Georgia ready to take a few things off her mind
To put Georgia Chamberlain’s retirement after 28 years as Garfield County treasurer into perspective, consider the first time she walked into the office after first being elected.
“There was only one computer, and they were still hand-posting the tax rolls into a log book,” Chamberlain recalled. “One of the ladies was using a hand-lever counting machine.”
Modernizing the treasurer’s office was one of the first orders of business, and it’s been a rewarding job ever since, said Chamberlain, who is officially retiring at the end of December after deciding not to run this year for an eighth term in office.
Taking the helm next month will be Karla Bagley of Silt, a longtime employee of the Eagle County Treasurer’s Office and chief deputy public trustee in that county, who ran unopposed for the Garfield treasurer’s post in the Nov. 4 election.
Also retiring will be Chamberlain’s appointed public trustee for the past 14 years, Bob Slade. Both were honored at a retirement party thrown by fellow county workers last week.
“This is a historic moment,” remarked Garfield County Manager Andrew Gorgey, “because it will be the last time in a long time that one elected official has as much experience as all three county commissioners combined.”
Indeed, Chamberlain has seen a lot of changes during her tenure as the county’s official tax collector and one of the longest-serving county elected officials, at least in recent history.
Chamberlain, a Democrat, also recalled that the job is much more complex than she was led to believe when she managed to beat Republican Art Weaver in the 1986 election, replacing retiring Treasurer Ella Stephens.
GEORGIA ON THEIR MINDS
As the story goes, Chamberlain’s husband, John Foulkrod, who was in his first stint as a Carbondale town trustee at the time, was at a county Democratic Party gathering when they began discussing potential candidates to run for treasurer.
“John came home and said, ‘Have I got a job for you,’” she related. “‘All you have to do is send out tax notices and collect the money, and you get paid $30,000 a year for it!’”
At the time, Chamberlain was the owner of Secretarial Services in Carbondale and had a banking background, so it seemed like something she could pursue.
Among her clients at the time was actress Grace Huffman of Aspen, mother of Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” fame.
She also began helping take care of Felicity’s father, Moore Huffman, who was in ill health but served as Chamberlain’s “honorary” campaign manager.
Foulkrod spearheaded the campaign, though. And with the campaign theme “Keep Georgia on Your Mind” and a grass roots effort that included a lot of parade appearances and door-knocking, Chamberlain was able to win the election.
“We had two young kids in school, so that helped in knowing a lot of people,” she said. “And a lot of it was just getting out and introducing myself.”
Chamberlain said she has maintained that same approach throughout her tenure, although she quickly learned the job involved more than soliciting and taking in the county’s tax money.
For one, the paperwork involved could be a bit overwhelming at times, she said, and the close attention to detail when it came to dealing with property owners’ tax payments always had to be a top priority.
“That’s one of the biggest checks people will write every year, and it’s nice to have a face to put that property tax payment with,” Chamberlain said. “There’s a huge amount of trust involved, and it’s important to have that human element.”
As the dreaded tax collector, she of course got told where to go on a few occasions, her longtime public trustee, Slade, reminded her.
Then there was the time one of the local hotel owners rolled in a wheelbarrow full of pennies to make his tax payment.
“I had to call the sheriff’s office for an escort to get it down to my car and to the bank,” Chamberlain said.
“Bob and I have been a pretty good team, and have really focused on doing the job right and maintaining the human element,” she said.
As public trustee, Slade is charged with the duties of holding deeds of trust between lenders and borrowers on loans, and overseeing foreclosures for lenders, which has been a particularly busy job in recent years since the Great Recession of 2008.
“Thankfully, that cycle appears to be over,” Slade said, noting that foreclosures this year have been at their lowest level since 2008.
“We do tend to be pretty open in what we do here, especially in answering whatever questions people have,” said Slade, a former mortgage banker who now plans to retire in Arizona after a full career.
“One of my main goals has been to emphasize customer service, and really working to give people the opportunity to gain the insight and knowledge they need to take care of business as it relates to the public trustee’s office,” Slade said.
A PIECE OF HISTORY
Chamberlain said one of the many things she has enjoyed about being treasurer is the historical aspect of county records. She recalled one elderly lady who came in asking to see the handwritten tax rolls one time.
“She started to cry when she found her father’s name next to the family property; it was just something very special for her,” Chamberlain said. “The history of all the land records of the county is something I’ve always been in awe of.”
Like the “Scalp Book” that used to live in the office, which kept record of ranchers who got paid for bringing in coyote scalps or hides, something that was formally encouraged as part of the eradication efforts in the early part of the 20th century.
Chamberlain also spent many years working hand-in-hand with the other elected county officials, including numerous county commissioners and the “second-floor team” made up of the treasurer, clerk and recorder and county assessor. All three offices are located on the second floor of the Garfield County Courthouse.
Longtime former Garfield Clerk and Recorder Mildred Alsdorf was one of the few county elected officials to serve as many years as Chamberlain, putting in 28 years in office from 1978 to 2006. Ella Stephens also served 28 years before her retirement in 1986, but in two different offices, as both clerk and recorder and treasurer.
Outgoing Garfield County Coroner Trey Holt is concluding 20 years in office this year, while current County Commissioner John Martin has been in office 18 years and counting.
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