After 26 years serving Jones County as auditor, Janine Sulzner is retiring from her position after not seeking reelection.
“I made the decision not to run four years ago,” Sulzner said, but she only let a small group of friends in on the decision.
Her time in the auditor’s office predated her appointment by the Jones County Board of Supervisors in 1994 after Mike Albers resigned to take a job as a deputy auditor in Johnson County. Sulzer served four years in a deputy role in the auditor’s office and served six months in the treasurer’s office. Having an educational background on the accounting and payroll side of things, that’s what attracted her to the job in the first place.
“I knew what the responsibilities of the office were going to be, and I felt that I had the necessary experience from my four years as deputy to take that position on,” Sulzner said.
Getting used to the budgeting process was her biggest adjustment when she took on the role, “because elections weren’t near as complicated back then.” The whole process has only gotten more complicated and nuanced over time, with legislative changes being the driving force when it comes to the intertwining of accounting and taxes.
Having served as commissioner of election for more than two decades, she’s seen plenty of changes in that role over the years as well. When she started as a deputy in 1990, the auditor’s office still counted ballots by hand, with the first electronic ballot counters coming shortly thereafter. The county is now on their third iteration of electronic tabulators.
While the technological advances have been a big change, Sulzner point to another legislative change as the biggest: allowing election day registration in 2008. That’s when the county started using electronics to check voters in.
Over the years, elections have seen a rise in absentee voting, something this year’s pandemic only further illustrated with an exponential growth in absentee ballots in both the primary and general election.
“On one hand, absentee ballots are somewhat easier to deal with because you have some time to deal with and address certain issues. Whereas on election day, it’s right there in front of you. There’s no do over. There’s no correction. Election day has to happen on election day, whether you’re ready or not,” Sulzner said.
With increased participation, the Jones County Auditor’s Office worked harder than ever on voter education in both a primary election and general election that set records in Iowa for turnout.
Despite how long she held the office, there were always new challenges that popped up, with this year being no exception.
The final year in office was unlike any other for Sulzner, with not only the pandemic, but the August derecho to contend with. The duo combined to mean that not only was she dealing with a record number of grants active at one time, but personally had to deal with significant damage cleanup at her home.
Despite not seeking reelection for her role as auditor in November, Sulzner did get voted as member of the Jones County Soil & Water District Commissioner and will serve on that volunteer board.
When asked about her future plans, Sulzner plans to keep it simple.
“I’m looking forward to having some time to myself. I have devoted so much time and effort to this job. It will be nice to have my evenings and weekends back,” Sulzner said, voice breaking. “It’s just been a major part of my life…I take my role as a public servant very seriously, and I appreciate all the support I’ve had from the public over the years.”
Whitney Hein, Sulzner’s replacement, has been in training since Dec. 14 and will take over the job in 2021.
“Nobody can expect her to know everything, to have that level of knowledge that I’ve gained over the past almost 31 years. It will take time,” Sulzner said. “She’s going to do things her own way.”
She’ll have plenty of experience to lean on in the office, with a couple deputies having been in the office around two decades and plenty more experience around the office as well, which Sulzner said will help with the acclimation process.