Michael Rood: Diverse PerspectivesBy Brianna Lusk
Michael Rood describes teaching as one of the “best things I’ve done.”
It may have been quite some time ago, but he recalls his few years at McCabe Elementary as being one of the most “fun” positions he’s ever held.
Though his title now may not give it away, he used to drive a school bus, venturing out into the desert region to teach his students instead of just talking about it in the classroom. He also was no stranger to a guitar, which he admits his talents were only “enough to entertain second and third graders.”
“We have said ourselves, there’s nothing boring about working in the office of county counsel,” Rood shares. “We have had huge issues and some very exciting cases.”
The diverse department is tasked with not only providing services like the overseeing of complex litigation, but it also drafts contracts and provides legal advice to over 25 county departments. Some of its attorneys spend most of their time in the courtroom many days of every week, representing the county in juvenile dependency and other cases. In short, things are not as simple as they seem at the outset.
“From the planning department to the Sheriff’s department to the County Auditor, we’re working behind the scenes. People don’t see that side of county counsel,” Rood says.
Since being appointed to the position of county counsel in 2008, Rood has worked to streamline the office’s many duties in addition to injecting new technological advances.
Senior Deputy County Counsel Geoff Holbrook says one of the main areas Rood has impacted is in the implementation of computer systems designed to process requests from the various county departments. Holbrook says the changes Rood has made are progressive in making the office more efficient and cost-effective.
“We do as much as we can on the computer whether it’s scanning and saving documents or using (virtual) clouds for saving information to use in meetings and in court,” Holbrook adds.
But more than that, Holbrook says that Rood has maintained an open-door policy for the attorneys who work on complex issues.
“He has experience in all these different areas, and he’s able to help you think of things that haven’t crossed your mind. He knows various areas of the law,” Holbrook says. “He makes you think about the practical impact of your decisions, not just the academic side of it … attorneys don’t think often enough about that.”
As a relatively new attorney who began work with the county counsel when Rood was initially appointed, Holbrook says it has been a rewarding experience to work with someone as knowledgeable as Rood.
“He allows those working for him to try out the areas of law that we are interested in. He’s very demanding that there be quality in our work,” he adds.
Doug Newland, auditor/controller for Imperial County, says Rood takes his role as the advocate for the county seriously but creates an environment of communication.
“He’s a very easy person to work with,” Newland says. “He’s just a good guy.”
Rood’s work ethic was implemented at an early age, as he grew up in the rural area outside of Calexico on Jasper Road. His mother and father, Barbara and Henry “Roy” Rood, still live on the property where his dad farmed during Rood’s youth. As a young man, he grew up irrigating fields and driving tractors. The area on Jasper Road was also home to the Jasper School that Rood attended from kindergarten through eighth grade, and the school doubled as a community center for the local farm bureau and surrounding community during that time. It was in his youth that his love for the outdoors and sense of adventure was cemented.
A favorite boyhood pastime that today should definitely not be perpetuated or encouraged, Rood remembers how much he loved taking a swim in the canals after a long day’s work in the fields.
He would return to his comfort zone during the summers while he was in college at the University of California at San Diego where he studied economics.
“During the summers I drove earth movers for Loma Farms, a land leveling company out of Brawley, leveling farm ground. We worked long hours in the heat and dust, but I was able to pay for a lot of my college myself that way,” Rood says. “The job was difficult but surprisingly enjoyable. I gained respect for my employer and the hardworking people I met there.”
Like so many who grow up in this region, says Rood, “I don’t know that I planned to come back to the Imperial Valley, but one thing leads to another in life.”
After graduating from UCSD, Rood returned to the Valley and began work on his teaching credential at SDSU - Imperial Valley Campus. Fittingly, Rood’s mother was a teacher and principal in Calexico, and Rood’s wife Nancy has been an educator for over 20 years.
At the age of 25, he was elected to the Calexico Unified School Board where he served two terms.
“I learned a lot about board meetings and local issues and a little about politics,” Rood reflects.
While working as a teacher, he began law school, commuting to San Diego on evenings and weekends. Though he loved his time as a teacher, he continued to shine in the law field.
Some of his classmates dropped out of the demanding classes as life and other obligations took over, but Rood made it through and passed the bar exam on his first attempt.
Angel Somera, a longtime friend, says that’s not unlike Rood to completely dedicate himself to what he wants to do.
“Once he commits to something, he really puts his whole heart into it,” Somera says.
Rood went on to eventually open a private practice and worked for years as a city attorney in Calexico and in El Centro before being appointed to the county counsel position in 2008. Somera met Rood while the two both worked in Calexico.
“He’s a straight-shooter and has a dry sense of humor about himself. We both had a lot of outdoor interests and went on a lot of hiking trips,” Somera says. “Mike has a spirit of adventure and he’s not afraid to do things. He was a leader in our little group.”
Between the kayaking and hiking, Rood’s multi-faceted professional life seems to fit his diverse hobbies.
Rood has jumped out of a plane over 100 times with a parachuting club that used to be based out of Holtville.
“We used to get together and just parachute down on the weekends,” he says with a reminiscent smile.
He also was known for flying an ultralight plane around the Valley, in which he was not even shielded by a cockpit.
“I grew up loving flying. It’s that feeling that kids dream about. It’s a whole new way to feel like you’re really flying. Your pant leg is flapping in the wind,” Rood notes.
Rood’s putting his heart and soul into whatever he does really doesn’t surprise Somera.
“He’s so knowledgeable about everything and is very well read. He’s a remarkable guy. I never get tired of his company. He’s not judgmental, and he thinks things through,” Somera adds. “If you had to pick people in an end-of-the-world scenario, he would be one of the guys on my list.”
Though Rood’s high-profile job and his familial desire to assist his parents in whatever way possible demands much of his time, he says he continues to be thrilled by the job he does as county counsel on a daily basis.
From solar and geothermal projects, it’s all been a learning experience for him.
“We’ve learned a lot more about projects and handling them when approached by developers. We’ve had a lot of newsworthy issues in Imperial County that have put us on the map. It’s an exciting place to be,” Rood says. “I have also enjoyed meeting county counsel from the other 57 counties in California, and I have served on the board of directors for the California County Counsel Association since my appointment in 2008. This year I was honored with being elected to serve as the President of the California County Counsel Association. That has been a prestigious position for me to hold.”
While it’s not easy balancing his role in the county, Rood says he has given a lot of thought over the years to the question of who he really serves in this position. Being in countless city, county counsel and board meetings has forged his career at the intersection where public service and politics often reside.
“We have to remind ourselves here at county counsel that we represent the County of Imperial and not any one individual. I was appointed by and I take direction from the Board of Supervisors. A majority of that board makes decisions and gives direction to me. Occasionally the decision and direction can suddenly change with the change of one vote; however, I have been fortunate in that the Board of Supervisors during my tenure has worked well together without major disharmony. Taking direction from a board like this has been easy.”
Rood says he hopes the values he believes in come through in his service.
“I’m just trying to do the best that I can. I’m proud of having this job; it’s an important position and an incredible opportunity,” Rood says. “The county counsel before me in this position have all been exceptional, and I hope to do as well as they did. I certainly intend to try to do that.”