Heather Reynolds, who has served as Clatsop County counsel for 25 years, has announced she will step down.
The recruitment and selection process to replace her is expected to take about six months. Reynolds plans to stay on until someone is hired.
“Heather has been an instrumental member of the county team for many years,” County Manager Don Bohn said in an email. “I am gratified that she will be staying on during the transition to new counsel. Her experience and sage legal advice will be missed — but thankfully she will be close by and we won’t be shy reaching out.”
Reynolds’ announcement comes one year before her contract ends. She said the decision by the county Board of Commissioners to appoint a parliamentarian earlier this year precipitated her to leave early.
Sarah Nebeker, the commission’s chairwoman, named Larry Taylor, a longtime Democratic Party activist, as parliamentarian to help advise her on how to run board meetings.
“The hiring of the parliamentarian was clearly a vote of no confidence in some of the abilities of counsel and I felt that … if that was a concern of theirs then they needed to have someone address those concerns in one position,” Reynolds said. “It’s difficult to control a meeting when there’s two point people on it.”
Moving forward, she recommends county commissioners hire an in-house county counsel as opposed to a contract attorney like her.
“What happens is the fires get fought, but the planning to prevent the next fire doesn’t get done and we really need someone full time,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said she thinks it is a good time for the transition now that the county has Bohn’s leadership.
“He is absolutely fantastic and I knew that with his years of experience that a new counsel coming in would have a lot of support and guidance. And that’s a good time to bring someone in if you want them to stay for a while, which we do,” she said.
Reynolds will continue her private legal practice, but plans to cut back on her public work and focus on land and business transactions and estate planning. She is looking forward to taking longer vacations with her husband.
“The historical knowledge she has of the county for the past 20-plus years is going to be a significant loss to the county,” said Monica Steele, the county’s budget director and assistant county manager.
Reynolds moved to Clatsop County in 1981 and began working at Macdonald, McAllister Snow after graduating from law school at Willamette University.
After a couple of years, she went out on her own. In between her career as an attorney, she spent eight years as a judge in Clatsop and Pacific counties until she found being a judge did not suit her personality.
Reynolds became the county counsel in 1995. The county contracts with private attorneys and legal firms for legal services, but Reynolds has served as the county’s steady legal adviser.
“I was always kind of the one that managed the stable of lawyers and opened and shut the barn door, I guess you could say,” she said.
“Heather has been a great asset to Clatsop County, her experience and wisdom will be impossible to replace,” Blair Henningsgaard, an Astoria attorney, said in an email. “She has a gift for clearly and forcefully advocating a position without being offensive.”
Reynolds and Henningsgaard served as co-county counsels for several years.
During her time as county counsel, Reynolds has worked with over a dozen county managers. She said the legal adviser for a county is traditionally — and should be — a position of stability.
She said a lot of what she has done through the years has depended on the strengths and desires of the county manager.
“So in times when there’s an interim I tend to be more involved in some of the day-to-day issues. And then when there’s a manager with a set program and things are organized, I tend to be more focused on the legal issues of what people are working on,” Reynolds said.
“I just tried to do my best for the county and keep it on a steady course and keep it out of trouble,” she said.
Reynolds said she has enjoyed the people she has worked with over the years, especially the county staff.
“I think the county is incredibly lucky to have the dedicated staff that it has,” she said. “Many of them are such experts in their fields.”