In addition to managing 46 Town meetings since starting as Warren town clerk, retiring town clerk Reta Goss has managed 11 presidential elections and countless primary elections and special elections.
Her first presidential election was incumbent Jimmy Carter running against challenger Ronald Reagan in 1980. Her last one was the 2020 election when Joe Biden defeated the incumbent President Donald Trump.
One of the reasons she’s retiring now is to give Brent Adams, the next town clerk, time to get comfortable in the job and to be able to help him get ready for the 2024 election. Her last day was Wednesday, November 14.
“I’ve been thinking about it and next year is a huge election and I wanted my replacement to get properly prepared and I wanted to be able to help him,” she said.
LEARNING ON THE JOB
Goss came to the town of Warren in April 1977, as assistant town clerk, to spell longtime town clerk Emma Ford while she had carpal tunnel surgery. She was 18 at the time and had graduated from Harwood in 1976, shortly after the new school opened.
She was learning on the job when Ford had her first hand done that spring. After she had the second one done in July, she said she wasn’t coming back and Goss took over.
Over those 40-plus years, Goss said that job has changed in that it has become digital and computers and the internet changed how things are done. But they have not changed one of the essential functions of a town clerk and that is to manage the town records. It’s an archivists job in many ways. Digital copies of records are useful, she said, but the paper had to be preserved.
The community has changed during her tenure she said, shifting from a ski town to a resort town and then changing again during the COVID-19 pandemic. Newer residents, she said, often adopt a combative stance with town personnel, not really understanding (yet) that not all interactions – whether over local taxes, education taxes, dog licenses, etc., don’t have to be confrontational.
“Some people come in thinking they’ve got to have a fight and when they find out they don’t, it is unsettling,” she said.
“One thing we can do, and we do, is point people towards the right person to share their concerns with. People want to complain about their taxes? They’re entitled to. I tell them to come to Town Meeting. Don’t like town taxes, talk to the select board. Don’t like education taxes, here’s how to contact our state representatives. We can do that,” she said.
LOVED THE INTERACTION
Goss said that over the years she has loved interacting with community members, loved recording marriages and births and has shared grief with those recording deaths. She has also loved the rhythm of the work. Early in each year, it was budgeting and Town Meeting preparation, then it was primary and then general election season and then property taxes are due.
“You get wrapped up in it. I enjoyed the dynamics,” she said, acknowledging that computers and tabulated voting changed general elections and ballot items at Town Meeting, but the essential functions remain the same.
“It went by really fast. I will miss my people, my taxpayers. It hasn’t seemed like 46 years. It went by really fast,” she said.
When Goss was first on the job, being so close to her aging parents was very helpful and then being on the job while her son worked his way through Warren Elementary School was also very convenient.
“It worked,” she said.
Her husband John is currently working at rk Miles in Waitsfield and is already old enough to retire, something he will do in the fall. With a background in masonry and carpentry he loves working at rk Miles, she said. They met in high school. He’s from Moretown while she’s a native of Warren.
Their son lives in Barre Town with his partner and their two children, Jamieson, 6, and Audra, 3. Goss is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren.
She said that she and John aren’t big on traveling and when asked if she gardens, she said she grows weeds (but not weed).
SHED A FEW TEARS
She said it’s been harder than she imagined, emotionally disentangling herself from the hundreds and hundreds of relationships that she’s developed over the years with community members and she’s shed a few tears and others are close to the surface.
She is excited to help Adams learn the job, she said.
Adam is from central Vermont. He and his wife and family live in Warren. His wife, Carolyn, is a music teacher at four Valley schools. He comes to the town clerk position after having worked as a legal assistant for both Alice and David Olenick and later Mad River Valley Real Estate.
Goss said she was discussing the possibility of him taking the job “and he thought about it one day, a minute too long and said yes. He’s perfect for the job,” she added.