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An election to decide who runs the elections

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For the first time in decades, the county clerk and recorder’s office is a contested seat. Here, we sat with incumbent Jean Alberico and challenger Bonnie McLean in separate interviews.

Jean Alberico (D)

Alberico has served in some capacity in the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s office for 36 years.

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“I started in 1982 and was primarily on the motor [vehicles] line,” she said. “Then in 1997, the then-county clerk appointed me her chief deputy. When she retired, I ran for the office and won in 2006, so I’m finishing my third term as the county clerk.”

Despite the almost 12 years in the clerk’s role, Alberico emphasized that the job never bores.

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“We’re always tasked with implementing a new procedure or figuring out how to use a new system,” she said, noting the recent conversions to new drivers license and vehicle registration systems.

And Alberico’s already looking to the future, partnering with other counties such as Douglas and Larimer so that Garfield County residents can renew vehicle registrations remotely via standalone kiosks.

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“Now this company has a contract with Kroger, and they’re putting these kiosks in King Soopers on the Front Range,” she said.

Additionally, the office is already gearing up to roll out a new voting system.

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“My plan is for us to move to the Clear Ballot voting system next year, which will be exciting,” she said. “It makes it so obvious how the system is seeing different votes and how it proceeds to tabulate them with its ballot marking device, so persons with disabilities can come and vote unaided, and once they’ve finished voting and cast their ballot, it prints a ballot that looks like everybody else’s.”

Not every moment of Alberico’s career has been a bright spot: three separate employees have been caught stealing from the office, but the most substantial transgression was by Robin McMillan, who in 2015 received a 10-year prison sentence for embezzlement. McMillan was Alberico’s bookkeeper when she was arrested in 2014.

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“It was heartbreaking for our staff when we found out what Robin was doing,” she said. “ I brought in an outside counselor to work with my staff because… they were victims, too. The taxpayers and the public were victims, but my staff who worked so closely with her and all of us who had this trust and faith in her, we were just shattered.”

Alberico also brought in outside consultants and auditors and partnered with Denver and Eagle County, which also discovered theft by its longtime bookkeeper, to present at a 2015 clerks conference so offices could learn from one another’s experiences.

“We’ve tightened all of our processes,” she said. While the size of the office doesn’t warrant a full-time bookkeeper — meaning that, in opposition with traditional accounting recommendations, her current bookkeeper does sometimes take cash from customers during busy hours — Alberico’s implemented several “compensating measures.” For instance, the deposits are made every morning by a team of two before the bookkeeper ever even begins her day.

“It happened, and I’m really sorry it happened,” Alberico said. “But we’ve taken all of the advice that we can possibly do.”

Bonnie McLean (R)

Bonnie McLean has deep family roots in Garfield County — her father, Peter Prebble, owned the Fairy Caves before they became part of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. She pursued most of her education in Denver, first finishing a degree in industrial engineering and then a law degree, before moving to Florida, where she worked for the City of Sunrise for 13 years and acquired a Master’s in Administration.

“I streamlined a lot of processes for them, and they’re still in place to this day,” she said.

About five years ago, she returned home to the Valley. She’s taken her administrative experience to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, where she’s worked in human resources for three years, overseeing employee benefits.

It wasn’t until someone at a social event suggested that she run for county clerk that she’d considered it. Now, though, she’s all in: it plays to her natural strengths as an administrator, and she thinks the office could use a fresh perspective.

“When someone’s been in the position for 36 years… you just don’t have a need to recreate anything,” she said. “So when you come in fresh, you look around, and it’s “Why are we still doing it this way?” We should be able to modernize it. I know I will have a big impact.”

Additionally, she feels that bringing in someone new to the role might also give new voice to existing employees.

“I love feedback. A lot of times employees have a lot of ideas, sometimes you don’t really hear them until you ask,” she said, adding that, being the newcomer in the office, she would ask. “I’m not the kind of person to go in and clean house; everyone’s always worried about that. I will sit down with every employee, talk with them and get to know them.”

And when McLean learned about the office’s past embezzlement issues, she felt doubly motivated to offer voters a change.

“If you worked anywhere, and one of your employees embezzled money, the first time they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible.’ If it happens three times, you would not have a job,” she said. In particular, she’s critical of the fact that, despite auditors’ recommendations, the clerk’s bookkeeper still has a cash drawer.

“The cash drawer: you just don’t do that in any kind of process,” she said. “It’s that procedure that leaves temptations. With RFTA, we’ve taken a lot of cash. I sit in finance sometimes, and I see that their procedures are separated: one person reconciles, and we have a CPA that oversees everybody.”

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