The Takeaway with Dennis Mulvihill, Washington County Government Affairs

Posted on November 19, 2012

Dennis Mulvihill

Washington County Government Affairs Manager

Dennis Mulvihill, Washington County Government Affairs Manager, has seen the transformation of Washington County firsthand. Dennis has worked with the County since 1988 in advancing their legislative priorities. He has become a source for many of us in local and state government who are charged with monitoring legislative sessions and communicating the on-goings with our elected officials.

His professional career before Washington County included working for Metro as a waste reduction manager, for the state Oregon Commission on Indian Services, and for the Oregon legislature. Dennis received a master’s degree in Public Administration from Portland State University.

On your retirement decision, was there an event or day that you started thinking it might be time to retire?

For now I am working at the county half time on special projects, and helping the new government relations manager transition into the position. I do not have a date in mind to go into true retirement.

Describe how you know it is time to focus on other things?

As with most major life decisions there were multiple influences over a period of time but these two things were the primary catalysts:

  • Watching individuals I’ve worked with for many years “retire” and then thoroughly enjoy having more time to pursue personal interests.
  • After testing our financial plan with worst-case scenarios learning that earning less could be done safely.       

Now that you are easing into retirement, how many days a week do you sleep until noon and watch soap operas all day?

It is blissful to get up early, slowly drink several cups of tea and read three newspapers.

What are the three career achievements that you are most proud of?

  • Managing an exceptional team of individuals that produced the Portland Metropolitan Region’s first comprehensive Waste Reduction Plan.
  • Managing the affairs of the Oregon Indian Commission and helping them assist the Cow Creek Indian Tribe regain their tribal status.
  • Managing an advocacy effort that helped bring significant new money into the State’s Mental Health Funding system and equity to its distribution formula.

Give us a preview of the 2013 legislative session in Oregon – what three issues, impacting local government, will be at the forefront? 

  • PERS
  • Financial stability for rural counties
  • Property tax reform

For much of career you’ve been around elected officials, was there any point where you thought about joining them by running for elected office?

When one works closely with elected officials it is natural to mentally try on that “coat” to see how it fits. I’ve always found it too snug.

Name three of your mentors that helped you along the way.

Provide your thoughts on how government can best prepare for the wave of retirements coming in the next five to ten years.

  • Adopt and use a strategic plan.
  • Have a succession plan.
  • Develop policies and procedures for attracting and working with part-time/retired employees.
  • Provide training on how to accomplish plans and projects through agile teamwork.

ELGL is always looking for speakers and interesting topics. List three leaders from each local and state government that we need to hear from.

Should we be worried about the divisiveness appearing in all levels of government, or as some like to say, is it just a phase?

America’s citizens periodically lose their bearings on how to make our system of self-governance work well but have always regained it. I side with James Madison and the principle that citizens of our republic have virtue and are capable of acting on it. “If there be not, (virtue) no form of government can render us secure.” I also believe public administrators have a constitutive role to play in drawing out their virtue.

Do you relish being retired while your wife is working full-time?

It would be nice if both of us worked fewer hours and could do more things together, but it is comfortable now for me to take care of deferred-life-maintenance matters while she brings home the bacon.

Reading recommendations – what’s your favorite book of all-time and what’s your favorite from the last year?

With retirement you have plenty of time to follow all the social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.) What’s your favorite?

I’ve moved away from certain social media until privacy is clearly controlled by the individual using them. LinkedIn is acceptable but in a trial period.

Should government be run like a business?

Yes – If it is a socially responsible business that applies triple bottom line values and criteria to measure its success, i.e., social, environmental and financial performance. This type of business accepts that its responsibility lies with stakeholders as well as shareholders.

What’s on your iPod recently played list?

  • Elton John & John Russell – The Union
  • Dexter Gordon – Ballads
  • Chet Baker – Prince of Cool
  • Yo Yo Ma – la Voix Du Violoncelle
  • Oscar Peterson Trio – This Song Is For You


  • Nik Bätsch’s Ronin
  • Gene Harris – Black and Blue

Finally, who would be better to work for you or your wife (Olivia Clark, TriMet)?

Olivia is more charming and easier to be around for long periods.

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