Incumbents opted not to seek re-election
When filing week for upcoming elections closed May 20, several familiar names in Okanogan County government were noticeably absent.
Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro didn’t file for re-election after three four-year terms representing District 3, the northeastern region of the county. County Treasurer Leah Mc Cormack is retiring after almost 40 years with the county. Dave Rodriguez is moving on after two four-year terms as coroner. And Charleen Groomes is retiring after three four-year terms as county clerk — and more than 40 years in all with the county.
These long-serving public officials have worked hard to build partnerships with co-workers, which should ease the transition. In interviews with the Methow Valley News, they’re sharing their reflections on their years of public service and providing a glimpse into plans for the future.
Leah Mc Cormack
With a background in accounting, Leah Mc Cormack started at the county almost four decades ago in a temporary job, helping with tax foreclosures. Soon she became a full-time employee, ultimately cycling through every job in the Treasurer’s Office, handling collections and tax rolls before becoming chief deputy treasurer. When the treasurer retired 16 years ago, Mc Cormack decided to run, and has been in the job ever since.
Governmental accounting is completely different from accounting in the private sector, Mc Cormack said. She is responsible for investing $170 million in public money, including for schools and hospital districts. Government investing means you get really low interest rates — until recently, the county earned just 0.1% — and means not doing anything risky, she said.
Mc Cormack is proud of the professional staff she’s built in the office. “It’s been a real emotional roller coaster and a real pleasure,” she said. “I have lots of emotions. I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t enjoyed it.”
Mc Cormack, who was born and raised in Okanogan County, looks forward to spending time with friends and her three daughters, two of whom live in Washington. She’s also excited about more extended visits with her other daughter and three grandchildren in California. She expects to relax and savor being able to go places on weekdays.
Pam Johnson, who was chief deputy treasurer during Mc Cormack’s 16 years as treasurer, is the only candidate who filed to run for treasurer. “She’s a dynamo — she knows every inch of this office and the software. She can run the office,” Mc Cormack said.
Dave Rodriguez wrestled with the decision about whether to run for a third term as coroner until the last minute. He isn’t ready to retire and didn’t want to leave the county without a replacement, but when he saw that a qualified candidate had filed for the seat, Rodriguez said he was comfortable moving in a new direction.
“I don’t think I would be a good retired person. My job has been consuming me for so many years that I have no fulfilling hobbies,” Rodriguez told the Methow Valley News. He wants to be a part of building community solutions and is ready to pursue that on a different path, he said. While he’s lining up some ideas, he’s counting on the next six months, before he leaves office, to finalize his plans.
Being a coroner requires a unique set of skills, and Rodriguez said he’s fortunate to have eased into the job. In his 20s, he worked as an emergency medical technician. He then spent 25 years as a law enforcement officer, so he has been exposed to death and has had decades to develop skills to bring to the coroner’s job.
Working exclusively around death, grief and human tragedy can be difficult, but Rodriguez found satisfaction in knowing he did the job with professionalism and compassion. He formed essential partnerships with law enforcement, firefighters, hospitals, emergency medical services and funeral homes, which he will miss. “You can’t do this job alone,” he said.
Even after eight years, Rodriguez never quite found the right adjective when people asked how he liked the job. “If you say you enjoy it, they think you’re a ghoul,” he said. But the job is varied, involving collection of evidence, medical skills, and supporting families and loved ones, he said.
The hours are challenging. Being the only full-time coroner in a county as large as Okanogan, you have to be available seven days a week and can be called out at any time of night. You get used to carrying a pager and learn to take two cars when you go to the movies. Unless you have someone to cover for you, you have to check the bars on your phone before going for a hike to be sure you’re still in range, he said.
“I’ve known my next step since I was 17,” Rodriguez said. “This will be a big adventure.”
Rojean (Jeannie) Hughes is the only candidate who filed for the coroner position.
The Methow Valley News will feature DeTro’s and Groomes’ reflections and plans in a future issue.