City Commission Election

Charlotte Mills, Gallatin County’s clerk and recorder, trades ballot boxes with volunteer Yvonne Jelberg on election day, Tuesday, at the Gallatin County Court House.

Gallatin County Commissioners unanimously denied a request to separate the election administrator’s duties from the county’s clerk and recorder office, which would have made the role an appointed position rather than an elected one.

Currently the person elected to be the clerk and recorder is charged with document recording and maintaining public records pertinent to lands and vital records, and serves as the clerk to the board of county commissioners. The position is also charged with overseeing election activities dealing with all state, county, municipal, special district and special elections.

Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder Charlotte Mills requested that commissioners restructure the position. With the growth of the county and all the regulations the position has to comply with, she said the position needs a leader who can focus solely on the election responsibilities.

“In 2007, when I took office, things started changing and it totally changed the ballgame,” she said.

When there is an election, Mills said most of her other duties get put on hold so she can oversee the massive operation.

Mills was hoping to pass the resolution on Tuesday so that candidates filing to fill the clerk and recorder position would know whether they would be handling elections. Filing for the position begins on Jan. 11.

At the Tuesday meeting, commissioners heard testimony that supported the separation of the position with the caveat that there needed to be an election advisory board to oversee the role. Most in attendance agreed that a professional was needed to fill the position, but wanted to know more about it, including qualifications, salary range and a job description.

Gallatin County Democrats member Billy McWilliams said he understood the need for separating the position, but felt the process for doing this was rushed — referring to getting the separation before filing for the position began. He said bad process generally leads to bad policy.

“It feels like the public policy is baked on the third floor, and does not allow for public comment,” said McWilliams, referring to the commissioners’ office on the third floor of the county courthouse.

There were at least two supporters of the county moving forward with the separation of the position from the clerk and recorder’s office.

Cindy Scheidt said she is one of the temporary workers who would come in to help with the elections. Scheidt said she saw firsthand what an election’s administrator does, and agreed there needed to be a person completely dedicated to the position.

She was against the idea of an advisory board, though, and said the Secretary of State’s office and election regulations would prevent an appointed person from changing anything.

Commissioners said the role is worthy of eventually hiring a professional to fill the position. Their decision, though, boiled down to who that person would report to.

The current proposal would have set up the election administrator to report to the county administrator. Commissioners said the county administrator currently manages an overwhelming number of departments, and they would like to maybe see the position report to the clerk and recorder.

Commissioner Steve White said he would support looking for money for the position in the next budget cycle to promote someone to fill that role. White said he didn’t support the current proposal.

Commissioners Don Seifert and Joe Skinner agreed that might be a better way of adding a professional election’s administrator. Seifert said he doesn’t see any reason to change the position at this point.

“I don’t think the process is broken,” he said. “So I don’t think we should try to fix something that isn’t broken.”

Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

Reporter

Freddy Monares covers politics and county government for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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