Bye-bye with a bang in Saguache County

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Saguache County Clerk’s office, with Clerk Carla Gomez and staffers Jane Whitten and future clerk Trish Gilbert during a visit in 2016. (SOS photo/Chris Johnson)

Saguache County Clerk Carla Gomez, who is retiring early after serving six years in office, sure is going out with a bang.

The night before Election Day, the Saguache post office was burglarized. The post office was then closed the next day, which could have prevented Gomez from collecting mail-in ballots. Secretary of State Wayne Williams was prepared to extend the  7 p.m.  Nov. 7 deadline, but it wasn’t needed and the election concluded successfully.

Gomez said she is going to miss her co-workers and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a man she so admires she made him the star of her office Christmas card this year.

“He’s done so much for the county and we just have to acknowledge that,” the outgoing clerk said. “We appreciate him and how patient he has been with us.”

She and Williams have a history.

The front side of the greeting card/ornament from the Saguache County clerk’s office features Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
The back side of the greeting card/ornament from the Saguache County clerk’s office features Secretary of State Wayne Williams, the clerk staff and Santa.

While serving as the El Paso County clerk and recorder, Williams was selected to run a recall election in January 2012 prompted by what The Denver Post called a “bungled” election in 2010 in Saguache County.

In separate races, Republicans were winning on election night but lost days later to incumbent Democratic opponents. The results were reversed due to what the clerk, Democrat Melinda Myers, said were honest mistakes and problems with voting equipment. Myers’ race was one of those reversed, showing she won and Gomez, the Republican challenger, lost.

During the special recall election, voters recalled Myers and elected Gomez.

Williams, who went on to become secretary of state in 2015, has made it a point to visit all 64 county clerks in their offices to see what kind of help the SOS can provide. Williams met with Gomez and her staff in 2016.

He returned to to the courthouse in Saguache in September, but for a very different reason. Gomez wanted him to star in their staff Christmas card, which featured s small Welch pony named Rocky, a little wagon and Santa. Williams had a great time driving the cart.

Earlier that day, Williams had been in Salida with Gomez and other southern region clerks and their staffs learning how to conduct the nation’s first statewide  risk-limiting audit. “We did great. We were one of the first 10  counties to complete the RLA, so we were pretty happy about that,” she said.

Gomez could have run for reelection in 2018 because Saguache does not have term limits for county clerks. Instead, she will serve her last day as clerk and recorder on Jan. 2, 2018, after spending more than six decades in the work force. That includes a stint working for the district attorney in the 12th Judicial District, and running a liquor store with her husband for more than 30 years.

She recommended to the Saguache County Commission that they appoint her elections clerk,  Trish Gilbert, to take over as clerk and the board agreed.

“Always, always stand up for what’s right, follow the rules, and enjoy the journey,” is Gomez’s advice for Gilbert as she settles into her new role.

As for Gomez …

“I can’t wait to spend more time with my two granddaughters and family and friends,” she said. “I want to find a palm tree somewhere and just sit and stare at the water like the seagulls.”