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Clippings: Vt. Town clerks are a special breed

I first started to poke around town clerk’s offices and, more importantly, get to know the people who run them in the mid-1980s, when I started selling real estate for about five years. Back then, Panton’s office, if I remember correctly, was in a basement in a home near Vergennes, while Waltham’s was basically housed on a porch and didn’t have a copier.
But in 1991, when I earned a real estate appraisal license, I really began to spend more time in town offices. Appraisers have to constantly keep up on comparable sales in all the towns and stop in at the town clerk’s office of each home that is appraised to pick up information about the property, like tax bills, lot sizes and town assessments. Appraisers know how to operate every copier in the county and are on a first-name basis with every town clerk.
By the mid-’90s I began moving out of appraisal — there seemed to be plenty of work for the two Bills, Lynn, Charlene and Justus, but I wasn’t sure there was room for more — and into this gig. Which, of course, keeps me in touch with town clerks; fewer of them, for sure, because I have maintained a beat in the five-town Vergennes area for nearly 18 years.
In all, I have had a professional relationship with the county’s town clerks for about 26 years and counting, and I’ve got to say that’s been just about a uniformly positive experience.
Clerks in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham can stop reading now so people won’t think I’m just sucking up. We’ll wait a minute so you can leave …
OK, one funny thing is many clerks remember me from the early 1990s because at that point I was a new dad. As well as appraising I was also bartending weekends and working flexible hours, and my wife was working not quite fulltime. That schedule meant I took care of my young daughter, born in late 1992, during many days. And that she could accompany me to many clerks’ offices.
The guy walking in carrying the adorable baby — hey, she was, ask anybody — in a car seat and then a little later on his hip was always welcome in the clerks’ eyes. Former clerks Joan Payne of Cornwall, Carmelita Burritt of Monkton and Joyce Cameron of Salisbury would often let Kaitlyn sit in their laps while I made copies, for instance.
And when I called Grace Simonds in Whiting last week for probably only the second time in the past few years, she knew who I was, no doubt because of my daughter. (For the record, you clerks out there who remember her, she’s a college sophomore and doing great.)
Clerks’ kindness to my daughter — by no means limited to those just named — is but one thing I have appreciated over the years.
For one thing, the job seems self-selecting, like nursing or teaching. People tend to do it because they are helpful and like interacting with other people. I can say that description has fit our county’s clerks well.
Of course, some are funnier than others. The sample size is too small to draw any gender conclusion, but two who demonstrated good, dry senses of humor over the years are former Middlebury clerk Dick Goodro and late Bridport clerk Chuck Huestis, both great guys. I’d say Ferrisburgh’s Chet Hawkins is funny, but it might go to his head and I really shouldn’t offer too many opinions about my current beat.
Also, of course, town clerks are the proverbial fonts of information. I mean, these people know everything about anything and everybody; I suspect this aspect of the job is also self-selecting, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, like they are typically nosy or something. An encyclopedic memory and a healthy interest in people are good qualities and qualifications for the job.
Some are more forthcoming than others. Some you have to ask the right question to get the right answer, and others you just have to say hi, what’s up?
And some will tell you more or some will tell you less about town business. Some feel it’s not their position to explain or expand on what’s in selectboard minutes, while others — who shall remain nameless — will speak their minds in no uncertain terms about town issues.
All are consistent in their chosen approaches to that question, and many have been so for many years: Addison’s Jane Grace is in her 40th, and she says her final, year (her retirement announcement got me thinking on this topic), while Simonds and Joan Devine in Vergennes are in their 28th years.
And that consistency has always been welcome over the decades.

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