Hot Sheet

Some of Colorado’s rural county clerks have clocked a whole lot of years

Author: Dan Njegomir - March 2, 2018 - Updated: March 2, 2018

Secretary of State Wayne Williams, center right, meets with Bent County officials after visiting with Clerk Patti Nickell in her office in Las Animas. Nickell is at left, opposite Williams. (Colorado Secretary of State’s Office photo, via Lynn Bartels’s blog)

Out in Colorado’s vast rural reaches, finding a replacement for an experienced and knowledgeable county clerk ain’t easy. Unlike in the state’s metro areas, where there always seems to be a steady supply of upward-bound office seekers, there just aren’t that many people to begin with in farm and ranch communities in sparsely populated counties in the high country and the eastern plains.

Which helps explain why voters in a number of those counties have invoked their right to opt out of the state’s constitutional term limits. The law, which generally holds elected officials to two terms or eight years consecutively in office, makes it tough for some counties to fill key posts. So, they’ve let some officeholders stay on the job longer.

In some cases, a lot longer — as Colorado Secretary of State’s Office communications chief Lynn Bartels pointed out in a blog post earlier this week. Bartels notes how Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols, for example, began working in the Clerk & Recorder’s office as a staffer in 1972 and was first elected clerk in 1994. Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell has been in office for 32 years.

Colorado Counties Inc. keeps a rolling list of counties that have waived or extended term limits for clerks and other elected officials over the years. Crowley lifted limits for all elected officials in 1998; Bent did so for its assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner, sheriff and treasurer in 1999.

Now, some of the longest-serving clerks are exercising term limits of their own: They’re retiring. Writes Bartels:

“…(W)hat makes 2018 unusual is the number of longtime clerks who are saying goodbye to registering vehicles, running elections, recording documents and many, many, more duties.

Others who are retiring after this year include Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy, who will also have spent 43 years in the office, and Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl, who was first elected to the post in 1982.

It amounts to quite a brain drain. Bartels quotes Secretary of State Wayne Williams: “We are losing decades of experience.”

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.