A decade of learning, changes | VailDaily.com

A decade of learning, changes

Kathy Heicher
Outgoing Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Sara Fisher is finding a new life beyond her previous elected position.

The last decade has been quite a learning experience for Fisher. The county’s population doubled, prompting the need for more services and staff. The methodology of conducting elections completely changed, sometimes resulting in less-than-smooth election nights.

As she learned the intricacies of the office, Fisher took on a leadership role with the state-level Clerk’s Association; she quietly dropped her long-standing political party affiliation after finding herself at odds with the local GOP, and she spoke up on issues impacting her office.

The mantra Fisher, 46, developed for her office is “keep principles before personalities.” That philosophy yields decisions made for the right reasons, she says.

Fisher credits the wealth of knowledge of her staff members for the successes the office.

“It’s the people in the office that make it. There’s some great leadership there,” she says.

Some notable changes have occurred over the last decade in the Clerk and Recorder’s office. The staff at the satellite office in Avon increased from one and a half employees to five full-time people, reflecting the growing demand for services upvalley. Similarly, the El Jebel satellite office staff grew from one to three full-time employees; and the staff at the Eagle County Administration Building increased by two.

Fisher, who is fluent in Spanish from years of travel in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, also increased the number of bilingual clerks in the offices. The Clerk and Recorder’s office often plays an educational role, teaching customers the ins and outs of motor vehicle registration, property transfers and voter registration.

“We educate people so we can help them play by the rules,” says Fisher.

As the official recorder for meetings of the Board of Commissioners, Fisher was often in the observer’s seat for county decision-making.

“Overall, my take (was) that we have people (in elected office) whose primary objective is to do good work, and to take into account the will of the people that they serve,” she says.

At the county and state level, she says, she saw political egos get involved in the decision-making process to the point their primary objective sometimes got lost.

Election learning experience

Elections will no doubt long stand out in Fisher’s memory of her years as county clerk. Whereas voters tend to view elections as something that occurs on the first Tuesday in November, any clerk’s office employee can testify to the reality that preparation for a major election is a year-round effort.

“The process is sizable. The scope and consequences of the vote are enormous,” Fisher says.

As the count clerk and recorder, she was in charge of general elections, primary elections and special-district elections.

Ballots often vary from precinct to precinct, requiring careful organization and monitoring. During Fisher’s tenure, Eagle County went from a punch-card system – like the notorious system used in the 2000 Florida elections – to a high-tech system involving optically scanned ballots. A decade ago, the ballots had to be physically hauled into the county building from the polling places before they could be counted. Now, computer modems at each precinct sends in the results at a fast and furious pace once the polls close.

Two years ago, when Republican commissioner candidate Steve Morris narrowly lost an election to Democrat Arn Menconi, leaders of Fisher’s own political party questioned her office’s integrity and competence in running the election, saying unqualified voters had been allowed to cast ballots. Morris filed a lawsuit challenging election results, but dropped the litigation after several weeks.

“What a hell of a learning experience,” says Fisher, adding that nobody raised questions while the election was in progress.

Rather, the complaints came after the votes were counted. She remains disappointed the lawsuit was withdrawn before the county had an opportunity to prove the facts of the case.

“I didn’t know Arn Menconi better than any other candidate. I had no stake in the outcome of the election,” she says. “I know we did things according to the law. I certainly sleep well at night.”

However, she says, that incident, coupled with a fizzled attempt to initiate a recall of Menconi in the fall of 2001, prompted her to quietly drop her Republican party affiliation last year. Fisher is now registered as an unaffiliated voter.

“I felt that being aligned with an organization that seemed to not have faith in me to be honest and unbiased was hypocritical,” she says. “The point was I wanted to keep my own personal integrity intact.”

Other personal challenges included learning to feel comfortable with unpredictable press coverage. She’s also learned elected officials are accountable to the people they represent, a fact that escapes some citizens.

“If that involves listening to someone scream at you – accusations that you know in your heart to be untrue – then you have to be willing to put yourself in their shoes. It’s easier said than done,” she says.

State leadership role

Fisher is a state-level player in issues that affect offices of the county clerk and recorders. She was elected to the Executive Board of the Clerk’s Association in 1998, and has served as president of the Colorado State Clerk’s Association. The group reviews legislative bills that affect issues like voter registrations, property recordings, motor vehicle registration and liquor license laws. The organization offers critiques and fiscal analysis of proposed laws, so legislators will better understand what they are voting on. The week before her final day in office, Fisher was in Denver testifying before the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee regarding the impacts audit procedures within the Department of Revenue.

During the past year, knowing she was term-limited, Fisher was approached by a number of people who encouraged her to run for another elected office -t he District 3 county commissioner’s seat. While honored by that support, Fisher weighed the possibilities, opting to explore opportunities in the private sector. She’s not sure just yet what the future has in store for her. She and her husband, Bill, are anticipating a vacation, she says, and are looking forward to enjoying time in their recently completed new home in Gypsum.

Fisher says she is pleased that two qualified candidates sought the clerk’s position; and she’s confident her replacement, Teak Simonton, will bring new experience to the office.

Fisher and Simonton worked together on the leadership transition. Earlene Roach, a long-time Clerk and Recorder’s Office employee who challenged Simonton in the November election, says she plans to remain on the staff, along with a number of employees. Fisher will be available for Simonton to consult when challenging issues come up.

Fisher says she leaves the office knowing she contributed a “sense of positiveness,” and staff member have reason to be proud of their work.

“They’ve made me successful,” she says.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

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