Mary Stern - Commissioner leaves office

Chrissy Ragulsky/News-Register file photo
Sydney Stern at age 4 charms onlookers in McMinnville as she rides on the county commissioners’ entry in a Veterans Day parade in November 2003.
Chrissy Ragulsky/News-Register file photo
Sydney Stern at age 4 charms onlookers in McMinnville as she rides on the county commissioners’ entry in a Veterans Day parade in November 2003.

At the end of January, I submitted my resignation letter, stating I would leave office effective May 27, 2014, after more than 11 years in the Yamhill County Courthouse. Before hitting the send button, I was overcome with emotion. The mere act of hitting that button nearly took my breath away.

My birthday was a few days away and, at that moment, it dawned on me that I had spent 20 percent of my life as a Yamhill County commissioner. Yikes! That’s a long time!

Looking back over the years, countless memorable moments and relationships come to mind. With so many great aspects of this job, it’s hard to pick favorites. But here’s the list of my top five.

The voters

First and foremost, I have been the beneficiary of incredible support, kindness and love from the citizens of Yamhill County. My first and last campaigns were extremely difficult — some might even say they were nasty! During some very dark moments and vicious attacks against me, you were there giving me inspiration and encouragement.

It has been my honor to serve as your commissioner. I hold dear the trust you imparted to me. I hope that, even when you disagreed with decisions I made or positions I took, you knew I had done my homework and was acting with the county’s best interests at heart.

County government

I have been privileged to work with Yamhill County’s many talented employees, volunteers and elected officials, including our locally elected state officials such as the district attorney and our circuit court judges. I am constantly amazed at the amount and quality of work these folks generate.

The stereotyped lazy government employee is a myth here in our county. The pride our county’s staff members take in their work is contagious. I believe this positive attitude comes from the top down — from innovative, intelligent and informed leaders.

During my tenure, we changed the structure of our government to a county-administrator model, which has allowed commissioners to focus on policy, ensuring all department heads receive the feedback they deserve. This county has amazing department heads and managers who set the example to ensure our citizens receive excellent service.

Elected officials

The elected officials and staff from our 10 cities, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, our tri-county region (Marion, Polk and Yamhill), the state of Oregon and her 36 counties, must be among the best in the world! The partisan rancor at the national level is not evident here. By working together with a spirit of cooperation, we are able to focus on our mutual goal: providing our citizens with the best service possible.

Local leaders

It’s been a joy to interact with the leadership of our local businesses, educational institutions at all levels, and nonprofit organizations. We have formed partnerships to address important issues like the bypass, economic development, methamphetamine abuse, water, workforce training, land use regulations and criminal justice reform, to name a few.

Yamhill County leaders understand that government alone cannot solve all our problems; they accept responsibility for their county and pitch in to make it the best place on the planet to live, work and play.

Community spirit

The citizens of Yamhill County really get involved. A quick count indicates around 800 volunteers serve the county government alone. Add in volunteers at the city level, nonprofits, local hospitals and our many service clubs, and we have an army of people ready to change the world.

The best example, and closest to my heart, is how this community came together to build a new food bank and client services center for YCAP. Together, we raised more than $3 million in the middle of the great recession to help our neighbors in need. I don’t think this could have happened any place else on earth. This community is amazing!


I am often asked what I would like to see in the county’s future. After years of working on the Evidence-based Decision Making Initiative with a very talented policy team, I would love to see county leaders using data to influence policy decisions in all areas, not just the criminal justice arena. Indicators are available on the economy, workforce, business trends, education, community justice and community health that could help guide how we move forward. All these systems are interrelated; decisions in one area impact outcomes in others.  

Our future leaders will benefit from having access to relevant data and expert analysis in order to make wise, cost-effective policy decisions impacting the health, safety and livability of our county in the years ahead.  I hope they will take full advantage of this information. 

In my new role as the community development/transportation policy manager for the Association of Oregon Counties, I will serve the citizens of all Oregon counties — that means Yamhill County, too. Although I will be based in Salem, I am not moving away. After all, there is no better place to live than Yamhill County.

I could not — would not — have done this work without your support. Thank you for allowing me to take this incredible journey in public service. You will always hold a special place in my heart.

Guest writer Mary Stern, a Yamhill County Commissioner since January 2003, has focused primarily on criminal justice and land use issues. Because of term limits, this is her final year in office. She will leave office May 26 to work for the Association of Oregon Counties. She and her husband, Matt, will continue living in McMinnville, where they are raising their daughter, Sydney.


Sally G

Thanks so very much, Mary, for your hard work and your accessibility to the voters. Our community is definitely better because of your public service. AOC is lucky to get you, and I know you will continue to serve for the benefit of Oregon's communities. Our very best to you! Sally

Annette Madrid

Thank you, Mary, for all your hard work and years of service. I echo your thoughts on the evidence-based practices going department wide ~ there is much wisdom to be shared/gained from that discussion. Your vision and humanity are a high bar for each of us to aspire and emulate. Good luck in the arena of AOC and don't be a stranger! AMFM


With my limited experience in being an active participant in the political processes, I just want to say that it has been a pleasure meeting you and wish you well.
It would be great to see all leaders use evidence based facts when forming policies. It seems Yamhill county has (in my mind) some archaic practices when it comes to views on cutting edge policy making and hearing your views has been refreshing.

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