The newly sworn-in Morrow County Board of Commissioners had a significant task for its first meeting of the year: reassemble the very top of county government after a very contentious 2022.
In June, the board fired county Administrator Darrell Green amid accusations of nepotism. Green responded to the firing with a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination.
Only a few months later, Commissioners Jim Doherty and Melissa Lindsay were the subjects of a recall election that aimed to take out a majority of the three-person board. Both commissioners lost their respective races, but certification of the election was delayed until late December while the pair mulled legal action.
David Sykes and Jeff Wenholz were elected to the board back in May but weren’t allowed to take office until January. Lindsay was recalled with less than one week left on her term but Doherty had more than two years left on his. That meant that one of their first acts as county commissioners was deciding how to replace the county manager and fill Doherty’s vacant seat.
The commissioners crossed off the former task from their list swiftly. After some initial discussion, Greg Sweek, the county’s enterprise zone manager, approached the board to state his interest in becoming interim administrator. After talking about the county’s hiring policy, the board voted to name Sweek to the position.
“I think it’s important that we get somebody into the position sooner rather than later,” Wenholz said. “So that there’s an administrator here, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the county.”
Sweek manages the Columbia River Enterprise Zone, a tax abatement district overseen by the county and the Port of Morrow. The enterprise zone has drawn more attention in recent years for the million dollars in property tax breaks provided to Amazon and its data centers at the Port of Morrow.
Green’s lawsuit against the county is still ongoing. Although he’s suing the county to get his old job back, he accepted a position as a grants and program manager for Blue Mountain Community College in December.
The commissioners held off on making an appointment to the board, preferring to wait until they could meet with the county clerk to coordinate an application process. The future appointee will hold the seat until 2024, when Doherty’s term was originally set to expire.
“I want to make sure that we do it correctly so that when the whole process is done, somebody doesn’t come forward and say, ‘Oh, well, you’ve forgotten [something],” Sykes said.
With Doherty and Lindsay ousted and former Commissioner Don Russell retiring at the end of 2022, the commissioners also needed to reassign their responsibilities among the county’s boards and departments.
Responsibility for managing the county’s ongoing nitrate emergency will now go through the county’s emergency manager. Doherty had previously assumed leadership responsibilities for an emergency that left many residents in the Boardman and Irrigon areas without safe drinking water, but emergency manager Paul Gray said he was ready to assume that duty.
“I want to be able to do my job,” Gray said. “And I need to be part of the whole aspect of the emergency. And through this, I’ve been kind of pushed to the side.”
Even with the board of commissioners under new leadership, not all of the past commissioners’ conflicts have been resolved. This includes an active Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigation into Russell and multiple Port of Morrow officials over a potential conflict of interest in their dealings with Amazon.