Burnett County Clerk faces challenge Only courthouse race this year
by Gregg Westigard Leader staff writer
BURNETT COUNTY – The County Clerk’s office is at the heart of local government, especially in an election year. When we go to the polls and cast a ballot, the ease of that process is the result of hours of work by the County Clerk, working with the local electing crews. But the election duties, as important as they are, are only a part of the duties of a county clerk. County Clerksare involved in every aspect of county government. The smooth functioning of that office keeps all the other parts of county government going. And the County Clerk helps people get married.
Burnett County Clerk Wanda Hinrichs is facing a challenger this year, Patrice Bjorklund. The elected position is on the November ballot. The winner will start a four year term of office in January.
The first word out of a county clerk’s mouth is elections. The election process has become increasingly complex and all the changes funnel through the clerk’s office. Voting machines, registration, photo id (‘yes’ one day, ‘no’ the next) are all part of the new scene. The state Government Accountability Board (GAB), formerly called the Election Board, issues new regulations regularly [some clerks say daily]. The county clerk must put those new rules in force, working with the election officials in each of the county’s 24 towns and villages.
The voting machines must be programmed for each election. Paper ballots must be printed. Registration books must be prepared and complete. New rules on absentee and early voting must be known and understood. All local election workers must complete training. It is the duty of the CountyClerk to see that all of this is working correctly on election day. Adding to the fun has been the fact that recently Wisconsinhas gone from two election days, spring yearly and fall in the even numbered years, to three with the recalls. Since elections include primaries, that has meant six separate elections in 2012.
But there is more. The County Clerkco-ordinates county government functions, issuing notices of county board and committee meetings, preparing the agenda, and recording and preserving the minutes of county board actions. Most county purchasing is done through the office and the clerk is responsible for purchase orders, credit card use and receipts, and distribution of supplies. The clerk is in charge of the maintenance of the county’s fleet of vehicles (except the Highway and Sheriff fleets). The clerk conducts county land sales, from the property descriptions and photos of the land to the auction. The clerk inventories all county assets and purchases the property and liability insurance. The clerk’s office issues marriage licenses and DNR licenses.
All this is the job of the county clerk, one full time deputy and a time staffer.
Candidate profiles are from in-person interviews October 5th. Hinrichs is running as a Democrat, Bjorlund as a Republican.
"I love the job,"Wanda Hinrichs says. "I love working with the people. I think I am doing the job good enough to keep it."
Hinrichs is completing her eighth year as Burnett County Clerk. She worked in the clerk office for 6 ½ years before that and moved up to the clerk position when Helen Steffens retired after serving 18 years as County Clerk.
"The clerk’s office is the hub of the county," Hinrichs says. "Everything goes through here. There is an endless variety of things we do, a whole lot of lots of things.
Hinrichs says the elections are a big part of the time now, with changes coming through from the GAB every day. She must keep the local election clerks informed and is responsible for all the election process, setting up the machines, training the officials, collecting and verifying the results. Hinrichs said that very little changed in the clerk’s job during the 18 years her predecessor was in office and now almost everything related to the elections has changed.
But elections are just part of the duties of the clerk. Hinrichs just completed the latest property auction of tax forfeited land, a process that took a year to prepare. Her job of supervising the county fleet of vehicles has included replacing a turn signal bulb herself to save the cost of a formal repair order. Hinrichs looks at all the purchasing process, seeking ways to do things at a lower cost and better.
Hinrichs is leading the move for the county board to go paperless, with documents sent to computers and laptops. She says this will be a faster and more efficient way of distributing information while in the process lowering the cost of materials, copying, and postage and reducing staff time. Hinrichs says with increased time demands for elections and services and with no increases in county funds, good use of staff hours is important.
"The clerk must know it all," Hinrichs says. She must have a good working relationship with the county government staff and the supervisors and with all the local election workers. Hinrichs says this is a job that you can’t step into cold. She says it takes years to know it all.
Patrice Bjorklund Patrice Bjorklund says she know the elections process and has the experience in government to do the county clerk job and is seeking the position because it is the next natural progression in her career advancement. She is currently the Clerk-Treasurer for Webster village, a hired position, and is the elected Treasurer for town of Lincoln. She was previously the Lincolntown clerk. All this has given her first hand involvement in the election process.
Bjorklund says that the elections are a big duty but the work of the county clerk helping and assisting the county board is a very important part of the job. She has worked with town and village boards and knows that things must be done right.
Bjorklund says she has the budget, finance, and management experience needed. That experience includes over ten years of involvement with town and village government and over 20 years as the co-owner and co-manager of a trucking company.
"I see the job of county clerk as an opportunity for me," Bjorklund says. She adds that she would bring new innovative ideas and practices to the job if elected.
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