Supervisors and boards can often change, but town clerks offer the steady hand that provides continuity in local government. At the end of this month, four town clerks will retire in Niagara County – or one-third of the clerks serving the county’s 12 towns.
They are: Rebecca A. “Becky” Connolly, Somerset town clerk for the past 29 years; Lou Ann Murawski, who has served as town clerk in Cambria for the past 17 years and was also the Town of Niagara clerk from 1976 to 1985; Carol J. Brandon, who has served as Lewiston town clerk for the past 15 years; and Gail Zachary, Porter town clerk for the past six years.
Rebecca A. “Becky” Connolly, a Hartland native, started her career in local government as deputy village clerk in Barker after her children started school. When Clerk/Treasurer Mary Weld retired, Connolly stepped in and spent 10 years in Barker government before being appointed town clerk in Somerset. Shortly thereafter, she ran for office unopposed and remained unchallenged in every bid for that spot throughout her career.
“I love the interaction with people,” she said. “I have made a lot of acquaintances throughout the state by holding office in state associations, and it really put Somerset on the map.”
Of her decision to retire, Connolly said, “I didn’t want to commit to another four years – it’s time for new blood. Now I’m going to play. I’ll spend more time with family. We have a daughter in Virginia, and maybe we’ll see her more.”
Connolly’s husband, Dan, is a General Motors retiree.
Connolly, 63, is a past president of the New York State Town Clerks Association, as well as the Association of Towns for New York State. She was also the first town clerk in the state to have been designated a master municipal clerk by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.
Long recognized by others in town governments as the “go-to girl” on town matters, Connolly laughed and said, “They know if they have questions, they can call me. They have my cell number and my email.”
Tracy Carmer was elected last month to succeed Connolly. Carmer has served as Connolly’s deputy for the past seven years. Carmer began her career in Town Hall in the Supervisor’s Office in 2002 and has also served as clerk at the town’s water/sewer treatment plant.
Lou Ann Murawski began her career as deputy town clerk in the Town of Niagara at age 21. She was elected town clerk in 1976, a job she held until she resigned in 1985 after the birth of her second child, to spend more time with her young family.
“I have had the best of both worlds,” said Murawski, referring to her ability to raise her family and work for local governments. “It all worked out, and it’s been such a blessing.”
She re-entered the workforce on a part-time basis at the Town of Niagara, then Niagara County, before joining the staff at the Town of Cambria as a deputy clerk in 1994. She was elected town clerk in 1996.
The Town of Niagara native moved with her family to the Town of Cambria in 1985.
“I am grateful to have served in such a rewarding career that has also afforded me the opportunity to meet some incredible people who have truly enriched my life,” she said. “I am appreciative of my deputy clerks, both past and present, who assisted me throughout the years of my service.”
Tamara J. Cooper, who has served as Murawski’s deputy for the past 11 years, will become town clerk Jan. 1.
Like Connolly in Somerset, Lewiston Town Clerk Carol J. Brandon has long been a fixture in her town – more than 37 years, in fact.
She served for a decade as deputy clerk under then-Town Clerk MaryBeth Brado beginning in 1973, then worked as a special projects coordinator for former Assemblyman Joseph Pillittere for a dozen years. She was appointed town clerk Sept. 23, 1998, and was elected to the post six weeks later to fill the one-year unexpired term. She has been re-elected five times.
She made her official announcement this month and said her last day will be on her 77th birthday, Dec. 27. She admitted that after a year clouded by FBI investigations into alleged wrongdoings by Supervisor Steven Reiter and politics, she had become “disillusioned.”
“But I had reservations,” she said of the final decision. “It’s kind of surreal. You put your name on a piece of paper one day and say – that’s it.’”
She added that she’ll miss her office staff and the people she deals with on a daily basis.
“It’s been fun, having that one-on-one contact with people,” said Brandon. “I will miss the staff and the people I have met on this job. I think by working, it’s kept me moving and given me a purpose.
“I’m going to have to find something in January,” she added smiling. “I don’t have anything planned. We’re going to go on vacation.”
She and her husband of 15 years, Robert Linn, who were both widowed when they met, are parents to a combined seven children and have 16 grandchildren.
She said she also plans to volunteer in the community.
Brandon, no shrinking wallflower, admits she has been outspoken over the years, but has no regrets about sharing her expertise in town law.
She said she is both a registered and certified town clerk, which entails additional education, and recently completed a three-year term as president of the New York Association of Town Clerks District 10, which encompasses four counties.
Brandon’s deputy clerk, Donna Garfinkle, 50, has been a resident of Lewiston for 31 years and has served as a deputy clerk for 23 years. Garfinkle, whom Brandon recommended for the job, was appointed acting town clerk by the board to fill the position in 2014 and is expected to run for office the following year.
Gail Zachary, who turned 65 last month, has spent a total of three decades in Porter town government – the past six years as town clerk.
Prior to the clerk’s post, Zachary served 12 years as deputy clerk and 12 years in the Assessor’s Office.
“They had an opening in the Assessor’s Office, and I was approached to apply, so I did,” she said of her introduction to Porter Town Hall after moving to Ransomville in 1979.
“I will miss the people the most – the residents and the staff,” Zachary said.
“They say the town clerk is the door to your government. We can assuage some problems here, and all we need to do is give someone a phone number, if we don’t know the answer here. The clerk is the link between the residents and the town board. It’s been great.”
Zachary and her husband, Richard, a Niagara County Sheriff’s Office retiree, own an RV and plan to put it to good use, visiting a combined five children and 13 grandchildren between them, residing from Wilson to Missouri.
Barb DuBell, her deputy of six years, will take the reins Jan. 1 DuBell has been at Town Hall for 14 years and started her career in the Assessor’s Office, as well.