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Koetje, Franzen vye over clerk position

Meet Jane Doe, otherwise known as Jane Koetje.

Koetje, who is currently campaigning to maintain her appointed position as Island County Clerk against write-in hopeful Sharon Franzen, jokes about changing her name for the November election.

Koetje’s husband is Gordon Koetje, former county commissioner and prominent developer in the community. Jane said she just wants to be her own person, minus the inevitable baggage — deserved or not — of a well-know name.

Koetje has come under fire for her Aug. 19 firing of chief deputy clerk Sharon Franzen, an Island County employee of 22-years. Franzen supporters called the move politically motivated. Because the dismissal occurred after the July 28 deadline for filing to register as a candidate for county office, supporters claim Koetje undermined Franzen’s chance to vie for the clerk’s position.

Franzen received a groundswell of support for a write-in campaign, including the endorsement of former clerk Marilee Black. In the Sept. 17 primary, Franzen garnered well over one-percent of the popular vote, which puts her name next to Koetje’s on the November ballot.

Koetje is circumspect when addressing the recent controversy. She said her dismissal of Franzen “was a decision I did not reach lightly,” and that she looked deep within herself while attempting to figure out what “was in the best interest of the office.”

Koetje said her decision to fire Franzen was based on “objective” rather than “subjective” considerations. She denied the idea that the timing of Franzen’s dismissal was motivated by the upcoming elections.

“I’m sorry that there is a perception of this being a political move,” Koetje said. “However, politics did not play into the decision.”

Koetje pointed out that the position of chief deputy clerk is an appointed one, and as such carries no seniority. “The job of chief deputy clerk is that of following the management style of the clerk,” she said.

Another criticism leveled against Koetje is that her lack of experience in the clerk’s office has forced the county to pay for a bunch of catch-up training. Koetje, who has 22 years of administrative experience under her belt working in the Island County public defense department, said the only training she’s received on the county’s dime was a computer seminar. And though she’s also currently attending a program for certification as a public official, it’s not at the county’s expense.

“I have paid for all those hours of training out of my own pocket,” she said. “I think you have to stay up to date to be progressive.”

In fact, Koetje said she believes her previous experience as an administrator and co-founder of the Island County Guardian Ad Litem program, which provides legal advocates for neglected and abused children, has translated into many positive changes in the clerk’s office.

Calling herself a “people person,” Koetje said her management skills are geared toward helping her employees “achieve their fullest.” Also, she is not adverse to helping her employees on the front lines, and considers it her duty to learn every function of the clerk’s office in its day-to-day operations.

“I believe that I was appointed for change,” Koetje said of her appointment last year by the board of commissioners. “I brought a fresh perspective to the office that was being looked for.” The commissioners chose Koetje over Franzen for the appointment.

Koetje said there was definitely a period of transition when she took over. “My management style was so foreign to them,” she said of the clerk’s staff, adding that her “open door” policy was world’s apart from the lack of communication that seemed to pervade the office in the recent past.

Koetje said that rather than micro-managing employees, she has instilled a sense of personal accountability. She characterized such management policy as a “free exchange of people working together, rather than six separate people working against each other.”

Koetje said her staff appears happy with the changes she’s instituted. “They’ve made an amazing transition,” she said. “I respect them so much. They work hard.”

Judging from the comments of staff members in the clerk’s office, Koetje is not the only one who feels things are going well. A number of deputy clerks offered only highest praise for Koetje and her style of management.

“The changes in the office have been dramatic,” deputy clerk Michelle McKee said. “It’s been wonderful. Jane really supports working with other offices. The cooperation has made our lives easier.”

Deputy clerk Andrea Huff said the changes Koetje has made “were way overdue,” especially the way in which employees are now treated with more respect. “It’s been more of a positive attitude,” Huff said. “Everybody is learning more, and more able to assist people that come to the window.”

Huff said she supports Koetje 100 percent. “As an administrator, she’s wonderful,” she said.

According to Koetje, the prior administration was “a stumbling block to processes.” For instance, she said one of the first things she did was upgrade the phone system within two weeks of taking over. She has also installed old computers in the courtrooms, so clerks — who are mandated to be present during trials — can catch up on some needed paperwork.

Largely due to such material improvements, co-workers have taken to calling Koetje “the Procurement Queen,” a nickname she doesn’t seem to mind all that much.

All in all, Koetje said she believes the clerk’s office now is functioning at a high level of proficiency, with open channels of communication among staff and a sense of responsibility toward the publicbeing served. It hasn’t been easy, she said, but what drives her is her perception of public officials as public servants.

“The responsibility is tremendous and overwhelming,” she said. “I’m very humbled by the experience. My goal is to make this the best darn clerk’s office in the state of Washington.”

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