Two no-nonsense women
And though the Eagle County clerk and recorder has the intimidating task of organizing countywide elections and overseeing every detail of it, running for the job is much like vying to be coroner – most of us are glad someone else wants to do it.
But no matter how mundane a position it may appear to be, the first place a visitor to the Eagle County Building sees is the bustling Clerk and Recorder’s Office – and there is a reason for that, says outgoing Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Sara Fisher.
“We really cross paths with every resident of this county, no matter if they call this home or are here on a seasonal basis,” says Fisher, who, after 10 years as clerk is prevented from running for re-election by term limits.
Fisher was twice elected to four-year terms after serving a two-year appointment. She says contrary to most people’s impression, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office is anything but dull.
It’s an office that does almost everything for everyone, Fisher says.
“We do all the motor vehicle registrations, which means we interact with every person who lives in this county. We manage the elections for the county –and on behalf of the state – and with that have an ongoing relationship with all the voters,” Fisher says.
“We keep all the real-estate deeds, which is really one of the lifelines of this county,” she adds. “We take the minutes for the Board of County Commissioners, so we are in tune and aware of that board and their decisions. And we oversee all the liquor licenses for unincorporated Eagle County.”
By the way, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office also collects close to $25 million in taxes, of which about $5 million stays in the county. The rest is passed on to the State of Colorado.
And then there is the happier side to the job – issuing marriage licenses.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to be in touch with what people in this community want and need,” Fisher says.
While she hasn’t decided what she will do after Jan. 14, 2003 – the day the new clerk and recorder will be sworn in officially – Fisher says if there is one piece of advise she could give to her successor it is this:
“Keep principles before personalities.” She says that has been “an absolutely necessary” credo for her in overseeing a 20-person staff working in three branch offices for close to 50,000 county residents.
Contending for clerk
The two candidates vying for the clerk and recorder’s position this November both say they can get the job done.
Earlene Roach, 50, the Democratic candidate, has worked in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office for 24 years. Her Republican opponent, Teak Simonton, 42, is a businesswoman who manages 10 retail stores between Aspen and Vail.
Neither is running on a political platform; nor are they casting far-flung policy promises. Instead, both say they will work hard and keep their eyes peeled for opportunities to make the office’s operations more efficient and responsive to the frequently changing needs of the county’s citizens.
“I’m going to focus and concentrate on what my employer wants me to do,” says Roach, quickly clarifying that by “employer” she means the residents of Eagle County. “I want to create an environment where maximum efficiency in responding to the unique needs of Eagle County residents is the goal.”
Simonton, who, unlike Roach, doesn’t have years of experience in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, highlights her extensive customer-service experience in the private sector, as well as her proven record as an efficient manager of close to 60 employees.
“In all my jobs I have learned the importance of working hard and paying attention to detail and following through on my commitment as a manager,” Simonton says. “You have to know every detail of the job, but more importantly, you have to see the big picture and foster team-building and collaborative decision-making.”
If she gets elected, Simonton says, she will “design an aggressive training plan” to familiarize herself with every aspect of the job ahead. But, she adds, she won’t micro-manage.
“I’m very good at delegating. I firmly believe in empowering people to make good decisions and handle their jobs on their own,” Simonton says. “I don’t think any of my current employees would call me a micro-manager.”
While Roach and Simonton are no-nonsense when it comes to competing for the job, both women have private lives full of family, friends, quirks and passions that say much about them and their approach to the task ahead.
Christmas and Elvis
When Roach visits a beer tent to check up on a liquor license holder, she carries a large flashlight – seemingly to illuminate dark corners, but also, if necessary, to ward off shady characters.
But in her 24 years of working for the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, she hasn’t had to use her weapon of choice once.
Her imposing stature, booming laugh and ever-present quick wit seem to take care of even the touchiest of situations, says Roach’s friend Ree Farrell, who also works for the county.
“You make enemies real easily doing liquor license enforcement because you’re getting into people’s livelihood,” Farrell says. “People can get very upset, but Earlene is really aware of that and she has always been able to deal with those potentially pretty tough situations really well. She is just is a great communicator.”
While she can disarm even tough guys with a laugh, Roach is dead serious about two things: Christmas and Elvis.
“I go Christmas shopping,” Roach says when asked what she does to relax.
It turns out that Roach can’t remember ever being near a mall during those harrowing last hours of shopping before Christmas Eve. Instead of racing through stores with desperation and two hours to spare, her quest to find the perfect gifts for friends, colleagues and family begins in January.
She has lists and she matches people and presents all year long, Roach says.
Farrell remembers that their friendship began because of Christmas.
“I was a single parent and had just moved back here,” says Farrell. “I was having a hard time, but that Christmas, Earlene made quilts for all three of my daughters and put together a Christmas package for all of us.”
Buying Roach a gift in return is relatively easy. If it has anything to do with Elvis, Roach, an avid collector of anything related to The King, will love it, Farrell says.
Her office resembles a shrine to “The King” as, in true fan-fashion, she refers to the legendary performer. There are figurines, clocks, pens and posters of the singer.
Her home in Gypsum, where she lives with husband, Lloyd, and the youngest of her three children, 13-year-old Whitney, is decorated with Elvis memorabilia down to the last possible corner – her laundry room.
“I have stuff in boxes because there is no room for it,” Roach says with one of her big booming laughs.
Though she describes herself as Elvis’ biggest fan in Eagle County, she doesn’t subscribe the persistent rumors that he is still alive. But even in death, Elvis has a good place with Roach.
“He lives in my house,” she says.
Roach, who grew up in Idaho as one of eight children, followed her parents to Eagle County when she was 19.
She never left, she says, because she “fell in love with the area, the small town atmosphere and the people.”
She says she is the best person for the clerk’s office because she knows the job like no one else.
“I know the problems and I know the resources that we have to get the job done,” she says. “The difference between me and my opponent is that I am trained in all aspects of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
“I understand the challenges of running the office,” she adds.
Simonton, 42, moved to Eagle County after college to ski, live in the mountains and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. She says she first visited with her parents when she was 12.
But she never managed to be a really good ski bum, Simonton says.
Instead, the Wisconsin native, who carries the burden of a German heritage and the tough work ethics that come with it competently, managed to get herself promoted to general manager of a Vail ski rental shop almost as soon as she settled here.
While co-workers made a name for themselves for being laid-back, Simonton, though just 22, realized that wasn’t her calling, she says.
“I was a little bit different,” says the mother of two boys – Kyle 13, and Sandy, 5. “I found that I was more focused, that I like to be busy. I’m not really good at being laid-back when there is work to be done.”
While there is always work to be done, Simonton, who lives in Eagle, says walks with her family are how she unwinds after a busy day.
“The cat likes to follow, which is always kind of weird,” she says with a laugh that supports what one of her friends says is her greatest strength – aside from her boundless energy.
“She is really cheerful, has a great sense of humor and likes to laugh,” says friend and ex-neighbor Christie Hoechtl, who can’t think of anything she doesn’t like about Simonton except that “I don’t get to see her as often as I like.”
Hoechtl, a substitute teacher at Red Sandstone Elementary School in Vail, says she admires Simonton because she is an optimist.
“She is not one to give up moaning and groaning about things. If she sees something that needs to change, she works to change it,” says Hoechtl, who shares Simonton’s passion for gourmet cooking.
The two first met when they both lived in the same Vail neighborhood.
“It was one of those wonderful backyard fence kind of friendships,” Hoechtl says. “You go over to borrow a cup of sugar and then talk for an hour.”
Energetic and efficient are the words that describe Simonton best, says Hoechtl. And Simonton wastes no time in returning the compliment, referring to the time when, during a backyard chat, Hoechtl set her up with her second husband, Cliff Simonton, a planner with the county.
“She must have sprinted across the yard, because he called me half an later,” Simonton says.
All it took was mentioning to Hoechtl the difficulty of meeting career-oriented men in this area, Simonton remembers with a laugh.
Teak and Cliff have been married for six years and it comes as no surprise that the ever-efficient Simonton baked her own wedding cake – after taste testing it with Hoechtl.
She avoids leaving anything up to chance and she abhors half-baked things, Hoechtl says.
“She is a really good people-person. She is really approachable and she gets things done,” Hoechtl says. “She is the kind of person any office could benefit from having.”
In her candidacy for the job of clerk and recorder, Simonton, highlights her ability to juggle dozens of responsibilities while being nearly unflappable.
“I’m very even-keeled; I rarely get ruffled,” she says. “There are a lot of people out there that don’t have the natural ability to handle a million things at once, but that seems to be a strength of mine.
“I can handle the job and I’m excited at the opportunity to serve the people of Eagle County,” Simonton adds.
Geraldine Haldner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com.