The backbone of counties across Montana is the Clerk and Recorders Office.
Residents in a county have full access to the office, where everything about the office is for the public. In smaller counties, Clerk and Recorders take on duties that affect multiple departments.
“We wear a lot of hats,” said Paula Jaconetty, Teton County Clerk and Recorder, she went on to add, “The Clerk and Recorders Office is the hub. We have all the birth and death certificates, we do the HR. We do all the payables to make sure everybody is paid. We do all the recordings of any document that needs to be recorded.”
Jaconetty said her office even handles the coffee operation for the Teton County Courthouse. It can be found on a shelf where the election materials are stored.
Coffee might be what keep these offices running, but on the Hi-Line in Blaine County, Clerk and Recorder, Pauly Miller welcomed MTN News into her office to see its operations.
The tour began at the teller counter, covered by sheets of glass that were installed during the Covid-19 Pandemic. She explained that although their office is behind a window and that’s where the public handles business, the office is open to all.
Blaine County’s Clerk and Recorder has four employees including Miller. Each employee is assigned a designated job from payroll, claims, and recording. On our visit to the office, the claims employee was out, and the payroll employee filled in. Miller was working on the rest of the duties of the office.
“Right now, she's working on claims because payroll, we only pay. We pay once a month. So, we just got done with the payroll. She finished up all the reports.” Miller explained her payroll employee.
The next leg of the tour when into the records area, where Miller explained on the massive record books there are blue dot stickers on the binding. It lets them know that those records have been processed into an online database. Nearly 100 years of records in one room, covering Blaine County’s past of formerly being in Chouteau County. Documenting the records in an online database is time-consuming and when there is free time, that’s the next delegated task.
Luckily for Miller, she is fully staffed in an office adjacent to the Treasurer and the Commission Chambers.
In neighboring Hill County, Lexis Dixon runs 16-hour days with an understaffed office. Regardless of how many employees, work still gets done.
Pauly Miller and Lexis Dixon stand out amongst other counties we visited. Dixon, a Democrat, and Miller, a Republican get labeled by their party status.
While each county is different, that is how Fergus and Teton County differ. Paula Jaconnetty of Teton County and Janel Tucek of Fergus County are both non-partisan officials.
When MTN News asked each of the four if they felt the position should be non-partisan, they all responded with the same answer. Yes.
Fergus and Teton Counties are some of the few counties that are non-partisan and it is up to the county and the public to put forth an effort through a vote to make the seat non-partisan.
“I think it's beneficial when you run an election to be nonpartisan, because then that way you're not really preferencing your party,” explained Tucek.
The office should remain unpolitical to begin with, according to Tucek and Jaconetty. In the Teton County Clerk and Recorder Office, they live by a strict policy.
“We have a no politics talk office,” said Jaconetty adding, “Sometimes I walk in and, you know, there's a person in here visiting and it gets a little political. And I would say, Hey, we're the election office. We don't want any politics talk here.”
She also explained that every employee has the right to affiliate in whatever way they feel possible, but keeping politics out of the Elections office is crucial to the integrity of the job they’re doing.
Elections is a major job of the Clerk and Recorders Office and with the rollout of a new system, ElectMT, it's shown to have some bugs.
“The Secretary of State staff is working with the B-Pro, which is the software company that implements the elect me and it's a work in progress.”
Although the new software posed challenges and had its issues, County clerks across the state of Montana navigated their way through. When the rollout occurred, the Secretary of State’s Office offered weekly training. It was up to each seatholder to attend the training.
“Before ElectMT, we had Montana Votes, and it just became so archaic it just couldn't keep up with the times. This ElectMT is more Windows based and it had user manuals that come with it that have it down to pictures so that you can just walk through the process.”
The Secretary of State’s Office is tirelessly working on the bugs to ensure that Election nights soon run efficiently.
Just like the Election process is open to the public, the entire Clerk and Recorders Office is open to visitation, regardless of county of purpose. Hill County Clerk and Recorder, Lexis Dixon feels passionately about the transparency of her office.
“I think the reason why we are all elected is because we're supposed to be held responsible. We do go to our commissioners to ask for approval for things, but they don't oversee what we do. I don't know what happens in their office all the time, and they don't know what happens in mine. We report to the taxpayers.”
She feels there is an obligation to the constituents who elected her to office, that if they have questions to come to the office and see what they do and ask the questions.
“They don't want somebody hiding behind a closed door. I wouldn't do that because they’re the people who elected me.”
Paula Jaconetty feels the same, “I wish that people would come and ask questions. If they have questions.”
Jaconetty said that as an elected county official her job is 24/7, 365 days a year, and if there is a question or concern her phone number can be on the Teton County Website. She is a resource to the community and values the seat that she serves the public.
“I do anything that is legal they ask me to do,” Jaconetty added.
The feeling is mutual for Pauly Miller in Blaine County, integrity goes hand in hand with transparency to ensure that they are doing everything in the office the correct way.
Tucek explained, “Even though my front door is controlled access now because of election security, people can always stop by and say, ‘Hi’ and if they have questions about what we do, just come, and talk to us.”
The open-door policy is taken to another level in these counties across the state. Jaconetty also told MTN News that the media is an advocate, and the Choteau Acantha Newspaper is her go-to for getting information to the public.
The obligation to serve is in the Oath of Office and Candidacy. Respect for the processes and responsibility comes in the job title, not only for the job and the one in office but for the community that relies on an elected official to follow the law.
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