By Keara Brosnan
Paula Barnett, a much respected staffer with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, is taking her elections experience to Chaffee County in order to be near her family.
Barnett’s last day with the state is Friday. She’ll begin working for Chaffee County Clerk Lori Mitchell on March 14.
“It will be fun to be with my daughter and her husband and her two beautiful daughters in the mountains,” said Barnett, who will live in Buena Vista and commute to Salida.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams understands her sentiment.
“As our first grandchild will be born later this month,” he said, “I certainly appreciate Paula’s desire to be near family.”
Barnett got her start in the Lincoln County clerk and recorder’s office’s, and eventually was elected clerk.
“I sort of grew into it,” Barnett said. “Living in Hugo, which was a very small community and very grass roots, I got very involved in elections and the political process and caucuses.”
She also worked for the Adams County clerks Carol Snyder and Karen Long for four years before joining the secretary of state’s office nearly a decade ago. In 2012, then-Secretary Scott Gessler dispatched her to troubled Teller County to help run its election. At the same time, wildfires raged across Colorado, including where she was posted.
“We will miss her and the great work she has performed in our office, both providing top-notch customer service every day and coming through in times of crisis like the 2012 fires,” Williams said. “I’m glad that we will continue to have the opportunity to work with Paula in her new job at the Chafee County clerk and recorder’s office.”
Mitchell said she is looking forward to working with Barnett again.
“When I started working as an elections deputy in Chaffee County, Paula came for three days to help train me and I have been in love with her ever since,” Mitchell said. “I have been hoping that I would get to work with her again someday.”
It will be a bittersweet transition for Barnett, 57, who lives in Thornton.
“What I will miss most, honestly, is the shopping and variety of restaurants,” she said with a laugh. “And obviously I have some beautiful friends that I will miss.”
Her co-workers hosted a farewell potluck for her on Wednesday, where elections director Judd Choate and Williams feted one of their most knowledgeable elections employees.
“She’s a special person and she means a lot to this office,” Choate said.
“In the entire secretary of state’s office, there are only two people who have been county clerks, one is the big boss (Williams) and the other is Paula. There are also only two people who have won a NASS medallion, one is the secretary himself and the other is Paula.”
The medallions from the National Association of Secretaries of State are awarded to those who make a difference. Gessler nominated Williams and Barnett. Williams was El Paso County clerk at the time and managed to get out the first round of results on primary election night before a wildfire forced the evacuation of his office.
For Barnett, her career has come a long way.
“I went from paper ballot hand count,” she said, “to the cutting edge of elections and technology.”
Keara Brosnan is a University of Denver student interning with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.