Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Boardman reflects on years of public service


March 19, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Retired Blaine County Clerk and Recorder Sandi Boardman holds her grandson Jaxton while he plays with his bother, Jacob. Boardman, who spent her entire working life, starting in high school, in the Blaine County Clerk and Recorder's Office, retired from her position in December.

The past few months have been a big change for Sandi Boardman, who after 23 years as Blaine County Clerk and Recorder/Assessor and 44 years working in the office, retired in December.

Instead of spending her weekdays at the Blaine County Courthouse, she now spends them in her living room greeting her grandson Jacob, 10, when he comes home from school and watching her other grandson 4-month-old Jaxton at her home. She also visits and takes care of her parents who are in their 90s and also live in Chinook.

"I had been contemplating retirement for a longtime," Boardman said, as she held Jaxton.

Tammy Williams, who had worked for more than 30 years in the office, was appointed by the county commissioners to replace Boardman after she had retired.

"I just decided that  I needed to do it and enjoy family," Boardman said. "Life is too short."

The office of the Blaine County Clerk and Recorder/Assessor is the only place Boardman had ever worked.

Boardman helped oversee elections and voter registration within the county. She also issued and handled birth and death certificates, assisted county commissioners in preparing the county's annual budget, crafted the county's annual financial report, handled payroll, recorded meetings and kept and retrieved documents as clerk to the commissioners.

"I loved it," she said.

Boardman is a lifelong Blaine County resident who grew up in Zurich where her father was a sugar beet farmer.

From grades kindergarten through eighth, she went to school in Zurich and spent her high school years at Chinook High School.

She said that as a high school student, she wanted to go to college after graduation to study and then start a career in business.

The path to what would become her career, though, began in 1973 as a high school senior. As part of a business class she had taken, her teacher gave employers in Chinook a list of students willing to work part-time.

Then-Clerk and Recorder/Accessor Chora Musgrove chose Boardman to work part-time in the office,

Boardman received class credit and a minimum wage salary for the work she did. It was the first job the 17-year-old Boardman ever had.

Her last-period class was study hall and she would then head to the courthouse, where she would work until 5 p.m. and also work during school holiday vacations.

At first, Boardman said, she was uneasy about working in the office.

"It was scary going to work that first day, being a kid and going in with adults," Boardman said. "I didn't know anyone in the office or the commissioners, I didn't know anybody then."

Her knowledge of county government was nonexistent, but she caught on quickly with the help of her co-workers.

"Everyone was nice," she said. "They were all wonderful."

Throughout the years, she said, she has had a working relationship with the county commissioners and all the county departments.

When she graduated, Musgrove offered her a full-time job as a clerk, which she began a week after graduation.

Boardman eventually worked her way up to the position of deputy clerk and recorder/assessor. In 1994, she made her first run for the office of county clerk and recorder/assessor.

She said that when she first ran for the position, she was nervous, never before having been in charge of employees.

Throughout the years, Boardman said, she has loved her job for the range of tasks it required.

A self-described people person, she said her favorite parts of the job were interacting with the public and the financial duties her office was tasked with performing.

"I was always intrigued with getting everything balanced to the penny," she said. "I guess I am a stickler like that."

In her time working with the county, Boardman has seen Blaine County and its government undergo widespread changes.

When she started working in the office the county commission offices were not full-time positions, she said. Commissioners would work only the first week and third Monday of each month.

One of the commissioners at the time, though, John Stevens, would show up at the courthouse each day in his suit and tie, she said.

The county in decades past also had more money, due to larger oil and gas payments than it is receiving now.

Boardman was in the office in 1980 when it moved to a new location in the courthouse, something she said sticks out to her because it was the year she was pregnant with her daughter Jennifer.

"I remember moving down to the new office pregnant,' Boardman said.

She added that, beyond it's location, the office itself underwent transformation, as it went from the world of typewriters in the 1970s to the current world of computers and the internet.

When she first started, Boardman said, everything in the office had to be done by hand.

In the 1980s, the office got its first computers, IBM mainframe computers that used large floppy disks. Terminals back then were not at every desk, but at a few work stations within the office shared by employees.

When she first started, the office had a small copy machine that could only take one sheet of paper and produce one copy at a time.

The county also changed how it counted votes during Boardman's time as clerk and recorder/assessor.

Until 2005, the county tallied votes by hand, which often made for long nights in the office, as well as for the election judges.

"There were nights that we were there until 4 or 5 a.m. waiting for the results, waiting for the judges from the precincts to get them counted," she said.

Boardman oversaw three recounts during her time as clerk and recorder/assessor, two for state legislative elections and one for for Blaine County sheriff, the 1998 race between Glenn Huestas and write-in candidate Pete Paulsen.

She said the sheriff's race was very emotional.

In the recount, write-in votes for Paulsen were tossed out because they contained misspellings, had only his last name or the ballots were improperly marked, and were thereby under state law invalidated by the county commissioners who served as the recount board, reviewing every ballot.

The case then went to district court and eventually made its way up to the Montana Supreme Court. Huestis was eventually declared the winner, but the race was something that she said a lot of voters took personally and it was kind of hard on her.

Boardman said that she and the county had to follow the law when it comes to counting ballots.

Beyond elections, she said, the job has had other challenges.

The revenue crunch comes as expenses have risen.

"Our budgets are all smaller, but when you go to buy anything, everything is really, really expensive," Boardman said.

One change that Boardman said she is sad that she didn't get to see during her time as clerk and recorder/assessor is the adoption of mail ballot elections. Oregon and Washington have their elections by mail ballot.

Boardman said that the change increases voter participation and helps save counties money and makes an election easier for counties to manage, especially in a county where polling places are so widely spread out.

This past legislative session, lawmakers proposed legislation that would have allowed counties to conduct the special congressional election last May by mail.

Clerk and recorder's offices throughout the state said it would save money and help counties that were having trouble recruiting election judges.

Opponents, including some Republican lawmakers, state legislators from Indian Country and Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton opposed the proposal, saying conducting mail ballot elections could increase Democratic turnout or be susceptible to voting fraud.

Boardman said mail ballots are safe and are scanned to make sure that the handwriting on the envelope a voter must sign when submitting their ballot matches that of the voter.

"It's secure," she said.

Boardman, a Democrat. said she is disappointed by how government, especially voting has become so politicized. Elected officials, she said, need to do what is best for their constituents and put partisanship aside.

"Get your party hat off," she said.

Politics is something that was not discussed in the office, she said, even though people who came in to register or vote absentee would often try to do so.

"Our office, there is just absolutely no political talking," Boardman said.

Elections have to be carried out free of bias and Boardman said they are thanks in part to election judges.

An election judge from Hays, she said, presented her with a star quilt as a gift at the open house at the Blaine County Courthouse in January to honor Boardman's decades of service.

The farewell party was very emotional, she said.

Though she will miss the people she worked alongside and she loved working for the county, Boardman said that she has no regrets about her decision to move on.

"I am happy I retired, life is too short," she said. "I think I gave Blaine County enough years."


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