In a battle between experience and new blood, Jess Bradfield was selected to serve as the new Cache County Clerk/Auditor on Saturday.
While both Kim Gardner and Dianna Schaeffer each have more than a decade of experience in the Clerk/Auditor Office, Republican delegates seemed to heed Bradfield’s pledge to bring innovation to the office.
“This is an opportunity to help drive efficiency into the county and help all of the cities within the county and all the outer, unincorporated areas begin to act like a team,” he said. “That’s my goal. And to help the county save money, with efficiency, and to make life easier for the people in the office and for the residents.”
Bradfield, who currently serves on Logan Municipal Council, said the role of County Clerk/Auditor is worth the pay cut from his current job as human resources manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
“For me, this position was important, but I didn’t know if other people would interpret a clerk as being critical to the function of government,” he said.
“Conservatives kind of have this reputation of saying, ‘Oh, government needs to do better and it needs to be more efficient.’ And for me, conservatives need to step up and do their part, even if it means a little pay cut.”
Of the nearly 300 delegates of the Cache GOP, 200 people attended the Central Committee meeting and 171 ballots were cast at Ridgeline High School to determine who would fill the seat vacated by Jill Zollinger mid-term.
“To have this many people show up and that many support me, I’m flabbergasted,” Bradfield said. “I don’t even know what to say. Honestly, I’m still in shock.”
In the 1999 special election where Zollinger was chosen for County Clerk by the majority of the delegates, the County Council was given three names as options for ratification. The council appointed Daryl Downs for the role, instead.
To prevent a similar outcome, Saturday’s election was designed with a two-round vote to present a clear winner for the council to ratify.
But ultimately, only one round was needed to reach a majority winner.
Of the 169 votes counted due to spoilage, Bradfield received 105 compared to 55 for Gardner (currently serving as the interim Clerk/Auditor) and nine for Schaeffer (the deputy chief auditor for the county).
Zollinger defended her decision to retire early — thus kicking off the special election — due to her husband’s declining health and recommended Gardner as her replacement.
“She’s the only one who has my complete confidence, and the only one who will not need on-the-job training,” Zollinger said.
The main criticism voters had of Bradfield was his lack of experience in a similar role, let alone in the office Gardner had worked for 27 years and Schaeffer for 11.
Bradfield and his supporters quelled the skepticism through comparison to Utah County’s Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner.
“I was elected less than two years ago after the governor called our office ‘the epicenter of dysfunction,’” Powers Gardner said in a video shown at the meeting. “I heard over and over I wouldn’t be able to perform in this function as I hadn’t worked in the office before, but anyone can serve as Clerk/Auditor if they have a vision and the ability to execute that vision.”
Bradfield said he wants to bring the same innovative priority to Cache County.
His vision for the office is to “bring the Clerk’s Office into the 20th century” by modernizing and updating the website for easier access to things like business applications and marriage license requests for a more streamlined process.
Expanding access for voting, including in-person, and outreach for voter registration will also be a priority — something he said is “critical for the party to grow,” though he acknowledged as County Clerk/Auditor, he will not speak for the party.
As Gardner said to the delegates before the vote, “This office does not make policy. It does not enforce an agenda.”
Gardner declined comment on the result, but Schaeffer said she respected the democratic process that selected Bradfield and is moving forward with the change.
Cache GOP Chair Chris Booth commended all the candidates on running fast, hard-fought campaigns for the position.
The Cache County Council will meet on Tuesday and will determine whether to appoint Bradfield to the position or if the nomination goes to the governor.
If the County Council ratifies the appointment, the Logan Municipal Council will post a public notice of Bradfield’s vacancy and accept applications for a replacement. After a two-week period from the notice, the council will hold interviews and select the new member in a public meeting.
While the last time a special election was used to fill a midterm vacancy for County Clerk/Auditor occurred 21 years ago, a Logan council member was chosen due to vacancy as recently as 2013.
Tom Jensen, again serving as council member, vacated that position to serve a humanitarian assignment in Amman, Jordan. Jeannie Simmonds (also currently on the council) was chosen from a field of 16 applicants as his replacement.