End of an Era: Miller says goodbye to county clerk’s office after 30 years

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By Donna Carman

We’ve all heard about the best-laid plans of mice and men … how things don’t always work out like we thought they would.
That’s what happened to Eva Miller 30 years ago.
Miller, then 22 and a new mother with a two-month-old son, was living and working in Corbin. She had a job at an OBGYN office and was making plans to pursue a career as a laboratory technician.
Then, her father, Raymond Smith, died on Nov. 7, 1980, two days after being elected to his sixth term as Casey County Court Clerk. Her mother, Ruth Smith, was appointed to fill the term, but it soon became apparent that she needed help.
“Mom called and said, ‘If you would come back, I sure need your help,’” Miller recalled. “I had no choice. Mom couldn’t even drive. She had been walking to work.”
That phone call set in motion a career that would span 30 years — and one month — as Miller joined the staff of the county clerk’s office on Dec. 1, 1980. She was her mother’s deputy for 13 years and then elected to county clerk herself for the first time in November 1993 when Ruth retired. She then won three more terms.
It’s not something she chose, but it more or less chose her.
“I decided when I was 8 that I didn’t want anything to do with politics,” Miller said, adding her father was first elected county clerk in 1958, the year she was born, and then described how she watched her father agonize over elections.
“But then life is what happens when we’re busy making plans,” she said.

Learning the ropes
Although Miller, 52, grew up watching both her parents make their living by serving the public, she learned a lot more when she began working in the office.
“For the first seven and one-half years, I didn’t even have lunch,” she said, with a laugh.
And then the weight of responsibility shifted to her shoulders when she carried the title of county clerk, seeing changes that would bring computers, new voting machines, a cut in staff and funding, and even a new office.
“I’ve worked through cold, where I had to type with gloves on, and then with termites flying so thick we’d have to cover our mouths with our hands,” she said.
In 1987, computers changed the clerk’s office.
“Because we were the first county government office on computer, the state decided we would collect more tax money if we did motor vehicle taxes,” Miller said.
New taxing districts were also created that year, which added more responsibilities to the county clerk’s office.
And, it wouldn’t be long before Miller would face budget cuts.
“The county used to get revenue sharing from the government, which was around $200,000,” she said. “In the late ‘90s, they cut it out. I had enough money for one deputy a month and I lost everyone else.”
Miller said her senior deputy, Doree (Whited) Heckman, whom her mother hired in January 1990, was the only one who lasted during those tough times.
“I started laying off one at a time, and even had one person volunteer for the first layoff,” she said. “I ended up losing all my experienced people except for Doree. There were numerous people who thought they would enjoy the position, but found out it was harder than they thought and didn’t stay very long.”

Moving out
In 1998 Miller’s office moved out of the courthouse and across the street into a building that now houses the Gathering Place. It was supposed to be a temporary six-month move that lasted seven years.
“We were having problems with the climate due to the old steam boiler system in the basement,” she said. “We had mushrooms growing on the floor, and had to constantly wipe everything down with bleach. Everything was molding over.”
Grants that Miller had been using to make improvements to her office had to be spent for microfilming and preserving the public records that were in danger of being lost to the deteriorating conditions in the office. Finally, the Department of Libraries and Archives insisted they be relocated, or the state would step in and take the records, Miller said.
That led to the move across the street that lasted for seven years before the county clerk’s office was able to return to the courthouse.

Keeper of the records
Miller said she has always taken her job of preserving Casey County’s historical records seriously.
In the late 1990s she began applying for grants that would enable the clerk’s office to transfer all the records to computers, and would eventually be available online.
Miller said Jenny Spicer worked for her for years doing the record transfers. However, Spicer moved to Harrodsburg and since then, numerous people have worked on the transfers.
“I’ve been working on this for years, and I won’t get to see them finalized, but I’m pleased that my predecessor (Casey Davis) recognizes the benefits of using the programs we have been working on for several years, and that he will be able to reap the benefits of our endeavors,” Miller said.
Miller said it has been one of her goals to enter into the computer database all of the office’s public records from 1806 to current for availability online.
“I’ve been working on this project since 1997 and now I’m so glad that Casey recognizes its importance and convenience to the public,” she said. “I think this may help his transition into this position be a bit smoother.”
Miller said another thing that she had been pursuing — the convenience to customers of accepting debit and credit cards in the office — will also be a reality soon and will be a benefit to the new administration.

‘Always loved horses’
Although Davis took over the office with the new year, Miller was back on Monday to assist with an inventory audit. She’ll be around for a little while yet, tieing up loose ends.
But in the not-too-distant future when she doesn’t have to go the office, Miller said it will be strange indeed.
“When I leave, it will be the first time in 56 years that someone in my family has not been in this office,” she said. “It’s exciting, but it’s scary. This is basically all I’ve ever known.”
Miller said she will miss the day-to-day contact with her employees, as well as faithful and friendly customers whom she’s come to know over the years.
“I’ll miss making those connections with people who may have been gone for a long time and then come in the office,” she said. “I will miss that.”
She’ll also miss working with all the election officials she’s known over the years, and the “crazy, hectic, but fun” election days.
“The greatest joy was the homemade food that we would plan for election day,” she said, with a laugh. “That was the important part.”
But Miller has other important things to do too — time with her husband, Dwight, who retired from the military after serving in the U.S. Army and then the National Guard, most recently completing two tours in Iraq.
There is also her son, Dr. Brandon Wood, a chiropractor in Versailles, his wife, Amy (Napier), and their daughter, Laura, 7.
Miller lights up when talking about her granddaughter, and sees herself in Laura as a little girl.
“Laura is an avid equestrian,” she said. “She talks about my retirement all the time and she plans for me to spend a lot of time watching her in horse shows. I get to live vicariously through her. I always loved horses.”
Miller said one of their most special memories was going to the World Equestrian Games a few months ago.
“We were there when the USA won gold in vaulting,” she said. “It’s one of those memories you’ll always have.”
As for other plans, Miller said she has some other employment opportunities and offers, but nothing she plans to take on immediately.
First, she has to break a 30-year habit that has involved early mornings, late nights, and weekends.
“I’m afraid I’ll turn my car loose and it’ll pull up out here all by itself,” she said, with a laugh.