County clerk faces challenger

Posted 10/26/10

“We have totally transformed the clerk's office,” said Jensen at the American Association of University Women-sponsored forum at Powell City Hall.

Torczon, a Powell Republican, took issue with Jensen's time in office, specifically …

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County clerk faces challenger


At a Thursday candidate forum, Park County Clerk Kelly Jensen highlighted improvements she's made to the office in her four years, while challenger Jerri Torczon criticized Jensen's performance.Jensen, a Cody Democrat, said she had changed the clerk's office over the past four years, bringing an outdated office up to date and responding to citizen's wishes to “step it up” from the prior clerk. As an example, Jensen said all employees in her office are now cross-trained to help residents with any office need.

“We have totally transformed the clerk's office,” said Jensen at the American Association of University Women-sponsored forum at Powell City Hall.

Torczon, a Powell Republican, took issue with Jensen's time in office, specifically citing concern with Jensen's handling of the county's health insurance plan, which ran out of money earlier this year, and a shortage of ballots in multiple precincts in the August primary election.

“In recent years the county clerk's performance has been more controversial than it should be, and I can change that,” said Torczon.

Torczon, who grew up in Kane, has served as the legal secretary in the Park County Attorney's Powell office for the past 16 years. She is a certified paralegal with a bachelor's degree in business administration. Previously, Torczon worked as a secretary with the city of Gillette for 12 years and as a human resources supervisor with Northern Automotive in Phoenix.

Prior to becoming clerk, Jensen had worked with the city of Cody for 13 years, first as a grant writer and ultimately as their administrative services director. Earlier, the Meeteetse native spent six years as a Buffalo Bill Historical Center grants writer. Jensen holds a master's degree in public administration.

Jensen did not decide to run for the clerk's office in 2006 until after the filing period had closed, and she reached the ballot by independent petition.

Torczon also ran for clerk in 2006, being defeated by incumbent Karen Carter in the 2006 Republican primary. Jensen, as an independent candidate, defeated Carter in the general election.

Torczon reached the ballot this year through primary write-in votes. Torczon previously told the Tribune she didn't initially file for the position because she didn't realize Jensen was running as a Democrat.

When asked at the forum why party affiliation mattered in the race, Torczon noted that most voters in Park County are registered Republicans. She said her philosophies are the same as most people in the county. Torczon added that elected officials influence people, and since most county residents are Republicans, “I would be influencing the majority,” she said.

Jensen, however, said party affiliation was irrelevant to the way she runs the clerk's office.

“I can tell you that in my job as county clerk it has zero bearing,” said Jensen. She said personally, she is fiscally conservative, and that she had cut expenses in her four years.

Another question asked about how the candidates would stay on top of health insurance expenses. The county ran out of money in its self-funded plan earlier this year and was forced to draw from reserves and make changes to its plan.

Jensen said the health insurance program was primarily overseen by a health insurance committee of county employees and a third-party administrator.

“I think they (the insurance committee members) will all tell you they were not as attentive to that as they could have been,” said Jensen.

Torczon said the clerk was receiving reports on the health insurance program's status and the one in charge of monitoring county expenses.

“The committee itself was not aware they were supposed to be watching that (the expenses),” said Torczon, adding, “I don't think they knew it was their responsibility to do the budget.”

The shortage of Republican ballots in five Powell precincts during the Aug. 17 primary election was also discussed.

Jensen said she had used historical data and not wanting to waste money, did not overprint the number of ballots. But Jensen said Democrats switching their party affiliation to Republican caused an unexpected shortage and additional ballots had to be created for voters.

For the Nov. 2 general election, “I assure you we have plenty of ballots,” Jensen said.

Torczon said it was “gross negligence” on the clerk's part to come up short on ballots. She claimed some voters were turned away from casting their ballots.

“I've not heard of anybody who was turned away at the polls,” countered Jensen.

“They were told to go away and come back later,” Torczon said.

When asked what excites them the most about the job, Torczon said she enjoys working with the public and wants the opportunity to work with a different clientele than those she sees in the prosecutor's office.

“I deal with ugly things in the county and would like a better outlook,” Torczon said.

Jensen said she loves the job, enjoys finding better ways to do things and has a great staff that likes helping people.

Torczon has been endorsed by her former boss at the city of Gillette, now-U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. Jensen, meanwhile, has garnered the backing of Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a fellow Democrat.

Editor's note: This version corrects a reference to the county's health "care" plan as the county's health "insurance" plan.