Boone County commissioners come and go, ushered in and out of office by public or private decisions. But in the halls of Boone County government, there are five mainstays: five women — all Democrats — who have been in office for at least 11 years and for as long as 30. Time and again, voters return them to office for four years at a time, often with no opposition.
Their names: Bettie Johnson, Kay Murray, Wendy Noren, June Pitchford and Pat Lensmeyer. Their offices: recorder of deeds, treasurer, clerk, auditor and collector, respectively. Although their identities and positions might escape some residents, their long tenures are credited with keeping the county government running smoothly.
Dick Burke, executive director of the Missouri Association of Counties, said it’s unusual for office positions to be occupied by the same person for so long. On Jan. 1, Kay Murray, the county treasurer, began her 31st year in office, becoming the longest-serving public official in Boone County. Former Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre, a Republican ousted from office by Democrat Ken Pearson in the November election, said the reason for the quintet’s long tenure is simple.
“They do their jobs well,” Schnarre said. “Each has made (Boone) County one of the best counties in the state.”
Former commissioners praise the quintet. Linda Vogt, Northern District commissioner from 1991 to 2000, said their standing extends well beyond Boone County.
“All of those elected officials are nationally known for the work they do,” Vogt said.
And their party affiliation helps keep them in office, too, Burke said. “They probably benefit from being in a county that leans Democratic, although Republicans can and have won countywide races.”
Schnarre said Republicans have been reluctant to joust with incumbents they are unlikely to unseat.
“These jobs require strong skills and a high degree of expertise,” Schnarre said. “We — as Republicans — we don’t have can-didates with such expertise.”
Voter satisfaction is another reason these women have become a mainstay in Boone County government, Southern District Com-missioner Karen Miller said.
“The voters of Boone County see them as valuable assets to running county government effectively,” Miller said. “Any time you have knowledgeable, experienced people in office, it always brings stability to a position. With that in mind, there is no need for change.”
The jobs pay almost $79,000 per year, a salary that could tempt challengers.
Still, among these women, only Noren and Murray have ever faced election opponents. One challenged Noren; two challenged Murray. None came close to winning.
“There are probably not a lot of people that want to do this job,” Lensmeyer said of the collector’s post. All the county offices, she said, are high-stress occupations. “It can be hard for people with a family."
All five women have made personal sacrifices to keep their offices — and the county — running smoothly. Pitchford said sacrifice is what it takes.
“I’m impressed by the commitment all elected officials here have toward improvement and excellence,” Pitchford said. “We need to keep pushing the bar a little bit higher.”
Skill, stamina, expertise and professionalism are the common denominators among these office holders.