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County administrator says job fits his personality

December 27, 1998

Rodney ShoopBy SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




Rodney Shoop, 52, said he thinks the fast-paced job of Washington County administrator fits him well.

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Shoop was appointed county administrator on Feb. 2, 1995, following a three-month search by the County Commissioners.

"From day one, I felt I had found my niche," Shoop said. It helps that he is an extrovert and loves just talking about different ideas, he said.

He also enjoys knowing that he may be having a positive impact on people's lives, he said. The assistance of a quality county staff and good County Commissioners has also helped him a great deal, he said.

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During a recent interview, Shoop listed a litany of accomplishments that have occured in the county since 1995, but he admitted that there were also some tough times.

The most difficult task during his tenure was the 1995 dismantling of the independent Washington County Sanitary District and the creation of the Washington County Water and Sewer Department, he said.

Decisions by the Sanitary Commission, including the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant and an industrial pretreatment facility, left the county more than $50 million in debt, county officials say.

To deal with the debt, County Commissioners raised water and sewer rates and used money from the general fund, sparking public ire.

"The toughest part of my four years was this project," Shoop said.

When the county stepped in to take over operations, the morale of employees was low, public perception was negative and the equipment was in poor shape, he said.

The challenge was to continue with most of the same employees - a few administrative positions were eliminated - and get them to focus on improving the system quality, he said.

Since then, the department has improved a great deal and the cost of operations has been reduced by 15 percent, he said.

"It was a major accomplishment," he said.

While Shoop may sometimes seem like an old hand in county government, the reality is that just 10 years ago, he was an active officer in the United States Air Force. And the route to his current position is an odd one, he says.

Shoop was born in Greencastle, Pa. After college, he joined the Air Force and served a year in Vietnam. After another seven or eight years in the Air Force he decided to make it a career, he said. As long as they let him fly planes he planned to remain, he said.

In 1989, though, he retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel and took a job as a pilot for Pan-Am Express. However, that company went out of business in 1993 and suddenly Shoop was unemployed.

He soon received a call from a cousin, Franklin Wagner, a Washington County veterinarian. Wagner, not knowing Shoop had just been layed off, asked him if he'd given any more thought to the idea of managing an airport. Shoop had once mentioned to Wagner a dream of running a municipal airport, but that was around 1971, Shoop said.

Wagner explained that the county was looking for a new airport manager. Shoop applied and was hired. Shoop served as manager of the Hagerstown Regional Airport from February 1992 to February 1995.

"It was an excellent primer for me to understand Washington County government," Shoop said.

The lessons he learned were put to use after the October 1994 death of Barry Teach, who had been county administrator for 18 years. At the encouragement of other county officials, Shoop applied to replace Teach, and in February 1995 he was appointed to the position.

When he started as administrator, he had some ideas about changes he would like to see, he said.

Some of those suggestions resulted in some of the county's biggest accomplishments in the last four years, he said. The commissioners and the county staff deserve as much credit as he does, though, for any improvements, he said.

These accomplishments include:

* Making county government a place where innovation and creativity are encouraged, rather than stifled as is often the case in bureaucracies, he said.

In addition to reassuring employees that they will not face discipline if a new idea does not pan out, he helped set up the quarterly Innovative, Dedicated Employee Award to recognize and reward employees' creative thinking, he said. Shoop encouraged county employees to realize that just because some practices were traditionally done one way did not mean a new way would not work better, he said.

For the first time, department heads were asked to envision where they would like the department to be in five years, he said. This made employees approach things differently as well as making it easier for county administrators to put into practice the goals and plans they listed in the resulting Strategic Plan, he said.

* Doing proper economic development planning, partially due to an excellent team at the Economic Development Commission, he said. On some industrial land in Hopewell Valley, the county has put in place the roads and services a company would need to move to Washington County, he said.

This makes the region more attractive to officials from companies who might otherwise be frustrated as they have to wait for roads and sewer lines to be built before they can move, he said.

* The decision to build the Lund Landfill. The landfill, which will replace the Resh Sanitary Landfill, has enough space to last for 80 years.

The landfill will be another county economic development tool, he predicted, because company officials will be more comfortable knowing that the county has enough landfill space to last for their lifetime, he said.




related story: Shoop says county faces tough issues

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