- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

NEZPERCE, Idaho (AP) - When Cathy Larson began working at the Lewis County Courthouse 41 years ago, annual reports were typed on manual typewriters, court filings and tax recordings were registered in a huge hard-bound tome and elections were tallied by hand.

Today Larson, the duly elected Lewis County clerk of the District Court ex-officio auditor and recorder for 28 years, presides over a staff of six that balances the multiple tasks of the office mainly by use of computers.

Larson, 60, will retire Jan. 12, after having overseen a county department that has continuously evolved and challenged her and her staff to stay current on the latest technological and legal developments. She is only the sixth clerk since Lewis County was formed in 1911 and except for the first time she ran for the office in 1986, she has never had an election opponent.

“Once (the clerks) get the job it’s either, ‘We’re really nuts’ because nobody else wants it, or ‘whatever,’ ” Larson said.

Fresh from Nezperce High School graduation in 1973, Larson went to work for then-Clerk-Auditor Doris Brown - another longtime county officer.

Brown hired Larson to type the annual report.

“So we typed the annual reports with three carbons and legal-sized paper. And if you made a mistake at the very bottom you took it all out and started all over again,” she recalled.

Another of her tasks involved keeping track of property rolls, which were entered by hand in big blue books, and typing abstracts and other documents on the manual typewriters. The old courthouse was located up two flights of stairs in a building no longer standing. Below the courthouse were a grocery store and a bank.

In 1974 the current courthouse was built a block south of the old office and, except for a short hiatus when Larson began raising her four children, she has been here ever since.

The Idaho Legislature and Supreme Court have frequently enacted new laws that challenge county clerks to keep on their toes.

One of the more recent updates has been requiring all elections in the county to be supervised by the clerk’s office.

With Lewis County’s current population just shy of 4,000 people and only eight voting precincts, elections are generally not as complicated as they are in larger counties.

But it demands no less vigilance to ensure a legal election.

Larson, whose record for running smooth elections is solid, nevertheless missed a beat last spring when she accidentally overlooked a technicality in Idaho’s Republican closed primary requiring candidates to file for election on the same ticket they’d affiliated with previously.

In 2012 the only contested county race was for sheriff on the Republican ticket. Many Lewis County voters, who typically vote Democratic, crossed over to cast a ballot in that race. Shelley Ponozzo, who filed as a Democrat for Larson’s job in the 2014 primary, and Vergial Grant, who also filed as a Democrat for a commission seat, had voted in that sheriff’s race on the Republican ticket. Both had failed to update their affiliation and when the Secretary of State’s office caught the mistake, both Ponozzo and Grant were bumped from the primary ballot.

Larson took the blame.

“It was one of those things where muscle memory kicked in and I thought everything was good to go,” she said.

She worked with the county prosecutor, the attorney general’s office and the secretary of state, but “there was no getting around it. They’re like, ‘Sorry, there’s no wiggle room in that at all.’ “

Fortunately the mistake was caught early enough in the process that both Ponozzo and Grant were able to run as write-ins, but neither won their elections.

Larson said Lewis County wasn’t the only one snared by the new law.

“Some of the counties didn’t find this out until it was too late for people to run as write-ins,” she said. “One of the clerks was upset with me because I didn’t email other clerks to tell them this is what I’d done. In hindsight it probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea, because they could have caught it sooner, too, but I didn’t.”

Costly as that mistake was, setbacks during her tenure have been rare.

Most of the time Larson has been able to help keep the county on track financially, update much of its outdated equipment, keep public records up to date and assist people seeking vital information.

“A lot of people come to our office looking for genealogy, and we’re more than happy to help them,” she said. “They comment that a lot of places aren’t that accommodating.”

Recently a man came in wanting information about family members he’d never known. His mother had died shortly after he was born, and he was adopted by another family.

He knew he had a sister, Larson said, but when they began checking they discovered the man had two sisters still living. He was elated.

“He sent us a box of candy to thank us for all of our help,” she said. “I enjoy helping people do stuff like that. It’s fun to go back because we have old property records and old probates and adoptions.”

Larson and her husband, Perry Larson, the former Lewis County Jail supervisor who, also, recently retired but who was elected county coroner in November, have no definite plans but are looking forward to exploring the next few months sans their usual hectic duties.

“I guess I’m kind of a simple person,” Larson said. “One of the first things I thought of is, ‘I don’t have to do my laundry on Saturday and I don’t have to clean house after 5 o’clock.’ “

___

Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com

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