MONKTON — Longtime Monkton residents will notice a conspicuous omission on their Town Meeting Day ballot this year.
For the first time since 1973, Carmelita Burritt will not be running for town clerk. It will indeed be the end of an era in Monkton and the beginning of a new one, as Sharon Gomez is likely to become the community’s first new town clerk since the Nixon administration.
“It’s more and more work,” a smiling Burritt said on Monday. “I’m tired out.”
But the dozens of people who do business in the Monkton town clerk’s office each day would dispute Burritt’s claim of waning energy. Even as she approaches 78, Burritt is able to juggle phone calls, work on the growing voter checklist, and tend to land records and the many other administrative tasks.
And while Burritt has begrudgingly surrendered her pencil and notepad to a mouse and computer terminal, there has been no replacement for the institutional memory she holds inside her head. She knows virtually everyone in town, where they live, and in most cases who used to live there before them.
“Her tribal knowledge is unparalleled,” said Monkton Treasurer Charles Roumas. “There is literally not a parcel or person here she can’t recite by heart.”
Burritt and her husband of 58 years, Roderick, moved to Monkton in 1949. Roderick would begin a long career at local hardware stores (currently Martin’s Hardware in Bristol), while Carmelita did some bookkeeping work and eventually became an at-home mom for the couple’s four children.
With their children growing up, Burritt decided to re-enter the work force during the early 1970s. She was elected town clerk in 1973 and successfully ran for treasurer in 1974. She has never looked back.
“I haven’t had too much opposition,” she chuckled. She defeated occasional challengers with relative ease.
Burritt settled into the current town clerk’s office at a time before it had conventional heating and a toilet.
“There was an old wood stove, and I sat on the stage,” Burritt recalled. “We had to close (the town offices) during the winter.”
In cold months, Burritt would conduct town business out of her home — specifically a small office addition built onto her residence. It’s an arrangement Burritt said lasted through the 1980s, until the current town offices were equipped with basic amenities. The town recently acquired six acres in the village on which it plans eventually to place more spacious offices. The community defeated a $1.5 million project proposal last March.
“It was cozy when it was in the house,” chuckled Burritt, who would often make sandwiches and soup for auditors or other municipal officials doing research in her home office.
Her culinary skills remain legendary.
“She’s the best cook in Monkton,” Roumas said, noting Burritt also dispenses heaping helpings of her keen sense of humor.
“This young woman makes us guffaw at least three times per day,” Roumas said, looking at Burritt. “It is an incredible joy to work with her.”
Visitors immediately know they are dealing with a rascal when they read the sign behind Burritt’s desk that reads, “Everyone brings joy to this office; some when they enter, others when they leave.”
But joking aside, she does get down to business.
Burritt used to type up all the deed work and other town business. She used to be paid through fees, collected at a rate of 10 cents per word she recorded. When the town bought a computer, she took classes and is still getting used to the new technology.
“There have been so many changes; that’s why I have a lot of gray hair, I guess,” she said.
Indeed, Burritt has remained a traditional beacon in what has been a sea of change in her community.
“When we printed out the (voter) checklist, we were lucky to have 500 (names),” Burritt said. “Now we have over 1,400.”
She enjoys adding names to the list, but invariably has to take some off each year as old friends and neighbors pass on.
“It’s very hard to take them off,” she said. “I’ve written a lot of their marriages.”
While Burritt has been disappointed by some of the administrative changes to her job over the years, she pointed to one Godsend — Monkton’s acquisition of an electronic vote tabulator a few years ago. That new technology has allowed Monkton to produce its election results within a few hours after the polls close at 7 p.m. Counting used to occasionally spill over into the morning after the election.
“It’s accurate and makes your day easier,” Burritt said.
Another change that has made Burritt’s job a little easier has been the addition of a town clerk’s assistant. In an interesting twist, Burritt will assume that role after town meeting to help the current assistant — and future town clerk — Gomez (she’s the only one on the ballot). Burritt will have more flexible hours and ensure a smoother transition for the new clerk.
“She’s not leaving me,” Gomez said. “We are a team, and the team won’t split up.”
While it looks like she could keep going for many more years, Burritt will eventually phase out all work at the town offices. When she does, she and her husband will ease into retirement.
“We aren’t travelers; we’re homebodies,” said Burritt, who will garden and remain active with the local church.
Town Auditor and former Assistant Treasurer Liz Pecor has worked with Burritt for the past 10 years and has relished every minute of it.
“We never had to worry about any of her figures — they were always exact,” Pecor said.
“She’s an enjoyable lady to work with and I have known her all my life.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]