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Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico retires after nearly two decades in office

Jean Alberico celebrates her retirement in a purple sash taht says Happy Retirement!
Courtesy Garfield County
Jean Alberico celebrated her retirement earlier this week at a party put together by other county employees.

Democrat Jean Alberico, Garfield County’s longtime clerk and recorder, officially began her retirement this week when Republican Jackie Harmon was sworn in.

Alberico has served as clerk and recorder since 2006, when she took over for Mildred Alsdorf, but has been with the county for forty years.

Over the years, she’s seen a lot of changes to both the county and her office—including a 34 percent increase in active registered voters from her first year in office to her last.

Reporter Caroline Llanes spoke with Alberico about what she'll remember most from her time in office.

Caroline Llanes: You've been Garfield County's clerk and recorder since 2006, but you've been with the county nearly 40 years. What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen in your department?

Jean Alberico: Oh, my goodness. There have been a lot of them. In all the processes, everything's been, you know, a lot of electronic advances. There's been huge changes in voter registration. And of course, you know how that's done with a statewide live database. Lots and lots of changes in how we voted in the county. Before I started here, they still had lever action machines, but the year I started was the first year that Mildred [Alsdorf] contracted with a company to have optical scanners process the voted paper ballot. So we've been using optical scanners in Garfield County to scan and tabulate election ballots since September of 1982. And then in 2013, Colorado went to the model we use now, where every active voter is mailed the ballot. And then there are also early voting and in-person voting options on Election Day for voters.

Llanes: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, that must have been a huge change, especially looking at what other states have had to deal with, especially during the pandemic and having to, now all of a sudden, make vote by mail way more accessible than it ever had been.

Alberico: Yeah, so we were way ahead of them. You know, I don't know how you manage to go from being primarily a polling place location where people voted in person to doing mail ballots. When the TABOR legislation passed that required special districts to, if they wanted to raise taxes, to go to the vote of the people or any type of, you know, government agency—that legislation allowed counties to start doing elections by mail. And Mildred went to the Board of County Commissioners and we did our first total mail ballot election starting in November of 1993, and did it in all the odd years until we were allowed, in 2010, to start doing primary elections by mail.

Llanes: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to deal with in your time with the county?

Alberico: Well, my time in the county was in the late '80s, early '90s, when, you know, after the big oil shale bust and stuff. When I started here, there were 26 employees in the county clerk's office. And by the early '90s—we had an office in Rifle one in Glenwood—but we had 14 full-time employees, counting the clerk. People did a lot more work with a lot of less help. There were probably 6 or 7 years that we had no pay increases, so that was a really difficult time working here, but we still had great benefits and stuff. So, you know, people came and went, but I learned right away—I hadn't really planned on staying here for 40 plus years. But in 1982 I needed a job with benefits, and Mildred was someone I knew, and she knew I could do the job. So she hired me and I found out that I really enjoyed working with, on a daily basis, with the public. And I did primarily motor vehicle. I helped in all areas of the office, but primarily motor vehicle for the most of my first 24 years. And so I made a lot of connections, a lot of friends, you know, and I just really enjoyed helping people.

Llanes: Is there anything about the job that really surprised you or that that you learned?

Alberico: I don't know anything that really surprised me because I had been in the office for so long and I had a great teacher. Mildred was a wonderful mentor. She was extremely personable and hospitable, and she had what I would refer to as the heart of a public servant. She, like many of us who end up in public service, working in government offices, we just, we want to help people. It’s kind of part of our inner soul. We just want to make sure that each day, you know, when people show up with their problems and stuff, that we can figure out a way to help them. And so, you know, just helping them get things done. You know, not everybody buys a new car, you know, every year or every few months. So, you know, they help them with those transactions or helping people vote because, you know, that's a really important thing to do in this time of need just to make sure that we help people who are eligible to vote have the opportunity to vote.

Llanes: Yeah, I'm really glad you mentioned that because I wanted to ask about the 2020 election. Obviously, we saw a ton of unsubstantiated claims both here in Colorado and around the country that the election was rigged or stolen and that there were issues with the way elections were conducted. What was that like for you and your team?

Alberico: You know, it was sometimes disappointing because we know how hard we work, and how hard we strive to do a great job and to make the election process transparent, and to do an accurate and efficient job of processing ballots. But ... I got a few—like almost all the county clerks across the state—like these sort of group emails from different election deniers, you know, telling you all the things you were doing wrong and that you were breaking the law.

But I got no direct threats or anything like that, unlike some of my colleagues, especially some of the clerks over on the Eastern slope, We didn't get that. You know, we had a few people who didn't want to wear their masks, a few people who didn't want to take off some of their electioneering buttons and hats and shirts and stuff. But the election judges just handled them like friends and things worked out fine.

And then this year, training election judges, I know a good portion of some of the election judges had come out of caucuses where there was a lot of election denying rhetoric and stuff. And I just made sure that… you know, we signed them up as election judges. We brought them in and they worked with people and with the staff and were able to see that all the things they were hearing were not true. And I think the majority of them realized that Garfield County and the counties in Colorado do a really good job of conducting elections.

Llanes: Is there an accomplishment that you'd say you're most proud of from your time in office?

Alberico: I think the way we tackled COVID, how we reacted to all the shutdowns and the quarantines and, you know, and we realized early on that we were not one of those officers who could stay home and work from home. You know, that we still had to have some interaction with the public because people needed to remove their plates. They needed to get new plates. So, you know, just figuring out those processes and how to initially, do it remotely or by emailing staff or faxing things or having people fill out paperwork and drop it off, you know, and how to issue marriage licenses to that and how to get people copies of birth certificates and death certificates. Just figuring out that whole process that pretty much people would call and say, well, my plates have been expired for six months, but you guys have been closed. And it's like, no, we never shut down, never did shut down. And we got really lucky that year because, you know, that was the big presidential election that year. And nobody in my office came down with COVID until after Thanksgiving, which was about two and a half weeks after the election, three weeks after the election.

Llanes: So after so long with the county, what does the next chapter look like for you? Do you have plans for your retirement?

Alberico: Well, mainly I have fairly young grandchildren. They're in first, third, and fourth grade and live with me full time. So I think we'll be up and doing a lot of tutoring, school stuff and just spending time with my husband and my grandchildren. And then, you know, I've always been active in my faith community and then I think I probably will look for some other community activities. But I also intend to kind of stay close with some of the folks here in the office. And I think I might be a little bit interested in working on elections come this fall and next year. So.

Llanes: Oh my gosh, good for you!

Alberico: Just being one of them election judges!

Llanes: So that was Jean Alberico, the former Garfield County clerk and recorder telling us a little bit about her many years with the county. Jean, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with Aspen Public Radio. And congratulations on your retirement.

Alberico: Thank you so much. All right.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.