The word of the day in two southeastern county clerk and recorders’ offices is renovation, as the Otero County clerk is temporarily operating out of a former Montgomery Ward’s store and the Prowers County clerk endured a year of dust and drilling when a new heating and air conditioning system was installed in her courthouse.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams visited the clerks Wednesday where besides talk of remodeling the conversation centered on unaffiliated voters receiving ballots for the primary election — a first in state history.
“We’re trying to figure out a process for the unaffiliated,” Prowers County Clerk Jana Coen said.
Voters in 2016 passed Proposition 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to participate without declaring to be a member of either party.
Two of Colorado’s longest serving county clerks told Secretary of State Wayne Williams Monday their decision not to run for re-election this year is a bittersweet one.
“I have very mixed emotions,” said Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols, who began working in the Clerk & Recorder’s office in 1972 and was first elected clerk in 1994.
“I have enjoyed the job but it’s 45 years of a lifestyle coming to an end.”
Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell has served as the clerk for 32 years. “It feels weird,” she said, of leaving. “It really does.”
A number of small and rural counties do not have term limits for clerks. Larger counties do so clerks turn over every four or eight years, but what makes 2018 unusual is the number of longtime clerks who are saying goodbye to registering vehicles, running elections, recording documents and many, many, more duties.
Others who are retiring after this year include Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy, who will also have spent 43 years in the office, and Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl, who was first elected to the post in 1982.
“We are losing decades of experience,” Williams said.
Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy used to love handling elections, so much so that her fellow county clerks would shake their heads.
“I just wanted to thump her,” neighboring Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols recalled.
But that was before the highly contested 2000 presidential election and the sweeping reforms — and seemingly endless mandates — that followed when Congress passed the Help America Vote Act. Since then, Sisnroy admitted, her passion for elections has waned.
“Everything got really hard after that,” she told Secretary of State Wayne Williams when he visited La Junta Wednesday.
County clerks are busy, busy people — Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler calls them the “guardians of the galaxy” — and their staffs handle a variety of duties. Elections, recordings, motor vehicle transactions — some even take minutes for their county commissioners.
One of the fun things about visiting county clerks statewide is checking out their display of license plates.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams on Wednesday visited Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy in La Junta, Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols in Ordway and Lincoln County Clerk Corrine Lengel in Hugo. It’s part of his effort to personally visit with all 64 county clerks to see their operations up close and discuss how his office can provide service.
On Friday Williams is visiting Saguache County Clerk Carla Gomez before heading to Grand Junction where he will speak to Club 20 on Saturday about statewide ballot measures.
In Otero County, Shannon Casillas has license plates from all around the country displayed above and near her desk. Let the record reflect that the license plate above the doorway leading to the clerk’s vault is from the great state of South Dakota.
“It’s fun,” she said of her décor, noting the artwork of license plates was a gift.
In neighboring Crowley County, Nichols arranged to have the license plates her office had collected over the years arranged on a wall in the hallway with a nice wood-and-glass frame. Motorists used to get new plates every year, she explained.
In Lincoln County, arrowheads, antique office equipment and a replica of the old courthouse grace the hallway and lobby. Its reputation for short lines make it a haven for Coloradans wanting to quickly title and license new or used motor vehicles, trailers and such.
Lengel charges a special fee for out-of-county residents.
“We had somebody come from Silverthorne one time,” she said.