Filing for several Phelps County elected offices will get underway later this month, but one name you won’t see on the ballot in August or November is County Clerk Carol Bennett.

Filing for several Phelps County elected offices will get underway later this month, but one name you won’t see on the ballot in August or November is County Clerk Carol Bennett.
The longtime county employee will not seek re-election this year and plans to retire at the end of 2014.
Bennett was first appointed to the office of county clerk in April 1997 by then Gov. Mel Carnahan. She ran for her first full four-year term in 1998.
When she retires in December, she will have served a little more than four terms.
“I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity to serve the people of Phelps County for so many years,” Bennett said. “Public service is one of the most satisfying careers and mine has been unbelievable.
“I have always taken great pride in the office and have been humbled by the support and friendship I have received from the people of Phelps County over the years,” she added.
Before Bennett was appointed, she spent more than a decade working in the county clerk’s office. In 1984, she started a part-time job in the office when Bill Huskey was Phelps County clerk.
She credits Lucie Smith, who later became Phelps County Clerk, as her mentor.
Bennett said the county clerk’s office has the same number of staff currently as it did in 1984.
Changes in the election process and voter registration are some of the things that stood out to her during her time in office.
“They were still writing voter registration cards by hand when I started,” Bennett said, noting that over time, she helped in the automation of voter registration.
For the first time, the secretary of state’s office now allows voter registration to take place online.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said. “There’s been a lot of changes in 30 years.”
Moving from the old courthouse to the current building in the 1990s as well as the new sheriff’s office/jail also are things she remembers over the years in office.
Bennett called the county clerk’s office a “fast-paced, busy office,” but said she loves being there.
“I will miss being in the office, but the time has come to spend time with my husband, my sons, my 2-year-old granddaughter and the twin grandchildren are due in July,” Bennett said.
She said because of the responsibilities and constant deadlines that come with being county clerk, it makes it difficult — or impossible sometimes — to spend time away from the office when she would rather being spending it with her grandchildren.
While she won’t be moving out of the area, in retirement after the end of the year, she will have the freedom to visit family more often.
“I’m ready for less stress and to spend more relaxing time,” Bennett said.
Bennett said she wouldn’t be able to do her job were it not for the staff in her office, as well as the election judges, who she said she truly appreciates and do an amazing job.
After Dec. 31, 2014, Bennett said she looks forward to more time for camping in the Ozarks. Bennett also is a member of the Rolla Lioness Club.
In May 2013, Bennett received the first Sheffield-Kenley award at the Rolla Optimist Club’s Respect for Law banquet.

About the office
“A county clerk has to be very hands on and very aware of what’s going on” is how Bennett described her job, which she also said is a physical one.
An ideal county clerk must be able to meet deadlines as well as have an even temperament. “They must like people and like serving people,” she said. An accounting background doesn’t hurt either, Bennett added.
A county clerk does things that aren’t done anywhere else.
“You have think on your feet and be a fast learner,” she said. “You have to be dedicated and willing to do whatever it takes.”
When Bennett talks about her job to clubs and organizations, she talks about elections and budgets and recordkeeping during county commission meetings, but when she says “do whatever it takes,” she means it.
While this is no longer the case, Bennett said one of the office’s past functions involved paying residents for animals’ ears.
“Up until recent times, you could shoot a coyote, bring it to the courthouse and we would cut off its ears and check it in and send you a check for $5 per coyote.”
While the county no longer offers that service, one the major functions of the county clerk is elections. This includes maintaining a voter registration list of some 27,000 voters in the county, overseeing candidate filing and campaign finance disclosure report filing, preparing ballots, including handling absentee ballots, as well as conducting and certifying all elections in the county.
Bennett said election days usually begin at 4:30-5 a.m. and can end around 9 p.m. to midnight or later, sometimes.
“At times, we can be processing absentee ballots for two different elections at the same time and filing candidates for a third election. It gets pretty wild,” she said.
The county clerk is also the county’s budget officer, meaning the clerk is responsible for preparing an annual budget to be approved by the county commissioners and administering the approved budget throughout the year. The 2014 budget totaled over $15.3 million.
The county clerk also handles payroll and employee benefits, such as health insurance, for all county employees, which currently total more than 200.
“We process over $5 million in payroll and benefits each year,” Bennett said.
The county clerk’s office also takes care of paperwork for new employees as well are terminated ones.
The county clerk also keeps records and minutes as well as prepares agendas for all county commission meetings. This also means keeping track of contracts, agreements, leases, grant and project paperwork and reports.
Seeking bids for and purchasing supplies, equipment and materials for all offices is handled through the county clerk’s office.
A handful of other responsibilities includes issuing liquor and auctioneer licenses, notary public commissions and passports; selling plat books; preparing railroad and utility tax books and bills; settling with the collector and treasurer; providing information to the public; booking county meeting rooms; and performing voter registration, including new voters or updates or changes to voters’ information.