BRATTLEBORO — Town Clerk Annette Cappy has set the stage for her departure at the end of this year.
"I know I'm going to miss it. I know I am. It's very bittersweet," she said. "I'm proud of the work I've done and my team has done with me. I think we've instituted a lot of changes to streamline processes and make it easier for the citizens of the town. We've put a lot of things, especially land records, online and just made the process for doing business in the Town Clerk's Office so much easier for the public than it was 28 years ago. I'm going to miss that creativity. That was fun. And I'm going to miss the people a lot."
Over the past year, Cappy has helped bring changes to the dog and cemetery ordinances. Updates to the land records program and reorganization of the vault records also were completed. A procedures manual for the next town clerk is being assembled now.
Last week, the Select Board announced Cappy will retire on Dec. 31.
"I am sad but pleased at the same time," Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein said before thanking Cappy for her years of service. "She has supervised dozens of elections and 41 town meetings. She's issued thousands of birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses and dog licenses."
For now, Cappy has no plans in mind except to spend time with family. Her father will turn 94 soon and she'd like to hang out with him, her husband, children and grandchildren more. She said she's going to slow down a bit and give the future some thought.
Since she "fought hard" for same-day voter registration, Cappy has volunteered to assist with it. She was even invited when the bill was signed by the governor. Early voting was made easier and more private this year with a tabulator in Cappy's office. The Town Charter was updated to allow for its use.
"We're the only municipality in Vermont doing it this way and the Secretary of State's Office is sort of keeping their eye on it because they're very much in favor of this charter change and very much looking to make it go statewide if it's a success here. And I don't know why it can't be a success here. We've put in a lot of security procedures to ensure the tabulator or the ballot box can't be tampered with. I think we've designed a pretty good program and a pretty good cause for having it go statewide."
The feeling that Cappy would be missed among the department heads, officials and members of her staff, whom she called "an amazing group of people," was mutual.
"I worked with her all the years she's been there," said Steve Barrett, director of the Department of Public Works. "She's a fantastic town clerk. She made that office what it is today. She's brought it up to a really high level. She's very professional."
Appointed by the Select Board in 1989 and staying on to assist with elections and Representative Town Meeting in March 2017, Cappy will have served for close to 28 years to the day when all is said and done. Her appointment has been ratified by Town Meeting Representatives every year.
Barrett said he is "definitely" going to miss Cappy's presence.
"She's got a big job with the town elections and Town Meeting. She's the principle player in organizing and preparing those meetings," Barrett said. "She's going to be hard to replace."
Previously, Cappy was employed by the Department of Social Welfare. She determined the eligibility of welfare clients for 13 years.
Before that, Cappy worked for the Reformer for about five years. She managed records involving advertising and circulation for the newspaper. She could not recall seeing a computer in the office back then.
"In fact, when I took this job," she said of the town clerk position, "there was only one computer. Basically, it alphabetized the voter checklist. Now, we have nine computers."
Staffing has decreased, Cappy said. Four full-time positions, including hers, are now down to two full-time and one part-time. The biggest reason, she said, is the "computerization of a lot of what we do. We've streamlined lots of the programs."
Cappy was a member of St. Michael School's last graduating class before the high school closed. She was born in Brattleboro.
"Most of my life I've lived here. This has always been my home," Cappy said. "It's been a great place to grow up and a great place to raise my own children. And some of my grandchildren are here now. I've always liked Brattleboro. For Vermont, I think it's a pretty progressive town. It's pretty liberal. It's a great place to be."
Town Manager Peter Elwell called Cappy "a dedicated public servant, an innovative professional and a really nice person. Those characteristics have made her an outstanding town clerk and we are going to miss her very much. (Cappy) has served the people of Brattleboro so well for so long."
Cappy's coming into the position came by way of "kind of a fluke," she said, having seen an advertisement in the Reformer about the former town clerk leaving.
"I don't know why," she said. "I just felt that was a great job. I didn't have a full idea of what the position entailed. But here I am. It was the best decision I've ever made. It's been a great experience and I'm going to miss it."
The highlight of her career happened back in 2000, when Vermont became the first state in the country to legalize civil unions. Cappy opened her office at midnight to issue the first marriage license.
"That was very satisfying," she said.
Cappy had not known the couple until they met to make the plans. The two local women "had waited so long for this to become effective," she said, and it was happening on July 4th weekend.
Other offices in the state would not open. But Cappy felt if the office kept different hours to accommodate hunters, she could do the same for people who were in love.
The next morning, Cappy issued licenses for two more couples. "One had come up from New Jersey, two older gentlemen. I was standing behind my desk and one of them reached over," she said, getting choked up by the memory. "He took my hand and said, 'You'll never know what this means to us.' Then I got teary eyed. Then we just hugged and hugged and cried and I got it. It was just a great feeling. I felt, in a small part, I had done something good."
The story was picked up by news agencies throughout the country. The coverage brought a lot of couples to Brattleboro, said Cappy, who also received hate email and heard rumblings about plans for a violent protest.
Speaking of hate mail, Cappy received thousands of notes after residents voted to have President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney arrested as war criminals if they came to Brattleboro. "People thought since I brought it to the ballot, it was me who brought it forth. One website had a photo of me with a clown nose as a jerk of the week. I was just doing my job. It caused a big stir."
Eight years ago, Cappy was involved in an investigation. A woman was bringing undocumented men from Brazil to get married in Vermont so they could become U.S. citizens. "It must have been 15 to 20 couples. We were working with INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and the FBI. Some of the couples that came in were pretty interesting. It wasn't too hard to figure out something wasn't quite right."
While much of the job is defined by statutes, Cappy noted the large amount of freedom she has enjoyed to create and design programs.
"A lot of it is pretty fun," she said. "There's a lot of stress tied to it, too. Especially election time, that's my big stressor. But there's always a sense of accomplishment especially when you finish and you feel your team has done a great job."
Voter turnout likely has increased over the years, according to Cappy. But she said she has seen a drastic decrease in the number of Town Meeting members.
"I can't really say I know what that's attributed to," she said. "I know a lot of old Town Meeting members have felt that it's time to turn it over to a younger generation. But I don't see a lot of the younger generation stepping forward. Some do. We love to see new faces at Town Meeting."
In 2012, Cappy was named Town Clerk of the Year by the Vermont Municipal Clerks' and Treasurers' Association. Members of the association decide who receives the recognition.
"It was quite an honor and quite humbling," said Cappy, who has earned certificates by taking ongoing educational courses through the VMCTA and the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.
Facebook users wished Cappy well and noted their admiration.
"(Cappy) is such a pleasant professional person who has served the town so well for all of these years," said Frederic Dolomite Noyes. "I've enjoyed talking with her about music and our families more than town affairs."
Lorie Abolafia Cartwright said Cappy's dedication to the town is unmatched.
"Her passion for voting rights has been appreciated by countless numbers of people!" Cartwright said.
Joyce Rathbun added, "Way to go! Congratulations! You must be very excited."
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.