Don Lindly passes
The Tuesday death of Lincoln County’s longest serving commissioner has stirred conversations of admiration and legacy by those who worked with Don Lindly during his 21-year tenure in county government.
Lindly first took the oath of office and was seated on the commission in January of 1991 to exercise what he described in his 2012 resignation letter as “strong beliefs about citizen participation in government.” He was two years into his sixth term when he made the decision to step aside to spend more time with his wife, Lin, and their family. That decision was an impactful one for current Lincoln County Commission Chair Doug Hunt, who was appointed to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term. Even before that, Lindly inspired Hunt to serve his community.
“Don nurtured my interest in public service, and I was able to get involved in county government as a private citizen, which enhanced my knowledge and skills to eventually become a county commissioner,” Hunt recalled. “He was creative and he was collaborative, always working to build consensus, to build teams,” he added. His ability to bring people together is a common theme among all who remembered Lindly’s service.
“Don was dedicated to building strong relationships between county government and our city and state partners as well as the private community,” recalled Claire Hall, who was elected to the Lincoln County Commission in 2004. “Thanks to Don, the board of commissioners has yearly joint work sessions with each of the city councils in the county and the Siletz Tribal Council. Don taught me that these relationships are the key to getting things done for the people,” Hall noted.
Retired County Surveyor John Waffenschmidt called Lindly “the consummate team player” and said he welcomed everyone’s opinion when trying to reach consensus on an issue. That process built mutual respect, and support for the often-difficult decisions that were made,” Waffenschmidt said.
Lindly will be remembered for a number of projects he championed before, during, and after his tenure on the commission. He was an instrumental member of the advisory committee that planned the Lincoln County Jail facility and the necessary bonding campaign. As a commissioner, he was influential in developing the county’s nonprofit social allocation process, through which the county awards funds to local social service agencies. He was also a staunch and tireless advocate for the final phase of the Highway 20 realignment project, which he declared as his biggest priority after too many tragic deaths. Lindly was known to drive for hours for the chance to urge the Oregon Transportation Commission to finish the project. In addition, it is said that every time a life was lost between milepost 14 and 24, he clipped the news articles and sent them to every Oregon legislator.
Lindly, of course, wasn’t the only person passionate about the project. Terry Thompson, a commercial fisherman, had served as an Oregon State Representative for six years and worked on the issue from Salem. That shared goal may be one reason why Lindly urged Thompson to run for County Commission back in 2004 after he had left government. “In those days, I had a bag phone on the boat and I was 120 miles at sea off Tillamook head fishing albacore. The reception wasn’t very good and Lindly calls me up,” he remembered with a laugh. “I couldn’t hear him very well and all the time we’re talking, we’re trying to pull fish at the same time. I thought about it for a second and said I would do it. I’ll run for office.”
Looking back, Thompson said Lindly was instrumental in teaching him about county budgeting, which is much different that state budgets. “You have to understand in-depth at the County level. He is the one who taught me. He recruited me. He was my friend,” Thompson said.
Recruiting and mentoring others wasn’t limited to Lincoln County. Gina Firman Nikkel was contemplating a run for Tillamook County Commission back in 1992 when her father put her in touch with Lindly. “It was through that first conversation with Don that I became informed about running for office,” she recalled. “When I ran and got elected, we just became really good friends and, of course, Lincoln and Tillamook had a lot of conversations about coastal issues. He was a mentor. When I learned that he passed, it was like a gut punch.”
Today, Nikkel is the Executive Director of the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC). During her county days, she served on the AOC Board of Directors with Lindly, who was the organization’s president in 1997. He also represented the organization on the CIS Board of Trustees from 2003 – 2011 and served as the AOC District 7 Chair in 2011. “He was a fine example of a commissioner for the rest of us,” Nikkel said. “Don really wanted to make sure that everyone was heard and that we could have good conversations and decorum as elected officials.”
Lindly’s impressive portfolio of service also included a seat on the Oregon State Parks local government grant committee for eight years, which funded parks in Lincoln County and all over Oregon. It is fitting that, in 2014, the Lincoln County Commission officially designated a 10-acre site east of Waldport on the Alsea River as the Don Lindly Park. Earlier this summer, Lindly visited the park with his family. While having a park named for him will keep Don Lindly’s name on the lips of Lincoln County residents for generations to come, retired County Counsel Wayne Belmont said the respected commissioner’s legacy will live on in other ways. “He was a leader by example and a compassionate and caring human being who was deeply committed to his community and the county. His legacy at the county endures in the many employees and colleagues he mentored and guided.”