Sandy Harris stands in front of the Vernon town offices. (Mike Faher/Reformer)
Sandy Harris stands in front of the Vernon town offices. (Mike Faher/Reformer)
Wednesday February 27, 2013

VERNON -- Starting next week, Sandy Harris won't be reporting to work at the Vernon town office.

But that doesn't mean the town clerk, who is retiring after 23 years, will be taking it easy: Harris plans to travel, help educate her grandson and maybe even learn to play a new instrument.

"I don't think I'll be bored," Harris said with a laugh.

For Harris, the decision to step away from a job she's held since 1990 was an easy one. Harris said she has known for years that she would not pursue another term in office when her youngest grandson was ready to be home-schooled.

"I really enjoy my grandkids," Harris said. "I want to spend time with them and with my husband and kids."

Harris served briefly as an assistant under longtime Town Clerk Betty Underwood before taking over the clerk's job. As she left office, Underwood gave her successor some valuable advice.

"She told me, ‘Take advantage of every educational opportunity you have, because things will constantly change,'" Harris recalled.

That has proven true, especially when it comes to technology. Harris said that, when she started work in Vernon, there was just one computer at the town office.

"E-mail was nonexistent," she said. "Scanning was unheard of."

Now, scanning plays a big role in one of Harris' ongoing projects: She has been working to digitize thousands of the town's land records so that those vital documents can be preserved.

Mostly, though, Harris said she simply has enjoyed the daily routine of helping fellow residents in a community where her family has deep roots.

"I like the whole job," Harris said. "It's a great town."

Though she's never lost an election since taking the clerk's job, things haven't always been smooth. Last year, the state attorney general's office investigated and subsequently cleared Harris after she had been accused of misappropriating town funds.

It was suggested at the time that the allegations had been politically motivated. Harris said she sees the ordeal as another learning experience.

"It was difficult. And it was very humbling because of the number of people who supported me," she said.

Harris added that she believes Vernon residents "know that I care about them. They know I would never do anything knowingly to hurt the town."

In spite of the controversy, Harris last year won a three-year term on the Vernon Selectboard. She plans to continue serving on the governing body.

She said she has enjoyed working with the town office staff and with many Selectboard members during her time as clerk. And the feeling appears to be mutual.

"I wish her every bit of health and happiness in her retirement," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said. "It's going to be a big loss for Vernon."

O'Donnell said Harris' institutional knowledge is invaluable. Selectboard members saw that firsthand when Harris was out of the office due to illness during the run-up to this year's Town Meeting.

"We were struggling, trying to do the articles, because Sandy's always done them," O'Donnell said. "So there's going to be a huge void."

Harris still plans to do the minutes from next week's Town Meeting, where a new clerk will be elected. After that, Harris' duties are finished, though she said she will be available to help the next town clerk ease into the job.

Harris also said there are many other resources for a new clerk.

"The clerks in the state of Vermont are incredibly good at helping other clerks," Harris said.

In addition to her continuing service on the Vernon Selectboard, Harris also remains on the board of directors for the Vermont League of Cities & Towns. She also belongs to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and plans to attend that organization's world conference later this year in Australia.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.