The first thing he expects to do when he pins on the Nez Perce County sheriff's badge in January, Joe Rodriguez said, is to assure everyone he doesn't intend to start firing people or make wholesale changes.
"Then we're going to start working on those goals," he said.
Rodriguez, 45, talked during the campaign about finding new sources of revenue, including grants, and making sure people are in the right spots in the organization for their own and the department's goals. He doesn't at this time have any particular areas in mind, he said. That will come after talking with employees, many with more experience than his eight-plus years as a deputy.
One of the things said during the campaign was that he doesn't have the experience to be sheriff. He intends to prove that statement wrong.
"As long as you have the willpower and the people in the right positions, as I said in the beginning, you can make it work," he said.
He will be sitting down with every employee, one on one, he said. He anticipates that will take time, "but I owe it to them, as friends and as co-workers."
He wants every one of them, and also county residents, to know that the words on his campaign signs -- accountability, integrity, leadership -- weren't just for getting votes.
Sheriff Dale Buttrey, whom Rodriguez defeated by 128 votes out of a total of 16,490 cast in the race, has told him that he's invited to attend any meeting that has to do with the sheriff's office, Rodriguez said.
It was a tight race between the two men until about midnight Tuesday. Rodriguez said he and about 40 supporters, including his wife, Julie, were at a Republican gathering at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston. He was behind by a couple of hundred votes.
"I didn't want to give up hope," he said. "I knew how much time we spent in Peck and Leland and Southwick. I went and talked to the people in Culdesac. I knew I had the outlying areas I could count on."
But some people had to work the next morning, he said, and he was headed for home when the first call came that the race was tied up. Then he was 60 votes ahead.
"Then it was like we're getting a little more excited, and let's stay up and watch this all the way through," he said.
"I knew I had to get up at 5 a.m. to get to work."
Buttrey conceded at 12:30 a.m.
At 2:30 a.m., Rodriguez shut his phone off and slept a couple of hours, he said. He's still having trouble catching up on his sleep and keeping his phone charged with all the congratulations that are coming in.
"I just want to thank everybody for their support and believing in me," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenges and looking forward to starting to serve the people of Nez Perce County."
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