The Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) has been in existence for more than a century. AOC was formed in 1906 to share information and build consensus among Oregon counties. Since then, that original mission has expanded as counties’ responsibilities have grown more complex and complicated.
There were counties in Oregon before statehood. One of the first actions of Oregon’s 1843 provisional government was to divide the area into four “districts” – Tuality, Yamhill, Clackamas and Champooick – the first counties. The counties were made responsible for recording deeds and other property documents, probating estates, administering the minor courts, enforcing state laws, operating jails and conducting elections – all basically state functions. The county officers were the sheriff, clerk and treasurer and a court of three judges who provided general oversight of county affairs. A few years later, provision was made for a county assessor.
Under the territorial government (1849 – 1859), county functions expanded to include additional services such as the care of indigents, public health and agricultural services. There was also development of some local functions, such as roads, regulation of certain businesses and county fairs. By the time of statehood (1859), the dual role of counties as both agencies of state and units of local government was well established.
In 1906, a group of county judges organized AOC to provide a forum for information sharing and consensus development among Oregon’s counties. By 1936, the membership had perceived a need for greater representation at the state legislature and more attention to the growing activities of AOC. As a result, Judge F.L. Phipps of Wasco County (then immediate past president of AOC) was employed as part-time executive secretary, a position he held for 22 years. Upon Judge Phipps’ retirement, the AOC office was moved from The Dalles to Salem, and Kenneth C. Tollenaar was hired as the first full-time executive secretary. Since then, the position has been changed to executive director, and three individuals have held that post. AOC’s current executive director is Mike McArthur.
Today, Oregon counties face a complex task of providing vital public services because of the increasing demands of a growing population and diverse society.
Contemporary county government is involved in a wide range of important public services in addition to the traditional services. Today, county government responsibilities include public health, mental health, community corrections, juvenile services, criminal prosecution, airports, parks, libraries, land-use planning, building regulations, refuse disposal, elections, recording of vital records, air-pollution control, veterans services, economic development, urban renewal, public housing, county fairs, museums, animal control, emergency management, senior services and many others.
AOC is dedicated to improving the ability of county government to serve Oregonians and has expanded on that mission since 1906.
Working with counties, other local government associations and county affiliate and associate organizations, AOC advocates and coordinates on behalf of counties with the state legislature, state agencies, Congress and federal agencies. AOC staff members are experienced and energized by their work with and for counties at the various levels of government.
AOC gathers information about current trends, issues and challenges facing Oregon counties and shares that information in a timely manner. AOC provides county officials with unique opportunities to interact with their colleagues from across the state in regional and statewide gatherings. Great value is found in these gatherings through information sharing, discussion of common concerns and in building a network of contacts for future reference.
AOC is responsible for the County Road Program which was established in 1990 as a cooperative program with the Oregon Association of County Engineers and Surveyors (OACES). Its purpose is to enhance county road department capabilities through the development of management programs and shared technical assistance. In addition, the Road Program runs the Integrated Road Information System (IRIS) to acquire and maintain data concerning county roads and related objects.
AOC works with elected officials and appointed county officials providing on-going training and educational opportunities. County College is conducted every two years. It is a one-year program run in partnership with the Oregon State University Extension Service and is designed to cover everything from the legal provisions of county government to leadership and management skills. In the years County College is not offered, AOC conducts the Oregon County Leadership Institute (OCLI) in partnership with the Portland State University Hatfield School of Government. The goal of OCLI is to improve leadership practices of elected and appointed county officials politically and administratively. AOC also provides timely informational and training sessions on a variety of subjects impacting Oregon counties using modern telecommunication facilities.
AOC is a member of the City County Insurance Services (CIS). CIS provides valuable insurance services to AOC members. Property, general liability, workers’ compensation, employee benefits, risk management, legal defense, local prevention and claims management are all offered to AOC members at competitive rates.
AOC works closely with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and AOC members are active in NACo, working at the national level on behalf of Oregon counties. In addition, AOC offers its members a number of services that enable Oregon counties to provide the most efficient and effective public services available.