SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – As mail-in ballots for the November general election begin making their way into mailboxes throughout the county this week, voters here will be faced with choosing between two capable women with long professional records who are each eager to fill the San Miguel County Clerk and Recorder position being vacated next January by Peggy Nerlin.
The county clerk maintains voter records, runs elections, records property transactions, issues marriage and county liquor licenses, and operates certain Department of Motor Vehicles functions – all for an annual salary of $58,000 set by the state. Both Democrat Kathleen Erie and Republican Harley Brooke-Hitching believe they have the skills and work experience to successfully manage the multi-faceted organization.
“You really have three small companies under you,” said Nerlin, who highlighted the ability to “juggle a lot of different items in one day” as key to being successful in the job. She also cited the ability to stay calm under pressure, answer questions, and be a good problem solver.
Erie is a 10-year Telluride Ski Ranches resident (she first purchased property there in 1983) and California Certified Public Accountant who lists more than 20 years of professional experience working in either internal or external audit, as well as positions as chief financial officer (or “virtual controller”) for several small companies and nonprofits among her credentials.
She had a role in creating the Telluride Medical Center accounting department when it pulled out from under the Montrose Memorial Hospital umbrella. More recently, she was business manager of the Telluride Mountain School.
“I feel pretty strongly that my background…makes me the best candidate,” said Erie, highlighting in particular her experience implementing accounting and tracking systems throughout her career.
“Auditors look at systems for recording info and tracking inventory,” she said, noting that she would apply that same systems expertise to the clerk’s office.
“You’re talking about tracking data and some money,” she continued. “The ability to assure that data are originally created correctly, that they are safe and that they are available to people is very important.”
Erie characterized herself as “very fiscally responsible” and “detail-oriented.” She also noted that she would continue Nerlin’s efforts to cross-train staff members, so they may fill in each other’s roles, and open a satellite office in Norwood for which county and state approvals have been secured.
“That’s a real service for the folks out in Norwood and the West End,” she said.
And while Erie’s conversations with clerk’s office employees, the county assessor and county treasurer have led her to believe that there are no burning issues that will need to be addressed should she be elected to the position, she would like to bring a full-service D.M.V. office back to San Miguel County so residents wouldn’t have to skip work mid-week to visit offices in Cortez or Montrose for driver’s licenses and renewals.
“Obviously nothing can happen until there’s money,” she said. But “I think I can do it for a pretty low cost.”
On the D.M.V. Brooke-Hitching couldn’t disagree more.
“I won’t waste time and money to bring drivers licensing back to this county,” she said. With state D.M.V. offices actually being consolidated and closed, “Why go to the expense to have it here in a tiny county when you renew your license every 10 years?” she said. “It’s absurd.”
Brooke-Hitching said she honed customer service and relationship-building skills in the import business, incorporated job training, child care, domestic violence support and A.I.D.S. education into an affordable commercial real estate development venture, worked on welfare reform and transportation issues for the City of New York, and founded and chaired the world’s first food rescue organization, City Harvest. The clerk’s position is as much about big picture thinking as it is about the details, she said.
“And I can’t emphasize enough people skills,” she added.
In fact, it’s her ability to combine those three elements that give her an advantage, she believes.
“My character is better [suited for the position] because of my diversity [of work experience],” she said. “There are going to be budget issues coming up, and changes, and I think I can handle the staff and lobbying that we’ll have to do in the state and county.”
While Brooke-Hitching would not attempt to expand the county’s existing D.M.V. services, she is interested in generating momentum for a statewide initiative to upgrade the department’s antiquated Disk Operating System-based computer system, a task that would require partnering with other county clerks and perhaps other state D.M.V. offices.
“In these budget times, we will need to network,” she said.
She said she would also look at whether the clerk’s office hours could be adjusted slightly to be more convenient for its users, and see if there is a way to better integrate its three separate departments into a single group.
In the end, “It’s not just document recording but team management,” said Brooke-Hitching.
“At this stage in my life there are not going to be many more places where I think, ‘I haven’t done this before.’”
Early voting takes place at the San Miguel County Annex Building at 335 W. Colorado Ave. from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays from October 18-29. Completed paper ballots may also be returned to the San Miguel County Courthouse between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on those dates. On Tuesday, Nov. 2 voters may also cast their ballots from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at one of the five precincts throughout San Miguel County to which they are assigned.