A CHAT WITH... Patricia Strauss
WESTPORT—Records matter to Westport Town Clerk Patricia Strauss. July marks 18 years to the month of Strauss leading the office that handles everything from absentee ballots and land recordation to marriage licenses.
After a successful career as a vice president at Westport Bank and Trust, Strauss was named the town clerk under First Selectwoman Diane Farrell in 1998.
In addition to overseeing upwards of 550 duties required of the Town Clerk’s Office by the state, Strauss has been an engaged member of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association. She served as chair of the legislative committee and then county vice president for Fairfield County. In April of 2015, she was named president of the association, a position in which she supervises all 169 town clerks in the state. Her term runs until 2017.
A Westporter since 1981, Strauss lives in town with her Husband, Ed, and her son, Greg.
Strauss spoke with the Westport News about the office.
WN: Absentee ballots are handled by your office and not the Registrar of Voters. Can you talk about how absentee ballots work in your office?
Strauss: The 45 days before an election are the key dates that in my office we are really taking on a another job than what we do the rest of the year and that is administering the absentee ballots for the election and this year it will be a big voter turnout. We have a lot of people who live overseas and we have military personnel—we start processing their ballots in September and we will probably be processing anywhere from 28-3100 absentee ballots in like a 30-day period. If you’re not around for November 8, then see me.
WN: What’s been the most challenging part of your job?
Strauss: The 2000 general election. There was a law that changed and then Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz made an announcement that you did not have to be a registered voter in Connecticut to vote for president between Bush and Gore—just walk into your town clerk’s office if you’re unregistered and you can vote for the President of the United States.
This (announcement) was like two weeks before the election. We don’t have supplies. They don’t have supplies to send us. We are making copies. We had over 400 people walk in that day to vote and I was not prepared. It was a nightmare for clerks around the state.
WN: How has technology changed the job?
Strauss: When I came here there were no computers on any desk, whatsoever, that was in 1998. Then the town made the decisions to put computers at every desk. Then we started putting our records online and the challenge is to make it easier for someone to access and retrieve what they’re looking for. I’m always trying to think of a better way of having information available.
WN: What are examples of your office making some of those strides?
Strauss: We are now E-Recording land record documents. The documents are coming in electronically, through the computer for recording—no more walking it in. Attorneys are busy people, they do not have to walk in a document to record, they can just sit at a computer and forward it to me and then I electronically get paid. It goes into my land record software program. I just started it two years ago and as of now I have over 10 percent of my documents coming in electronically.
The persons applying for marriage can now do it online through our website. They fill out a worksheet, they can spell their father’s last name correctly, they know where he was born so when they walk in the worksheet is complete and all I have to do is print it off and verify that they completed the worksheet correctly. So it’s less keystroking from my staff and less mistakes are made.
We’ve not only put all of our indexes online that you can walk into the vault and see but they’re available 24/7 to the public on our website. Also, dog licensing notifications are sent out electronically.
WN: Among the many tasks you have to complete, how would you categorize what the office does?
Strauss: There are four categories that I put all of our responsibilities in. We record land records including maps. Elections where we are an administrator to the election process. I am also the registrar of vital statistics, which means all births, deaths and marriages are filed in my office. The last thing is I am the clerk to the Representative Town Meeting. So there’s 36 more bosses on the 36-member board who I am responsible to—I prepare all the meeting notices and agendas.
WN: What makes you so passionate about your job?
Strauss: I am fortunate because I am a people person and we see a lot of people in this office.
The best part is to see when the mother brings in the brand new baby to get a birth certificate or the young couple getting married—you’re happy for those people. We’re watching history being made. We’re writing the history book of Westport every day and that is why I come to work every day. I love it.