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County clerk fires top aide

Jane Koetje -
Jane Koetje
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The recent firing of a longtime deputy clerk in the Island County clerk's office has stirred some bad blood and led to a grassroots campaign to elect the dismissed worker to the position of her former boss.

Chief Deputy Clerk Sharon Franzen, a 22-year veteran in the clerk's office, was fired Aug. 19 by County Clerk Jane Koetje. Koetje, an appointed Republican, is running unopposed in the November election.

Franzen said she was four years from retirement when dismissed.

"I was shocked," she said Wednesday. "I'm still processing all of this."

Beyond the suddenness of it, the timing of Koetje's decision to fire her chief deputy clerk has been called into question. At issue is the fact that Koetje -- who was appointed clerk last year after former clerk Marilee Black retired -- fired Franzen after the July 31 filing deadline for Island County office. This effectively eliminates any chance Franzen may have had to make a bid for Koetje's position in the November election.

"I believe the timing was taken into consideration by her," Franzen said.

The official reason for the firing had nothing to do with timing. According to Franzen, a memo about her dismissal from Koetje "implied that I was not loyal, and that I was unable to complete projects on time."

Franzen said she does not agree with Koetje's assessment, and told the clerk as much when she was told to leave.

As to whether she would have run against Koetje had she been fired before the filing deadline, Franzen said she's not sure.

"That's a very huge question, and I don't have an answer," she said.

Franzen did say she had fully intended to work four more years in the office before retiring.

Koetje Wednesday said she doesn't discuss "personnel issues," and refused to comment on the Franzen incident. She did, however, say the recent controversy doesn't surprise her.

"I fully expected it," Koetje said.

One thing Koetje might not have expected is the grassroots support that has arisen for Franzen following her dismissal. Oak Harbor resident Arthur Morris, for instance, has been a vocal critic of Koetje's actions, going so far as to suggest that voters write in Franzen's name on the ballot for the county clerk's position in the general election.

Morris said Wednesday part of the blame for the incident rests with Island County commissioners, who appointed Koetje. Morris said Franzen -- who at the time was a registered Republican -- was more than qualified for the job.

Morris said the fact that Koetje's husband, Gordon Koetje, is a former county commissioner may have contributed to the board's decision.

"I just thought it was a little funny that she would get this job," he said.

County Commissioner Mac McDowell was part of the committee that selected Koetje to fill Black's position. He said Friday the hiring process was fair and ended with the appointment of the best person for the job.

"I think we made the right decision," he said. "I thought it then and I still think that."

In 1982 Black appointed Franzen as chief deputy clerk. Because Black was a Republican, the board was obliged to find a Republican replacement when she resigned.

Morris, who said he has been friends with Franzen "for a few years," called the whole situation "shady," even though he said Koetje was within her legal right to fire Franzen. Morris said he feels for Franzen, who had only a few years to go until retirement.

"It was a hardship for her," Morris said of Franzen. "At her age, getting a new job is tough."

Franzen said she's undecided on whether she'll make a serious bid for Koetje's position, or which party affiliation she would choose if she did. She abandoned the Republican party when she failed to receive party support for appointment to Black's vacated position.

A write-in campaign, she said, might open some eyes.

"I guess it wouldn't hurt if my name was out there a few times to let the county commissioners see that there was another candidate out there when they were appointing Jane," she said. "Maybe the voters of this county need to think a little more about the politics of what goes on."

Despite the brouhaha and her own feelings after being fired, Franzen said she doesn't harbor any ill will toward Koetje; she referred to her as a "pleasant person." Contrary to Koetje's reason for firing her, Franzen said it was loyalty and hard work that kept her in the clerk's office for nearly a quarter century. That didn't change when Koetje took over, even if Koetje perceived otherwise, she said.

"Let's face it, everybody has their own take on what a person is or isn't," Franzen said. "She inherited me from the previous administration. She probably would be more comfortable bringing in her own person."

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