissioners agreed that either Joplin or Reynier would make a valid choice, but that Joplin would bring a different perspective and different areas of expertise to the board.
"The dynamics of the board almost calls for someone with an understanding of social services," Rivers said during deliberations.
Joplin wound up as the pick and will now serve out at least the first two years of Briggs' term.
"I'm ready," she said.
Prior to Monday's meeting Rivers was sworn in after being re-elected as the board's chairman, Benton was sworn in as the new District 3 Commissioner and Cindy Mitchell was sworn in as Justice of the Peace.
The board meets again Tuesday, Jan. 18.