Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
FLETCHER — She’s the smiling lady in the Fletcher Clerk’s Office and has been so for over 31 years. But next week will be Elaine Sweet’s last as town clerk.
“It’s the next step in my life,” said Sweet in an interview last week.
Her final day is August 27, and as she gets ready to depart the position she’s held for most of her adulthood, Sweet took some time to look back.
Sweet was working at Franklin Lamoille Bank – now TD Bank – when she learned about the position.
“I had heard that the town clerk was going to be retiring,” she said. Sweet ran for the office and was elected in 1984 at 30 years old – she said it wasn’t a straightforward job to learn.
“[The former clerk] was very evasive about what to do, and now I know why – you do everything,” said Sweet. Dog licenses, taxes, marriage licenses – town clerks wear many hats.
In addition, back in the day, there were no computers to speed up the process.
“We weren’t even automated,” said Sweet, adding that she used ledgers and adding machines in the beginning. “I had to go buy my calculator and I didn’t even know if there was enough money in the budget,” she said.
Fortunately, an IBMer sat on the selectboard – Frank Driscoll – and another contributor, Ed Moore of Underhill, helped bring the office up to speed in the 1990’s. “Almost everything is on a computer now,” said Sweet.
She also had the help of assistant Gloria Brunette for 27 years. “Continuity in a job is very important – she retired a few years ago,” Sweet said. Local resident Sandy Spaulding then came on for 18 months before stepping down.
This happened right around the time that Sweet’s mother died. A selectboard member suggested she take some time off for bereavement, but Sweet didn’t have anyone else to fill in for her. Sitting around the table with her family, she asked what she should do, and jokingly asked her niece, Kerrie, whether she wanted the assistant job.
“I don’t know, maybe,” was Kerrie’s response, and little while later, she found herself working with her aunt.
That was three years ago. “She’s great,” said Sweet. In between teasing each other and laughing, the two women keep busy in the office and helping those who come in.
And that – the people coming in – is Sweet’s favorite part of the job.
“I love people,” she said. In the middle of her interview, Sweet happened to notice one resident walking on the road – and getting soaked in an unexpected rain shower – and got up, laughing, to wave and ask what on earth she was doing. Her green eyes lit up as she looked out the door.
“Pretty much I know everyone,” said Sweet. “Especially if they’re new to town – when they come in I try to make them feel like part of the community and welcome them.”
The community is something Sweet said she has watched change over the years, and it’s been a difficult transition to witness.
“I think it started when I took the position – we’ve [gone] from a farm community to a bedroom town,” she said. “A lot of the farms folded.”
She added that developers have come in recently to build little neighborhoods – a new concept in Fletcher – and that the community is more centered around the school than anything else. The old country parade and dances at the grange hall are no longer.
“There used to have dances there – like every Saturday night – those don’t happen any more,” said Sweet.
She added, “I’m a true believer in a sense of community and I think we’ve lost that, and I don’t know how to get it back.”
One hopeful step is the new location for the town hall. It’s poised to go on a .75 acre piece of land near the country store – which went bankrupt last year but is planning to reopen with a new owner – and the school. There, said Sweet, there may be a more central feeling to the town and its activities.
“My vision was to get that piece of property,” said Sweet. The town bought it for $60,000 of set-aside land fund monies, and with a $550,000 bond vote approved at Town Meeting in March, construction on new, larger town offices are expected to be constructed and completed by the end of the year.
“My vision is complete,” said Sweet. “Basically, everything will be centrally located in that area.”
When asked if she would be sad to leave during this transition for the town of Fletcher, Sweet said she wouldn’t. She added that she also wouldn’t miss advocating for her own salary – she recalled how difficult it was to ask for, and receive, pay increases, insurance and other benefits. Two years ago, she asked that voters decide whether she could earn a $40,000 salary for her 30th year as town clerk.
“That passed by a ballot vote,” said Sweet, after a 45-minute argument over the $1,500 increase. After that item, she said voters passed a $1 million budget without discussion.
“It’s sometimes very difficult,” said Sweet.
Despite those moments, Sweet said her three decades of working with people was extremely fun, and rewarding. “The best part of this job, even though town clerks are so unrecognized and underpaid… was the people walking through the door,” said Sweet. “A lot of them are like family.”
Sweet is inviting everyone in this family to a potluck retirement party – initially supposed to be a surprise – which will be held this Saturday, Aug. 22, from 1-3 p.m. at the Fletcher Elementary School.
“They tried to keep it silent for quite awhile, and it didn’t work,” said Sweet, smirking.
After her party and her official last day, Sweet plans to embark on the next phase of her life: retirement.
“My plans are to be a snowbird,” she said. Sweet will be living in Florida between October and May with her “forever fiancé” Bruce Page, and she will be running her Partylite business.
“I love to party and now I get paid to do it,” said Sweet. “It’s going to be a great way to meet people in Florida.”
Sweet said she was looking forward to having more time to do things, to growing her business, to the warm weather, and to the promise of no more long, cold, harsh Vermont winters.
“No more boots for me – flip flops,” said Sweet.
A new town clerk has not yet been announced for Fletcher. Selectboard chair Jon Bondy wrote in an email sent Thursday: “It is the opinion of the Select Board that we cannot appoint a new Town Clerk until the old one is gone. While Elaine has resigned, we cannot appoint someone to replace her until she leaves. We have someone in mind, but that is as far as we can go at this point.”