Odell elects retirement
Aug 03, 2012 (The Reidsville Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Janet Odell witnessed plenty of changes in more than three decades with the Rockingham County Board of Elections. Now that department faces another change -- finding someone to replace her as director.
Odell retires today from the post she has held since 1985.
"When I started here in 1979, our highest form of technology was a typewriter," Odell said. "We thought we were really going places when we got one that was electric and then one that had a little memory with it."
In Odell's first year with the BOE, North Carolina started using optical scanners. But things still had a way to go in Rockingham County.
"They delivered our scanner my second week on the job and I was assigned to learn everything about it," Odell said. "I guess I was our first technician with that equipment. But we still didn't have a computer."
Odell still remembers asking the county commissioners for the department's first computer several years later -- especially an off-hand remark from one of the commissioners.
"He said, 'You're costing us a fortune here,'" Odell said. "And that was for just one computer."
As Odell leaves the director's office, the county's BOE now has six main computers in their new offices on Cherokee Camp Road in Wentworth. The department also has 60 laptop computers that are used by precinct workers during elections.
"That's something I'm really proud of for our department," Odell said. "Not every county has that kind of technology available to them, but we like to keep thinking long range. We were able to do that thanks to some federal grant funds from the Help America Vote Act. It's really helped make things faster and more efficient during elections."
Another thing that has undergone a speed-up in the last three decades is the registration process for voters. Odell said there were only about 32,000 registered voters.
"At that time, you had to either come to the courthouse to register or find someone that was a sworn registrar to do it for you," she said. "Now, there are several options that make the process much more convenient and that's pushed our number to about 60,000."
Odell also remembers absentee voting was something that had to be applied for with an official reason given for why it was needed. Now, voters may simply request a mail-in ballot or use one of several early voting locations throughout the county.
While many things have changed through the last 33 years, Odell said there was one thing that has seemed to remain constant.
"I can honestly say I've never experienced a 'perfect' election and I doubt there will ever be one," Odell said. "There's always going to be something that surprises you. It's just a matter of how big the surprise is going to be."
Odell confessed those surprises were one of the things she would miss as she enters retirement.
"I think one reason I've stuck with this job so long is the constant sense of the unexpected," she said. "No two elections are ever the same, and there's always some twist waiting just around the corner."
Odell said she would also miss the people.
"I've been blessed with some wonderful board of elections members and staff," she said. "They make things run smoothly and I'll miss my time with them."
A 1974 graduate of Morehead High School, Odell's only time away from her home county was to complete her double major in secretarial science and business administration at King's College in Raleigh. She returned to Eden and began work tracking production at a textile plant.
When that plant closed, Odell said she was moved to an accounting position with Spray Cotton.
"That's when I began to think I should start looking for something in another field," she said.
Hoping to find something in government, Odell applied at the county employment office and soon learned of an opening at the board of elections. She applied for the job and got it, although she was never officially notified about it.
"Leone Dunn was the director -- they called them supervisors then -- at that time and she just called me one day and asked when I was coming to work," Odell said. "She never really told me I had the job, but I'm glad she called."
Odell said she struggled with the decision to retire for a long time. She said people told her she would know when it was time, but she did not know how that would happen.
"I knew we had a big election coming up and I didn't know when or if I should retire right now," she said.
Odell said she had a peace about it one day while taking her son, Spencer, a senior at Morehead, to church to head off to church camp. She talked to her pastor's wife about it while at church, telling her she had a calm feeling about the decision.
Odell told the board of elections about her decision to retire that same day.
"The only thing left was to decide on a date," she said.
Odell chose Aug. 1 because it would allow her to come back to help if she was needed for the general election in November. Regulations require Odell to be retired for 30 days before she could return to assist, although not as director.
The three members of the county's board of elections have already begun discussing how they will replace Odell, but the process is just beginning. When the board makes a selection, their recommendation will be submitted to the State Board of Elections and that board will make the official appointment.
Odell expressed thanks to everyone that helped her during her time as director.
"There are so many people that made it all possible, from the folks in the IT department to my staff and the maintenance crew that keeps everything running so smoothly," she said. "Now I just look forward to being able to spend more time with my family and helping more with my parents. I'll miss everyone, but I'm looking forward to turning these next years into a unique opportunity to do more."
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