Eagle’s Money Maven
It may be the most telling way to gain perspective about Marilene Miller’s tenure with the town of Eagle — the community has been in existence for 108 years and she has worked there for more than a third of that time.
After 37 years as Eagle Town Clerk and Treasurer, Miller is retiring this month. When she started back in 1976, the community had around 800 residents and an annual budget of around $175,000. She is leaving a community with 6,600 residents with a annual operating budget of $4.6 million. Over the past 37 years, Miller has tracked every single one of those dollars as it made its way out into the community.
For nearly three decades, former Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell was the public face of the community. But for the people who work for or with the town, Miller was its center. She was the go-to person for insurance or retirement fund questions. Reimbursement forms were dropped off and paychecks were picked up at her desk. If someone needed to make a presentation to the town board or register to vote, Marilene was the person to contact.
Because her job involved so many numbers, here are a few of them to contemplate:
37 — The number of annual budgets she prepared and the number of audits completed afterward.
0 — The number of exceptions (the official term designating serious problems) in any of those audits.
27 — The number of municipal elections she ran.
0 — The number of election results that were contested.
1 — The closest margin of any election result. Back in the 1980s an Eagle sales tax election failed by a single vote.
8 — The number of mayors she worked with during her career
53 — The number of town board members she worked with.
18 — The number of times the Eagle Town Board formally voted for her reappointment as town clerk/treasurer.
1 — The number of votes against her reappointment. To be fair, however, the town board member who voted against her reappointment wanted her to take the town manager job instead.
6 — The number of town managers she worked with
5 — The number of times she served as acting town manager.
1,500 — A conservative estimate of the number of town meetings she attended over her 37 years.
Those numbers are a vivid illustration of Miller’s fierce devotion to Eagle — both as a municipal operation and as a community. When she wasn’t at the office, she could often be spotted volunteering for community events such as Flight Days or the 9Health Fair. When her kids were younger, she coached Little League and was a Boy Scout leader.
Anyone who has ever met her knows what she lacks in height, she more than makes up for with moxie.
Crying all the way to Eagle
Miller is a Colorado girl. She grew up in Cheyenne Wells, located on the eastern plains. After graduating from high school, she headed off to Denver to attend Colorado Business College where she studied accounting. Her roommate was from Meeker and through her she met a boy from that community. Marilene and Glen Miller were married in 1966 and they lived in Rifle until 1971. After stints in Kansas and Denver, Glen had an opportunity to open a Colorado Farm Bureau insurance office in Eagle. Marilene wasn’t thrilled with the idea.
“I cried all the way to Eagle,” she said. “I felt so claustrophobic in the mountains, after growing up in Cheyenne Wells.”
Add to that, Eagle didn’t exactly present its best side back in those days. It was the place where drivers were forced to exit Interstate 70 and the businesses fronting U.S. Highway 6 were the town’s defining landmarks.
“But Glen said the town is really cute and we drove around. I liked the big park in the middle of town,” she said. “Once I got here, and especially after I started my job, my whole attitude changed. I love Eagle, but at the time, it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to go.”
While the Millers moved to Eagle in 1975, Marilene didn’t begin work for the town until the following year. Her elder son, Doug, started kindergarten in town but she had elected to stay home with her younger son, Daron.
“But Daron was so lonely when Doug was at school and then I saw the advertisement for a town secretary. I asked Daron if he would like to go to preschool with other kids and he was all excited about it,” said Miller.
Starting at the town
Back when she started work in February of 1976, Miller was one of seven town employees. Dusty Walls, Eagle’s current public works director, was already employed. Bob Sanders was the town manager. Accounting and utility billing services were handed by outside firms.
After only nine months on the job, Miller was promoted to the job of town clerk. Once she was in charge of the office, she decided to bring the accounting and billing functions back in house. It was a big job and she recalls how then-Mayor K. Don Thompson would work his regular job until 5 p.m. and then head over to the town office to help her organize the town’s business.
In those days, the town office was on the second story of the old town hall building at 108 West Second St. The fire department was located on the ground floor. Town meetings were held at the old Colorado Mountain College building (now Red Canyon High School) across the street.
Always an argument
Eagle is a feisty town. Residents are always arguing about something. For decades it was the Adam’s Rib Recreational Area development proposed at the Sylvan Lake State Park area. Later, debates surfaced around the Eagle River Station commercial project proposed on the east end of town. In between there were plenty of spats over neighborhood issues that inspired people’s passions.
For her part, Miller says the toughest argument centered around a recall effort during the 1980s.
“It was so hurtful. People just didn’t get over it,” she said.
Aside from that vote, however, Miller said that conducting elections was one of her favorite job duties. Her first was back in 1978 when the town had 475 registered voters and 279 cast ballots. That was a 59 percent turnout.In 2012, the ERS election happened when the town had 3,977 registered voters and 2,270 cast ballots for a 57.1 percent turnout.
“I took a lot of pride in them and I was very careful with my elections,” Miller said.
Growing up around her
The thing about being on the job for 37 years is that the town of Eagle grew up around her. Today the town has 37 full-time employees in nine departments — administration, planning, open space, marketing, police, buildings and grounds, water, wastewater and roads. Miller notes that when she started her job, she didn’t have to do everything that she does today. Her expanded responsibilities came as the town’s needs grew. That said, however, when it came time to find her successor, Eagle broke up her job into two positions — town clerk and finance director.
As she looks toward retirement, Miller plans to spend more time with her sons and her grandchildren. Her husband passed away 20 years ago, and Miller noted “the town really stood by me at that time.”
“I knew when I retired, I would not be staying in Eagle because my kids didn’t stay here,” she said.
However, she plans to split her time between Pine, Colo., and Vero Beach, Fla.
As she prepares to leave the place where she has worked for nearly four decades, Miller said what she will miss the most are the people — fellow workers such as Powell and Walls and Marlene Johnson who worked as deputy town clerk for 20 years before retirement two years ago.
“What I won’t miss is the winters. In the winter, I plan to be in Florida,” she said. “I am looking forward to spending my time with my sisters and my grandkids, especially.”
Miller noted that today’s Eagle still has the friendly, small-town atmosphere she grew to love when she moved here in 1975. The difference is she doesn’t know everyone any longer. And maybe, folks who are new to town don’t know her, either, because she has always been the power behind the people in power.
That’s the way Mrs. Miller liked it, for every one of those 37 years of dedicated public service.
She will be missed.