As one door closes, another one opens.
So it goes for Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, who bid farewell to the county Thursday after 10 years in elected office. He’ll leave his position this month to become Ridgefield’s city manager.
But Stuart spoke more of coffee mugs than of doors in his farewell remarks Thursday night. Flanked by his wife, Heather, and in front of dozens of well-wishers, Stuart gripped a severely stained mug — the one he never washes — and spoke of its symbolism.
“Every day, when I don’t wash this mug, it grounds me,” Stuart said. “It reminds me I’m just a guy with a dirty mug.”
The dirty mug is a tradition of sorts. He had one while a law student at the University of Oregon, Stuart said, and he kept the tradition alive as a county commissioner.
At Thursday’s farewell, he acknowledged that, despite being in the spotlight for the past decade, he felt uncomfortable being the center of attention.
He made it clear: Bon voyages, with their wistful forget-me-nots, are not his favorite thing.
“I just want to put my head down and get to work,” he said.
But those who spilled into the commissioners’ chamber Thursday to salute Stuart’s service implied he was more than just a guy with a dirty mug, and they wanted to indulge him — even if it was against his will.
C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm said Stuart, who’d served as a member of the C-Tran board of directors, was a reliable voice when the organization tied itself into knots. Stuart, Hamm said, would always find a way to unravel them, using his knowledge and intelligence.
Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County public health director, called Stuart a top proponent for public health in the community who helped programs move forward.
And Axel Swanson, the county’s senior policy analyst, said that after three years working for Stuart, he could give him his highest compliment: “I still like you,” he said.
City dignitaries, including Vancouver City Councilman Larry Smith, used Stuart’s departure for a city job as an opportunity to take some digs at Clark County.
Smith said Stuart would enjoy working for a city because “that’s where the action is. That’s where the opportunities are.”
Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow, meanwhile, said Stuart would bring energy to his city.
“We’re really excited about having him,” Onslow said. “He will match the energy and maybe bring more than the council.”
Stuart’s send-off also doubled as a meeting of the ghosts of county commissioners past. Former commissioners Betty Sue Morris, Marc Boldt, Craig Pridemore and John McKibbon came to voice words of encouragement.
Marissa Madrigal, chairwoman of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in Oregon, also addressed Stuart, referencing her time working on Stuart’s first election campaign.
Missing from the farewell were Stuart’s current colleagues on the board. Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke didn’t show up. Stuart, a Democrat, has butted heads with the two Republicans in the last year and a half.
Specific disagreements centered around the hiring of Republican state Sen. Don Benton as the county’s environmental services director and expanding the county’s fee waiver program for commercial development.
County Administrator Mark McCauley, however, presented Stuart with a plaque — congratulating him on his 10 years with the county — from the two other commissioners.
On paper, Stuart’s final day at the county will be April 11. He handed commissioners Mielke and Madore his letter of resignation at Wednesday’s board time meeting.
He said he plans to take some time off from the county before starting his new job in Ridgefield, which begins April 14.
Commissioners Mielke and Madore now have the next two months to appoint Stuart’s replacement.
They will choose from a list that includes Pridemore, Kelly Love Parker, president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, and Ed Barnes, a retired labor leader.
As for Stuart, he said he expects his new job in Ridgefield to be a change of pace. But one thing will probably stay the same.
He’ll have another unwashed coffee mug.