In 1982, David Hough began his career as law clerk in Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson’s office.

On Thursday, he became the county’s top administrator on a unanimous vote by the County Board.

Hough, 54, has been acting administrator since Richard Johnson retired late last year. His new post is the culmination of a steady ascent through the administrative ranks of county government.

He was in the county attorney’s office for 25 years and tried 130 cases. He worked in the juvenile and appellate divisions before leading the civil division under former County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. He served for several years as the county attorney for the board, advising the elected officials on everything from personnel matters to open meeting laws.

When Johnson became the administrator in 2008, he selected Hough as his deputy. Hough described his years working with the board, the administrator and county departments as a “great foundation” for his new job. He said he’s developed great relationship throughout the county and knows the organizational structure.

The job is a big one. The top administrator oversees 8,000 county employees across 30 departments and an annual budget of $1.75 billion.

“The board generally felt we have a good administration now and David’s been a part of that,” Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat said.

The county spent about $25,000 to conduct a national search and culled three finalists from 90 applicants. The others: Steve Cramer, president and executive director of Project for Pride in Living, Inc., and former development director for Minneapolis, and Steve O’Malley, county administrator of La Crosse County, Wis.

Opat said the job pays about $200,000 annually. Hough will be formally appointed and his salary set March 12. He lives in the Morningside neighborhood of Edina with his wife, Lori. They have 19-year-old triplets.