Tuesday marks last election at helm for Routt County Clerk and Recorder
Kim Bonner, who is retiring in December, started in the office in 1975.
Tuesday marks the last election that Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kim Bonner will oversee, ending an extended run working for the county, which started with a job renewing license plates in 1975.
After attending business school for a few years, Bonner moved to the Yampa Valley to join her twin sister, who had moved to Steamboat Springs after high school and was married with a young child. There were at most two stoplights in town when Bonner arrived.
She got a job filing vehicle licenses and taking minutes at Board of Routt County Commissioners meetings in November 1975, when Colorado still required drivers to get new license plates each year, making for some busy times in the Clerk’s Office.
“One year we had such a busy day on Feb. 28 there was a line out the front of the courthouse all day long,” Bonner said.
They used electric typewriters and had to make five copies of the forms — one to be filed alphabetically, one by license plate number and three more for reasons now unclear. Elections were tallied by hand, with the vote counting not starting until after polls closed.
In 1982, the then-clerk and recorder opted to retire and asked Bonner if she would be interested in running to be the next clerk — an elected position with a four-year term in Colorado. Bonner, then a Republican, won the election and took over as clerk and recorder the following January.
Then Routt County had a population of only about 14,000 people, and elections took place almost entirely on Election Day.
“There were a lot of late nights counting,” Bonner said.
In 1986, when she was pregnant with her first son, there was a commissioner recall election, which required Bonner to act as a judge dealing with high-dollar attorneys from Denver.
“I didn’t go to school for being a judge or a lawyer,” Bonner said. “The law still puts the clerk in that position, but back then, there wasn’t much in the way of law on recalls.”
After two terms, Bonner was expecting her third son in five years and opted to stay home to watch her children rather than pay for child care, which was expensive even then. For about 15 years she stayed home and raised her boys with her husband, Dan, helping fundraise and run tournaments for the local youth hockey.
Eventually, it was time to go back to work. Bonner was hired back by the clerk who was elected when she left, starting out in the recording and motor vehicle offices. Eventually she shifted over to elections until 2014, when she decided to run for clerk again, this time as a Democrat.
“I kind of took on the party that my parents were when I was younger,” Bonner said. “Based on where you live and the ideals of the parties and stuff just got me thinking I was more Democratic thinking.”
But that designation didn’t last long. At a conference with peers in Washington and Oregon, Bonner decided she would switch her affiliation to independent ahead of her 2018 reelection campaign, a move that she hoped would instill more confidence in the electoral process.
So much has changed in elections since her first stint as clerk.
“When I came back as clerk this time, I had a really hard time following all the rules, because there were so many of them we didn’t have before,” Bonner said.
Documents were recorded into a big book each day, people still smoked in the office, and the courthouse was much fuller than it is now, with seven people in the Clerk’s Office packed into one small space. Now the Clerk’s Office takes up most of the main floor of the courthouse.
What hasn’t changed over the years is the respect Bonner has had in the community.
“The hardest part of adjusting to her not being here is seeing all of the old locals come in. There is at least five a day that try to go in and say ‘hi’ to her,” said Katie McCaulley, deputy clerk in motor vehicles. “From the public angle, everyone else is going to have a hard time not seeing her in that office.”
Many of Bonner’s employees said she is the hardest working elected official in the county, if not beyond.
“She is here every day, and she works hard all the time,” said Pam Reid, motor vehicle supervisor. “Through COVID she was here behind closed doors with us, working the front lines and taking care of the masses of paperwork.”
“Kim went out of her way to make sure that we all continued to work during COVID,” said Diana Lopes, motor vehicle operations manager. “She treats us like family, and we’re really going to miss that. She is the best boss anybody could ask for.”
Bonner said she has enjoyed working in the office, especially because of the young women she worked with after raising three boys.
“They just have a different way of communicating,” Bonner said.
Jenny Thomas, Bonner’s current chief deputy clerk, is her recommendation to succeed her, though the Board of Commissioners will make an appointment later this year.
“She has given us such a positive environment to grow,” Thomas said. “She has taught me how to be tough in a rough world full of skeptics just by working harder, keeping a smile on my face and always remembering to have some fun along the way.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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