Nov. 17—Francis Lee Grose is back on the job.
On Wednesday, the former two-term Lewis County commissioner took the oath of office to begin serving out the final year of Gary Stamper's term. Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler administered the oath during a brief morning ceremony.
"It's just good to be back to full strength at this point in time. It causes a lot more concern when you only have two people. If one gets sick, you can't effectively do business," Lewis County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock said of Grose's appointment. "It's important to me that the folks in the 3rd District have their full voice."
Stamper died of COVID-19 in late September and Pollock and fellow commissioner Sean Swope have led the short-handed commission ever since.
Dressed in a suit and clad in a Washington State Cougars-themed mask, tie and pin, Grose quickly stepped back into the role of commissioner with a directors meeting held just 30 minutes after he was sworn in.
He'll be representing the same seat he previously vacated seven years ago for retirement.
Grose, 71, said he saw himself back then as a "peacemaker" who would work to bridge the divide between his fellow commissioners. Today, he sees his role as something similar — just with two new faces by his side.
"I think they're very good people," Grose said of Pollock and Swope during an interview with The Chronicle in his new office. "I think we all share a passion for the constituents and I think that's what's really important. I don't want to lose that in any way, shape or form. I want to maintain a thought process that says, 'The citizens come first, and then we can work on this other stuff.' But we've got to do what's best for the citizens of Lewis County."
Speaking of new faces, Grose said one of the challenges the county will be confronted with over the next year will be replacing many outgoing staff members who are retiring. Back when he was originally on the Board of County Commissioners, the average age of an employee was about 55 years old, he said.
"It's tricky. We're going to be finding ourselves in a position where we have to replace a lot of middle management people, probably," Grose said, noting that he "hopes there are people out there who are willing to step up and do those jobs."
His goals over the next year as he reprises this role is to build a better county government; help to educate the commissioners with what's going on in District 3, which comprises most of East Lewis County; and to properly serve the interests of constituents and businesses.
Though his daily commute from Packwood is a 150-mile round trip, Grose said he plans on staying engaged by attending meetings both in-person and via video.
Grose, who's vaccinated against COVID-19, said he doesn't plan on running for another term after Stamper's is up, adding that it'd be "a lot of pain" to stay as busy this late in retirement.
"It's not a reluctance to do the job, it's just the fact that I don't feel I would be capable of doing the job for another four years," he said, noting that "he's done his time."
His son, who lives in Idaho, is fighting cancer, which has been a priority for him and his wife, Janice Grose, 71.
Grose said retirement was working well for them after he sold his business, Packwood Ace Hardware, a few years ago. The days up until this point had been filled with trips to see his family, work on his property and even serving on some smaller county committees. He was also involved with the Lewis County Republicans.
The decision to serve out the rest of Stamper's term was one he took time to consider. He said community members and supporters urged him to seek out the seat after Stamper died on Sept. 29.
"I didn't jump at it. I didn't say 'Oh yeah, I'll get in there.' I said, you know, maybe for one year I could do it, but probably not for any longer than that," Grose said.
Grose said Stamper was the "right guy" for the job of Lewis County commissioner. Grose said he looks forward to representing the east county, and hopes to match the same spirit the former commissioner brought to the table.