WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma County clerk plans retirement



Janice Atkinson, Sonoma County’s clerk, recorder, assessor and registrar of voters, has announced her plans to retire this summer.

Janice Atkinson (PD FILE, 2006)

Atkinson, 58, began her career in 1972 as a temporary elections clerk and is one of the longest serving employees in the county’s workforce.

She will be 19 months into her second term in the elected Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s office when she steps down in July.

She has backed Ray Leonard, an administrative manager in the office, to be her successor for the remainder of the term. The decision is up to the Board of Supervisors.

Atkinson said her decision to step down was driven by the expected arrival of a grandchild and the completion of several county projects.

This year, those included electoral redistricting and the implementation of “top-two” elections, in which the two leading vote getters in a primary can face off against each other in a runoff, regardless of party affiliation.

The changes have redrawn political boundaries and scrambled county, state and national races.

“I get to go out with a bang,” Atkinson said of the election season.

Atkinson played a lead role in the reorganization of California’s election code in the mid-1990s and is recognized as an expert in state voter registration law.

“She’s been a resource not only to our county but to all counties throughout California,” said Sonoma County Administrator Veronica Ferguson, who called Atkinson’s planned retirement “a tremendous loss.”

When she retires, due to her 35 years of credited service, Atkinson will join the ranks of county pensioners earning more in retirement than they did while working.

Her 2011 pay included $167,274 in base wages and $15,762 in other earnings, including cash and car allowances. She also received nearly $83,000 in county-paid benefits.

Possible legislative and ballot-driven changes to public-sector pensions played a minor factor in her plans to retire, Atkinson said.

“We all watch that,” she said, voicing some concern with changes that would affect current workers.

“I do think we have to honor the obligations that we have made to those who are working. That said, do I think there’s room for pension reform? Yes I do.”

Atkinson was a clerk-typist when she became a full-time county employee in 1976, the year her longtime predecessor Eeve Lewis was first elected to the clerk’s office.

Outside of a stint working for Alameda and Contra Costa counties in 1985 and 1986, she has been with Sonoma County ever since. She served as assistant registrar of voters from 1996 to 2006, when she was was elected clerk-recorder-assessor replacing Lewis, who retired.

The office was consolidated from three elected positions in 2002. It supervises elections and voter registration, birth and death records, marriage licenses, property assessments, deed recording and a variety of other finance documents.

Atkinson was unopposed in her 2010 re-election.

A Santa Rosa native and Cloverdale resident, she has served since 1995 as the county’s lead spokeswoman during disasters, a tenure that included several Russian River floods and the 1998 Rio Nido mudslide.

Her years in elected office encompassed the state’s landmark legalization of gay marriage, the record turnout in the 2008 election and a historic economic and real estate downturn.

The resulting wave of property value reassessments, including a backlog now in the thousands, has been “difficult,” Atkinson said.

“All in all, I’ve had a wonderful career,” she said.

Her announcement comes amid a series of retirements and departures of top county leaders. Since late 2010, 11 of 26 department heads have either departed or announced their plans to step down in the coming months. In the later group are Public Defender John Abrahams, who is retiring next week, and Transportation and Public Works Director Phil Demery, who is set to step down this spring or summer.

Wendy Macy, the county’s personnel director, called the turnover “significant,” though she was not able to say whether it exceeded county averages.

“We have a huge generation change that’s occurring,” said Ferguson, the county administrator.

The Board of Supervisors is set to discuss Atkinson’s interim replacement April 17.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

22 Responses to “Sonoma County clerk plans retirement”

  1. Mr. PepperSpray PIKE says:

    JIM BENNETT is right. The police state is here. Notice that we no longer simply have “DUI Checkpoints.” Now…. we have “DUI and, and, and…. DRIVER LICENSE Checkpoints.”

    Since when have the courts allowed the police to stop us on the road without reason nor without suspicion and demand our papers (drivers license). It has never been legal before.

  2. Frank Matters says:

    sicking, just this morning i heard board members voted a 10% salary icrease for two college presidents, tax increase for parcels and goods and the grazing continues

  3. Jim Bennett says:

    This is motivated by a few things INMHO.
    1) More deliberate crashing. Which is very much what ICLEI is about.
    2) Golden handcuffs reduces dissent in government, especially amid a backdrop of orchestrated financial carnage and an Agenda that many must know just isn’t right.
    3) It obviously incentivises being part of the ‘problem’, too much government, it’s tuff to duplicate this compensation in the private sector right now.

    As John Lennon said; reminds us of a Russian model, or China, or a third world dictatorship.

    All we need is roadblocks with military demanding ‘papers’…give it a few months.

  4. J L Anderson says:

    Jim for Governor!!!

    Thank you for telling it like it is. No matter how good a person or employee someone is, NO ONE in government deserves a 6-figure retirement income that bankrupts the city, county or state who doles it out, and leaves the taxpayers on the hook.

    It’s criminal what government officials have done.

  5. Joh Lennon says:

    Reminds me of in Russia where all the wealth the the country was being made by the KGB. Strange times we live in.Apparently the new upper class in in America consist of government workers who’s union bought off the politicians

    That salary and pension is beyond outrageous.

  6. Money Grubber says:

    “”San Diego has to pay the legal fees for a half-dozen former members of the pension board who fought criminal charges in state and federal court for five years, a Superior Court judge has decided.

    The ruling was handed down last week by Judge William Dato. It means the city is liable for at least $5.4 million in costs for six former board members who faced criminal charges that were ultimately dismissed.””


  7. cate says:

    This month’s Imprimis (Hillsdale College free publication) has as its lead article: What the Public Unions Are Doing to Our Country. Word.

  8. Money Grubber says:

    “RAW” has no evidence whatsoever that posters on this board are “minimum wage” or low income workers. He just throws that insult out there in a child like way and hopes that it sticks.

    He also claims that “the average taxpayer is okay with this.” Really?
    Got any polls to back up that dubious claim, RAW ?

    I suspect that “RAW” is the same person as “Bear” and “Retired Cop.” :) lol.

  9. RAW says:

    There is no outrage because there are a half dozen minimum wage earners or low income people her who think that anyone who make more than they do is rich. There is no outrage because there shouldn’t be. The average taxpayer is ok with this. Remember, this is the whine country forum.

  10. Jim says:

    @Money Grubber…

    I’m way ahead of you on your suggestion. As I’ve posted many time, I already shelter a huge portion of my income from CA income tax and avoid shopping in cities that I don’t want to support (Sebastopol, Bezerkeley, etc). I utilize every possible deduction in the tax code to shelter my income from federal tax also. I already have the property outside CA where I’ll be moving when I “retire” (I’m a moron though since I’ll be funding my OWN retirement with my OWN savings rather than retiring on the taxpayer dime).

    I grew up camping in CA state parks and now am watching them permanently close. Yet the state has the money to pay lifetime salaries to “retired” workers who were unnecessary. I don’t care how good of a job people claim these unnecessary workers did. It doesn’t matter. There are over 2 million people working for the state. The state does not generate revenue, it takes from the economy. The CA economy is the worst in the nation for businesses. When businesses leave, so do jobs, so does the money generated by those workers. Yet the government does NOTHING to change but expand payroll, expand benefits, expand departments.

    The voters are too stupid to see past the “R” vs “D” and vote people who won’t cower to the unions. Nothing will ever change. The state’s once beautiful parks are closed. The unfunded pension liability will expand until the government is completely insolvent. Even with this guaranteed result, the same representatives will be re-elected. It is like a bad movie, and us taxpayers are spending thousands upon thousands of our hard earned money to watch.

  11. Steve says:

    Jim makes a good point. With the uproar over the 1% you would think that these government workers would be chastised, not all smiley. I’d be embarrassed to be part of the anti-wall street, anti-capitalism party but have my egregious salary and benefits published.

    Why is there outrage in the media about a “banker” who works for a private company and earns a high salary but nothing said about the lifetime salary and benefits being paid for by the middle class? The “banker” worked for a salary and if fired/retires doesn’t get a lifetime salary. And, the money the “banker” is paid comes from money generated through business not from the taxpayer.

    I’m with you Jim, where is the outrage? Why the double standard? One who earns is chastised, one who takes is not? This country is doomed.

  12. Steveguy says:

    Two words– Ka Ching !

    Ohh, if we could all retire at more than our pay, with full medical for life !

    And at that amount ? Let’s close the Parks ! oh my.

  13. John Lennon says:

    No public employee is worth that.


  14. Just Me says:

    Jim, it’s not Janice’s fault they wages and bennies are where they are. And, she didn’t rest on her laurels to get where she is. If you want that too, get a County Job while the going is still good and see for yourself what it is like to be a Public Employee. Not all it’s cracked up to be, believe you me!!!

    And Jim, as long as the taxpayers keep voting in the same incompetents at the top of the Public Rolls (US President, Congress, Senate, the Woolsey’s, Feinstein’s, Pelosi’s and Reed’s who exempt themselves from what they force on everyone else, then we will continue to have the same results.

    Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Perhaps Sonoma County could swing the other direction for one term and go Conservative instead of Ubber Liberal and finally get the results they want!

  15. Not A Chance says:

    @devil’s advocate

    The PD has consistently denied the posting of comments that are critical of people they are fond of, reporters, or the paper itself.

    They censor people frequently, but I’m sure they’d cry foul if they themselves were censored.

  16. Money Grubber says:


    The public IS outraged.

    But ya notice the public employees and criminal bureaucrats just thumb their noses at us ?

    There is only one solution: deny them every dime of tax money you can. Vote NO on everything they ask for regardless of the lie that the request is wrapped in.

    We already know that law enforcement is overstaffed in Sonoma County. They maintain the position that they “need” their Henry 1 police helicopter at a million dollars a year. But notice that just the other day, the CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL HELICOPTER engaged a rescue in Pt. Reyes.

    The CHP has a rescue helicopter of their own just minutes away. Sonoma County does not “need” its own little luxury program of “air support.”

  17. Irishgirl says:

    Janice- You have done an excellent job! Your replacement has big shoes to fill. You have gone above and beyond your duties. You absolutely deserve to have a happy life with your new grand baby on its way and the precious little one you have already in your life. Enjoy the rest of your long life with your head held high because these ‘haters’ are just bitter people.
    On a personal level you have the biggest heart and you have always put others before you, its now YOUR TIME!

    Happy Retirement!

  18. Jim says:

    Her 2011 pay included $167,274 in base wages and $15,762 in other earnings, including cash and car allowances. She also received nearly $83,000 in county-paid benefits…

    This is EXACTLY the problem with government. There is no supply and demand forces. Are we taxpayers supposed to believe that this job needs to pay $167,274/year, along with $15,762 in “other earnings”, AND $83,000 in benefits in order to get a qualified person?? Are you freaking kidding me??

    And now she will retire at 58 (!!!!) and collect a lifetime salary, all while the taxpayer will pay for some new overpaid “clerk”. It is patently ridiculous!

    Who in the private sector will be retiring at 58 with lifetime salary and benefits? For that kind of cushy retirement, a private sector worker would need somewhere in the range of $3-3.5M in savings (using a 4% withdraw rate). Yet it is perfectly acceptable that a government worker gets this level of pay and benefits on the back of the person who needs to earn and save $3+ million?

    Yet here is someone who was supposed to be working for the people, all smiley in the propaganda media photo, knowing she will live as a 1%’er off the back of the taxpayer. Yeah, the problem is wall street, not the government…people are so ignorant to the truth, and voters are complete morons.

    The system is broken. Until the taxpayer becomes outraged at this, nothing will change.

  19. devil's advocate says:

    I guess that all comments critical of Ms. Atkinson are being deleted. Shameful.

    There was a well-publicized situation about a year and a half ago. It came to light that a number of “public employees” from a certain Sonoma County city had blatantly committed perjury on their voter registration forms. Ms. Atkinson chose not to follow the law and prosecute them. The message her non-action sent was appalling.

  20. bear says:

    Janet, you were entirely competent and a pleasure to work with.

    Please disregard the BS that follows from other posters.

    You did good.

  21. Tom Lynch says:

    Thank you Janice for all your good works and efforts. May you and yours enjoy a long, happy and healthy retirement.

  22. Wilson says:

    “Atkinson played a lead role in the reorganization of California’s election code in the mid-1990s and is recognized as an expert in state voter registration law.”

    If she is an expert in state voter registration law, how come none of the police officers that were found to be registered to vote at the police station rather than at their residents were not prosecuted? If you read the voter registration form, that is the penalty for perjuring yourself on it. Instead she called them up. I guess that she doesn’t think that the police need to follow state laws.

    I’ll be glad to see her gone. Hopefully we’ll get somebody new in there and make it one step towards changing the status quo that has strangled Sonoma County for decades.

    Give me a thumbs down if the truth hurts.