Polk County Clerk Melinda Robertson’s duties range from overseeing some of the county’s most important functions to tracking its most minute details.
Where elections, taxes and budgets encompass one end of Robertson’s job, she’s also sometimes the first one to hear when more minor parts of the courthouse need attention.
“It’s even things like when the bathroom sink is clogged or the toilets are clogged,” she said. “It comes to my office because the commissioners aren’t here every day.”
State law designates Robertson as the county’s chief elections officer, meaning that when the 2020 presidential primaries and general election come, it’s Robertson’s office that makes the call on how many ballots to order based on Polk County’s complicated map of school districts, fire districts, road districts and city limits. Each may bring a different set of ballot questions specific to their residents.
“Election Day is the small part,” she said. “It’s the months leading up to the election in preparation that I don’t think people get to see.”
Depending on where a resident lives, she said they’ll see a different combination of election options on their ballot.
For last April’s elections, the county ordered 31 different types of ballots for the different districts, she said.
“In a primary, I have to worry about the different party ballots,” she said. “Let’s say we have four to five different ones, then I have to worry about how many registered voters there are in each polling location and how many number of different ballot styles I’m going to need.”
Since the county tends to lean more Republican, Robertson said she orders more GOP ballots than others. However, each election requires the ability to forecast voter preferences.
Another job duty centers on January. Robertson’s office builds the county budget with input from other offices, she said. Throughout the year, she said she keeps an eye on the budget reports submitted by Polk County Treasurer Shirley Allison. As the clerk and keeper of record for the commission, she’s there not only when the budget talks are on the table but to record every meeting throughout the year.
State statute 51.120 spells out some of Robertson’s duties, including keeping “an accurate record of the orders, rules, and proceedings of the county commission, and shall make a complete alphabetical index thereto; issue and attest all process, when required by law, and affix the seal of his office thereto; keep an accurate account of all moneys coming into his hands on account of fees, costs or otherwise, and punctually pay over the same to the persons entitled thereto…”
There are also managing tax levies, which must be turned in to the state auditor’s office, accounts payable, voter registration and human resources for the county’s nearly 90 employees.
“Pretty much every other office countywide touches the clerk’s office, either through payroll, accounts payable or turning in their monthly financial reports,” she said.
The office also sees a share of walk-ins, she said, and despite working in the office since 1995, she said some still manage to stump her with questions.
“I still have to tell people, ‘You know, I’ve never heard that one,’” she said.
She said she also trains 60-100 election workers each election, and despite the constantly changing election laws and technology, she loves that part of her job.
“It seems like every time I train my election workers to do one thing, we’re changing it the next time,” she said.
Helping the people who walk in can be fulfilling, she said, and building budgets is satisfying.
“I like working with the figures and getting it all balanced,” she said. “It’s a real sense of accomplishment to get it all done.”
Amidst the business and ever-changing work, Robertson said she feels at home.
“I don’t know actually know what I’ll do on that day when I drive through the square and don’t get to come in and go to work,” she said.
Before being elected in 2010, Robertson worked in the office as a deputy clerk for 15 years. Despite a decade-and-a-half of job training, she said she still didn’t know everything there was to know about the office before taking over. She said she’s been fortunate to have good employees in the clerk’s office and good colleagues throughout the rest of the courthouse.
“I can’t imagine walking off the streets and doing any of these jobs without having some type of experience,” she said.
With two four-year terms served in the post that pays $45,000 annually, Robertson said she hasn’t put too much thought into her future in the courthouse. After being re-elected in 2018, Robertson’s next run for the office will be in 2022.
“There might be another term in my future, but then I’ll probably be more than glad to turn it over,” she said. “My dream has always been to (be succeeded by) an employee that would want to work in here like I did first.”
This is part five of a multi-part series documenting the roles of local elected officials. Keep an eye out for additional installments in upcoming editions of the Bolivar Herald-Free Press.