Laurie Thomas headed multi-tasking office for 12 years
“Last week was a little bit hard — I got emotional a few times,” said Laurie Thomas, who retired at the end of December after more than 31 years with the Okanogan County auditor’s office, the last 12 as the county’s elected auditor. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I loved my job.”
In some ways, being an effective auditor means you’re kind of overlooked, said Thomas. “I’ve always felt that, if we do our job well, we’re basically invisible. If we don’t, we’re front-page news,” she said. “And if they’re election issues, we’re national front-page news. Fortunately, we never were — under my watch.”
Since auditors’ functions are so varied, they’re not always well understood. Auditors and their staff are responsible for recording everything from property deeds to marriage licenses to mining claims, and for processing vehicle and boat registrations. They do financial reports, prepare and administer the county budget, and oversee elections. “Those things don’t flow into each other.” said Thomas.
And all of those things need to be done with attention to public service. “We’re the only deal in town. Most people resent giving us their money, so I like to make it as painless and pleasant as we can,” she said. She knows she’ll miss working with the public.
Thomas studied business and accounting and oversaw finances at her family’s cattle ranch until she got a job in the licensing division at the auditor’s office in July 1987. Soon she moved to accounting, where she handled accounts payable and payroll. In 2006, after the auditor retired, she ran for the post and was elected to three terms.
In three decades, there were predictable changes. When Thomas started, everyone had an electric typewriter and they took turns using the office’s one data-entry machine. Compared to the paper ledgers they used for recording, that equipment was fairly high-tech. “We had handwritten indexes for deeds and mortgages, in huge, big ledgers,’” said Thomas.
Initially all the spreadsheets and the cash book — which get double-checked monthly against the treasurer’s records — were filled out by hand. Doing them by hand took nearly a day, whereas now the task takes a couple of hours, said Thomas.
In retirement, Thomas will have more time to devote to the financial management of her husband’s aluminum-water-trough business.
She and her husband plan travels to visit their three grandchildren. They also look forward to being able to jump into their upgraded motor home and see more of the country. Although they have no specific plans, they’re already thinking about the Oregon coast and Death Valley. “We can just take off in the general direction and visit friends and family along the way,” said Thomas.
“The job of an auditor is not a real glamorous job. You don’t make policies or big changes, and you’re mandated to do things in a certain way,” she said. “My goal was to do it well, and to leave the best staff for my successor. I think I accomplished that.”
Thomas is being succeeded by Cari Hall, who was elected to the position in November.
Hall has worked for three years as the finance manager in the auditor’s office. Before that, she was chief financial officer at the nonprofit Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare for 13 years.
“It was a good run. Okanogan County has been good to me. I care deeply for the office and the county,” said Thomas.