Remembering Doris Gerner brightens this spring. A former Platte County clerk and Park Hill School Board member, she died on April 14.
News of her passing brings a reminder of a helpful and cheerful personality keeping tabs on courthouse business.
We normally wouldn’t need a brightener in spring, but then, the national election news has made us feel under siege this year. The greening of spring is weeks early, nice in a way but adding at bit of global warming tension to the season.
Politics though is the season’s damper. The words “elected official” can carry an automatic tarnish.
Yet, remembering Gerner’s stint as county clerk is a reminder of how positive grassroots Democracy can be. Good people do get elected to public office and serve their community and constituents well. Good government is an organizer of people and a provider of solutions to common needs. Sometimes effective governance is simply a matter of keeping gears in the machinery oiled, and sometimes you have to change the gears.
A county clerk in a rapidly growing metro-area burg has to do both.
Platte County was undergoing a major growth spurt when Gerner was first elected county clerk in the early 1980s. She ran the clerk’s office on the ground floor in the southwest corner of the old courthouse, once the first office you encountered, before the new county administration building was built to the north.
The office in years prior to her tenure was challenged at times.
Elections had become more difficult to run. A Trans World Airlines computer was used to count election results in a system that today seems incredibly primitive. Sometimes, problems occurred and had to be sorted out.
Elections ran more smoothly after Gerner became clerk. All things did, really.
The county clerk’s office is essentially a business office, one that under Missouri state law makes sure the county’s business is in order. The clerk maintains all official minutes, contracts and legal documents of the county commission. It’s a business far less exciting than, say, a Hollywood movie.
But mistakes can let a gear fall off the machinery.
Various tax matters, accounts payable, licenses and permits pass through the clerk’s office. It is the clerk that applies the oath of office to other county officials. A part of the job is also to supervise staff in the office.
Gerner kept good order on those matters.
Any county office holder or citizen wishing to successfully spar with the clerk’s office about an issue in those days needed to have some legal aptitude. Gerner had a reputation for being an astute and knowledgeable student of Missouri state statutes.
Elected county office holders do make important decisions, especially county commissioners, but much, if not most, is dictated by state lawmakers, some laws ancient, others simply old, a few new.
The details can get complex and involve legalities. Gerner kept them sorted.
Gerner was firm but friendly. The firm was a good quality to have when politics and public business are mixed. Gerner had served on the Park Hill School Board, including a stint as board president, prior to being elected to county office.
A school board can be a crossroads for high emotion as well as business.
Forget not, also, that Gerner had to get elected to hold office and then re-elected a few more times for her 12 years in office. It’s not easy running for election, especially in a metropolitan county.
Yet, it’s her friendly trait that probably makes me take time to remember Gerner. Not everyone in a county courthouse is friendly to a newspaper reporter. She welcomed with a smile, patiently explained issues and readily provided information for a news story.
Nothing ever felt paranoid or hidden in her office. Things were dignified yet open and pragmatic, all the best among people or democracy.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.