In the final days of 2016, two long-time Wallowa County employees stepped down from their posts: County assessor Gay Fregulia and interim county commissioner John Lawrence.
John Lawrence had already retired from Wallowa County’s juvenile department when he found himself volunteering for the commissioner position in January 2016, after the sudden resignation of former lead commissioner Mike Hayward. The commissioners appointed Lawrence to the post in February.
“I worked here 15 years, pretty closely with the commissioners, and I thought I knew everything they were responsible for and what they did. For some reason they decided I’d be a good person to appoint,” Lawrence said.
Despite all that experience, Lawrence was surprised by how much work the commissioners do.
“It was an eye opener. I thought I knew everything the commissioners were responsible for, but they’re responsible for so much more,” he said.
Balancing the budget proved a challenge.
“When your revenue is (increasing) three percent and your costs are (increasing) four percent and other things pop up — and you don’t have the funds to cover it, it can be frustrating,” he said.
Still, Lawrence reveled in the experience.
“I think the biggest accomplishment of the last year was obtaining the funds to get the roof on the courthouse completed. It was a high priority topic for a number of years,” he said. Lawrence also mentioned his efforts to reverse rising costs at the county landfill, which proved a challenge because it involved a fee hike.
“That was a big challenge, and I’m not sure it’s a complete answer yet, but it was something that needed to be done,” he said.
Lawrence is looking forward to his retirement, which will really begin after his wife Karen retires from teaching English at the Wallowa School District this spring.
“Until then, I’m chief cook and bottle washer,” he said with a laugh.
Todd Nash, who also won election to the post in the May primaries is succeeding Lawrence.
“The citizens of Wallowa County elected a very qualified person to assume the position,” Lawrence said. “He’s very comfortable in natural resources ... I think he’ll do an excellent job.”
Fregulia started her assessor post in 1999 after working in the office for several years.
“The assessor at the time left Wallowa County for Deschutes County and the position was offered to me as an appointment, which I accepted. I ran in the subsequent year,” she said.
Fregulia said the years in her office proved a blessing.
“I enjoyed my time here very much,” she said. “There’s always something new; it changes every day, even though you wouldn’t think it would, but it does.”
Of course, the job had it’s challenges as well. There were a constant parade of new laws, the chief offender being Measure 50 in 1997, which limited property tax increases.
“It’s still a challenge, and it has been almost 20 years since that came along,” she said.
Fegulia isn’t sure what she plans to do with her spare time when she retires, although one thing she isn’t planning to do is hit the road.
“I really like Wallowa County — I don’t need to travel,” she said.
Randy Wortman, who ran unopposed and won the assessor’s slot in May 2016, is succeeding Fregulia.