Smith leaving Hobart clerk/treasurer role
By Ben Rodgers
HOBART – When Mary Smith first started as Hobart clerk in 1983, she worked out of her home, servicing the town of 3,765 residents.
Now, 37 years later as clerk/treasurer, Smith will walk away in April from the job which has defined her working life.
“It’s time,” she said. “I’ve been here a long time. I don’t want to be a fixture behind a desk, you know how that goes. My husband (Jerry) is retired now so it’s time for us to spend some more time up north, and he had major heart surgery last year. I think that’s what probably moved me into it.”
Smith graduated from Williamston High School, in the lower half of Michigan in 1967.
From there, she graduated from Ferris State College, before it became a university, with a two-year degree in dental office management.
Being acquainted with the ins and outs of dental billing practices was a skill she soon found adaptable with working as clerk for a municipality – staying knowledgeable and ahead of the curve.
“You have your day-to-day billing that you’re dealing with, but then you have your overarching statues you’re having to watch and keep in mind,” Smith said. “Things are updated for new laws, so you’re presenting that information for the board. You’re always trying to keep the village board informed on what’s going on. I think that’s a big part of this job.”
The constant change is what Smith likes most about the job.
“It’s the people and every day being different that is very attractive in a job,” she said. “It makes it less of a job, much more enjoyable.”
When she started, Smith had to run for the office of clerk, but that changed in the ’90s.
“The existing clerk Janice Burkel was going from house to house gathering signatures to run for office and she stopped at my house and we got talking,” Smith said. “She said ‘You could do this. Do you want to do this?’ And me being a young mother and new to the area really, said ‘Sure.’ I was pretty naive. That was all it took. I tossed my hat in the ring. People thought I was OK and kept me.”
In those early days, Smith worked the part-time job from her home for two days a week.
During tax bill time, she would team up with treasurer Vi Landwehr and collect tax payments from Landwehr’s home.
“We had a three-member town board at that time, and the things you’ve dealt with are the same issues that you are dealing with now and now it’s a larger scale,” Smith said. “You dealt with roads, plowing, bills, village board meetings, elections, you just had fewer people.”
Hobart is now pushing a population close to 10,000 and an assessed value of nearly $1 billion, which is a far cry from when village administrative staff worked part-time and from their homes.
Smith said the steady growth of Hobart is what keeps local taxes low for homeowners.
“I think the village is going to continue, or attempt to continue, to grow,” she said. “That’s what’s keeping our tax rate as low as it is and that’s always been a goal of every village board I’ve worked with, is to keep that mill rate, that tax levy, down for residents.”
Hobart Village Administrator Aaron Kramer said Smith’s knowledge of Hobart is unparalleled.
“She’s had a front row seat to a lot of history in the making and she’s played a key role in that history being made,” Kramer said. “I think she’s handled the job, in the time I’ve had with her, with grace and elegance, but also a deep commitment to the village and its residents.”
He called her the “original Google search engine” when it comes to all things Hobart.
“I laugh because sometimes I’ll ask her a question and she’ll go ‘We had a similar situation back in 1993,’ and 30 minutes later she’ll walk in my office with the minutes of the ’93 meeting and how the village handled it,” Kramer said.
Smith’s last day will be April 23, but before that the village will have to address, what Kramer called the “institutional gap,” she will leave in retirement.
“The best way I can describe Mary is on the stormiest days, when all the problems seem to be crashing down, there’s one constant, calming and extremely knowledgeable person to turn to, and she’s been doing that for over three decades,” Kramer said.