BARKER – Aaron Nellist recalls first attending Barker Village Board meetings as a “concerned citizen” and marveling at Kathie K. Smith’s “wealth of knowledge” in her position as village clerk/treasurer.
“Now that I’ve worked with Kathie for the past four years, it’s just cemented this fact,” said Nellist, who served as a trustee prior to becoming the current mayor. “And, above all else, Kathie is just a wonderful person who cares for her community. She’s just great.”
Smith, who turned 62 Wednesday, will retire Dec. 20 after 26 years with the village government – the first nine as deputy clerk. She was appointed clerk/treasurer in 1996 in this village of 540 and has worked under seven mayors.
“She’s been wonderful,” said Amanda Detschner, her deputy clerk. “Kathie is one of the most ethical people I know. She’s honest, caring and so knowledgeable. She doesn’t even have to look things up half of the time.”
Smith recently took a few minutes to chat about her career in village government.
Are you originally from Barker?
I was born and raised in Lockport and went to Starpoint schools, but my parents and grandparents were from Barker. When my grandmother passed away, my husband, Bill, and I bought her house in 1981 and raised our four kids here. I live a half-block from Village Hall.
How did you come to work for the village?
My bachelor’s degree is actually in education from SUNY at Fredonia, and I was supposed to be a teacher. I worked for the Head Start Program for a while and for Wyndham Lawn (Home for Children) for 14 years. I worked midnights when our kids were young.
My next-door neighbor was the deputy clerk, and she was leaving to go to college and told me I should apply. She thought it would be perfect because it was only a couple of days a week, and our youngest daughter was starting nursery school. I took the job, but I always thought I’d get back to education. But then I wrote state grant proposals for record management, and we got the grants for four years, and I started doing inventory of village records and we built the records room and really got organized. We scanned all of the old minutes or typed them into the computer. They go back to 1908, when the minutes were hand-written with fountain pens. It was like having two part-time jobs. And then this full-time job (clerk/treasurer) came up.
What does your job entail?
We have the same type of work in a little village as they do in a big city. I like working with people, making a difference, giving them the information they need.
We do a lot of bookkeeping, record-keeping, we take care of the water and tax bills, the correspondence. We’re kind of the secretaries to everyone, including the Police and Public Works departments. We take care of the village budgets, and we also run our own elections here. We keep up with code enforcement and building inspection records. It’s sort of one-stop shopping here.
What do you think of statewide talk in recent years of dissolving villages in favor of being absorbed by towns?
I think the smaller the municipality, the more chance you have of being heard, and I do believe our boards listen to the people … I remember long ago when John Hayden was mayor and two young children wrote the mayor a letter and asked for a water fountain in the park so they could give their dog a drink of water. The board did put the fountain in. The mayor said he thought it was important that the children learn that their voices could be heard. You can write a letter and make things happen. You don’t have to hold an office to be instrumental in making things happen.
Your mayor and trustees have two-year terms, and you’ve served as clerk for seven mayors. Is that difficult?
The day-to-day business of the village stays the same because so much of it is routine, but the priorities of the board change (with elections). You can have different dynamics with different boards, and that’s really part of what I like about the job. There’s a general adjustment, but we’re just here to serve the residents, mayor and board.
What attributes best serve this position?
Flexibility, a positive attitude and willingness to learn new things and go for training because there are always changes in the law and in state mandates to local municipalities. Most board members have full-time jobs, so they rely on the clerks to be the gatherers of information. We’re sort of a clearinghouse of information for the boards.
Any plans in retirement?
My husband retired from Harrison Radiator, and he’s been working in computers and went to part time a couple of years ago. My father is going to be 97, and my mother is 95 – they’re in Heritage Manor in Lockport now, and they need more of my time. We also have eight grandchildren, ages 23 (Michael Goodlander, who is serving with the Army in Afghanistan) to five-month-old Elanor “Nora” Gow. We have two kids getting married next year, and we’d like to travel – Ireland is on our bucket list. I say, “When I retire, I’ll have enough time to think about what I want to do when I retire.”
Know a Niagara County resident who’d make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box Buffalo, NY14240 or email: email@example.com.