Tucker returns to County Commission
April 7, 2021
Will Tucker thought his last meeting as a Linn County Commissioner was the one in late December when he was replaced by Sherrie Sprenger after he'd decided not to run for a fourth term.
But three months after that moment, he found himself back on the board after a series of events that not even he, the self-admitted "can-do, will-do, make-it-happen kind of person," anticipated.
"It's a strange thing to come back," Tucker said on April 1, April Fools Day, after being sworn in by his good friend, Linn County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Tom McHill, earlier in the day.
"I thought I was gone," he added, laughing. "It's just crazy."
Tucker, who will be 69 later this year, announced last year that he was planning to retire instead of running for a fourth term, citing a desire to travel and the fact that he was getting older. He also expected he would need to care for his wife, who had some health issues.
"I had some concerns about my wife and my health," he said. "Because of those concerns, I chose to step down."
But then the landscape changed, literally. His daughter and son-in-law and their children moved to the Tuckers' Waterloo-area property, which provided assistance with his wife's needs, as well as yardwork, property maintenance – "help I've never had before," he said.
"That changed the situation. I don't have to do things I did before. I just do my chores. My life changed dramatically. We didn't even talk about this possibility when I was a commissioner. This gave me the freedom to come back."
Then fellow Commissioner John Lindsey died of cancer on March 9, at age 54, which launched a search to fill his seat on the commission before an April 8 deadline. Failure to meet that deadline would have resulted in Gov. Kate Brown selecting a new commissioner.
Tucker said he decided to throw his hat into the ring.
"The opportunity to come back was the loss of John," he said. "I'd known John was ill. It was hard to lose John. He was a valued member of this community. We lost a good man."
Tucker said he decided to apply because he felt he could step in immediately and do the job.
"I firmly believe in the need to have the right person be a commissioner," he said. "I firmly believed that we needed to have a person who could hit the ground running, because we had just brought in one new commissioner. Could we afford to have two new commissioners? I thought not."
A nomination convention was held Sunday, March 28, in which 66 Linn County Republican Party Precinct Committee members heard five-minute presentations from seven applicants for the position. Following the speeches, ballots were cast, counted, and verified by a volunteer delegation of officers from the Marion County Republican party to ensure that the process was fair and unbiased, as agreed upon by the committee.
The five finalists selected by the convention delegates – Tucker, Gary Betts of Sweet Home, Ashlie Haase of Albany, Greg Nervino of Lebanon, and Rex Watkins of Albany, were interviewed by Commission Chairman Roger Nyquist and Sprenger, and Tucker was selected.
Nyquist said all of the candidates would bring positive attributes to the position, but Tucker would be able to hit the ground running due to his prior board experience.
"Will has the skillset, knowledge and track record," Nyquist said.
Nyquist noted that Tucker is well versed on the $1 billion breach of contract lawsuit the county and dozens of other taxing districts brought against the Oregon Department of Forestry in 2019. The counties and districts won, but the case is under appeal.
Tucker was also instrumental in the county developing an emergency shelter at the Linn County Fair and Expo Center for families that lost their homes in wildfires in September. More than 700 people and 1,500 animals were served.
Tucker also has supported the county's effort to provide COVID-19 tests and to host vaccination clinics on a weekly basis. He was volunteering at a vaccination clinic at the fairgrounds as the commissioners considered the board vacancy issue.
Sprenger, who was elected to Tucker's former board seat, echoed Nyquist's comments.
"I take this extraordinarily seriously," she said. "Within six hours after John died, people were calling me about wanting to be appointed to his seat."
Tucker said he had "lots of things" still on his plate when he stepped down last winter.
One is the state's appeal of the ODF lawsuit, for which Tucker was a key representative for the county at the trial level in Linn County Circuit Court.
"I was deposed to represent Linn County. I was the voice of Linn County on the witness stand," he said. "I testified for a day and a half."
He said he's worked "very hard" in the county's response COVID-19, volunteering many hours at the county vaccination clinic at the Linn County Expo Center.
"I came here as a commissioner with an interest in disaster preparation," Tucker said. "I was trained by the Red Cross to manage disaster response and recovery."
He said his work in developing the emergency shelter after the wildfires was a group effort with Nyquist and Lindsey.
"I couldn't have done it without Roger and John. He was there every single day. We pulled off, according to the Red Cross, one of the best shelter examples in the COVID world – finding all the empty hotel rooms for people, 700 or 800 people camping at the fairgrounds, over 1,000 large animals."
Tucker said he called for an investigation into the handling of the fires before he stepped down, and he'd already checked in with the law firm handling that for an update, after one day in office.
"I have confidence I can keep that going," he said.
That "can-do" approach paid off recently when he lined up a professional to help him apply for a grant for Albany Helping Hands, which resulted in $935,000 in COVID funding for the shelter.
Another goal, this time around, is to identify someone who can step in when he retires for good.
"I've committed that I'll take eight months to a year and decide whether I'm going to run again," Tucker said. "At the moment, I don't really know. I loved this job a lot. The reason I left has gone away."
But he'll be 69 in May and there's that "fancy RV" he bought some years ago, that he planned to travel in with his wife on a coast-to-coast tour of Highway 20 this summer.
"Now I can't do that," he said. "I'm not quite sure what's going to happen, whether I will run again."
He noted that former commissioners Cliff Wooten and Richard Stack curried him for a commission spot by putting him on the county Budget Committee, the Planning Commission and the Parks Commission "to get me ready."
He'd had experience as a member of the Lacomb school board and various community organization boards as well.
He said he'll be on the lookout for good prospects.
"I'm going to work with people, try to create the right environment for success. I believe I have some value to this county."