BY MELANIE YOUNG
When Trenton City Clerk Patricia Gearhart retires this November, she won’t just be ending her long career with the city. Her family’s decades-long legacy of continuous service will end as well.
A member of Gearhart’s family has been serving the City of Trenton in an elected or appointed position since 1957 when her father, Paul Teifer Jr., was sworn in as the city’s first assessor. He also served as city treasurer, and his cousin, Robert Teifer, was the city’s first mayor.
In addition, Gearhart’s brother Terry Teifer was appointed treasurer when her father died in office and Terry also served on City Council. Her grandfather, Paul Teifer Sr., served as the city’s first postmaster. According to Gearhart, serving the community came naturally to her family. “My family always did what needed to be done,” she said.
Gearhart began her service when she began work as a part-time secretary in the Clerk’s Office, and aside from leaving for a year to work in Grosse Ile, she has worked in the Clerk’s Office ever since.
She was appointed Deputy Clerk in 1995 when former clerk and current Mayor Kyle Stack was elected to the position. When Stack stepped down to run for mayor in 2011, Gearhart ran unopposed for the clerk’s position.
Looking back on her career, Gearhart noted that the biggest changes have been with the election process, which is one of the City Clerk’s most visible jobs. This November’s election will be the last one she coordinates, and according to Gearhart, “The biggest change is the technology we have today that we didn’t have before.”
Gearhart believes strongly that one of her biggest accomplishments while in office was getting the voting booths out of the schools. “It was a safety factor for me,” she said. Currently all seven precincts are located at municipal buildings.
If she had a wish for future elections, she would like Michigan residents to have the ability to vote by mail. She’d also like to see all Michigan residents have the ability to vote absentee without having to declare a reason to do so. “I think it would make it more convenient for the voters and we’d have a much higher voter turnout, “she said.
In addition to elections, the Clerk’s office is also considered the record keeper for the city. The office handles all documents for the City Council, including minutes, agendas and follow-up letters. In April, Gearhart started using a new program called Board Docs that streamlines all of that paperwork and allows the general public to see everything the council has before them. “It makes it very transparent for the public.”
The Clerk’s Office maintains other kinds of records as well, such as birth and death records for people born in the city of Trenton, animal licenses, ordinances and codes, and burial records for Bloomdale Cemetery, located on King Road. Some of these records date back as far as the 1800s. Some are handwritten.
While Gearhart still enjoys her job, she knows it’s time to retire. Her husband Ron has been retired for 12 years and she realizes life is short. “It’s with a heavy heart, but it’s time for me to go live out my years while I’m still healthy.”
She’s looking forward to spending time with her daughter Sylvia and son Sean and his family, including two grandchildren. Gearhart plans to continue her work with the Trenton Goodfellows, and would not dismiss the idea of volunteering to work on a city committee if asked in the future. “I will miss interacting with the citizens and people I work with,” said Gearhart.
She will be missed by all in the City of Trenton, including Mayor Kyle Stack, who said that the city will lose someone with years of connection to the people in the city and knowledge about the city’s history.
“She is very caring and passionate about what she does. She was a great deputy clerk for me and an even better City Clerk,” Stack said.
Luckily for the city, the transition to a new clerk will be seamless, as Deputy Clerk Debra Devitt is running unopposed in November. Gearhart’s term will end in November when Devitt is sworn in.
The swearing in ceremony for all new public officials will be held in November, as soon as Wayne County election officials have canvassed and certified the results.