Update: Read about the newly appointed county clerk in this article.
San Juan County can’t get along without its longtime County Clerk Joan White.
In fact, since White’s passing on Saturday, March 10, clerk duties like writing checks and distributing money based on judicial orders, have been halted. White was the only person bonded to complete those tasks.
“There are things the office needs to do and can’t do until there’s a clerk,” said San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord. “That’s why the position has to be filled expeditiously.”
Without a county clerk, action on documents that need that position’s signature is also being delayed. At the March 13 county council meeting, retired San Juan County Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton noted that a little under a million dollars that he requested to be disbursed hasn’t been completed.
“Time is real critical,” he said.
White has been the county’s straight-shooting county clerk since she was first elected in 2006, serving three consecutive, four-year terms in total. The county clerk, said Gaylord, is the keeper of records for the San Juan County Superior Court, and also takes notes of actions during superior court trials.
Lisa Henderson, who was hired by White about four years ago as chief deputy clerk, has lost not just a boss, but what she calls a strong and decisive mentor.
“There are no mincing words with Joan,” said Henderson. “You always knew exactly what she thought.”
Since White left work due to an illness about four months ago, Henderson has been performing the county clerk’s duties under her direction. When White passed, Henderson could no longer legally carry out those duties without the clerk’s management.
Henderson, as well an Orcas Island attorney Katie Blaine, had previously noted their intent to run for the position in November’s election, as White had formerly opted against running for another term. Henderson and Blaine briefly shared their experiences with the San Juan County Council on March 13, though Blaine said she has since withdrawn her application to be White’s replacement. The emergency appointment would impede on obligations to her private practice, she said.
Other interested applicants could have applied through March 19. As of press day, council scheduled a special meeting on March 20 to appoint a replacement. The position will still go to the ballots in November.
A second marriage to Phil White brought the California native to San Juan Island in 1991. She worked as a legal assistant for John Linde, who would later go on to be San Juan County District Court Judge and its first, full-time superior court judge.
According to longtime friend Shirley Owens of San Juan Island, running for county clerk was an easy decision for White.
“She was certainly qualified,” said Owens, “and that’s why she and Phil decided it’d be a good position for her.”
Though a prompt replacement is needed, said Gaylord, a substitute for White will be hard to fill.
“Joan was always reliable and dependable, with an open-door policy and can-do attitude,” said Gaylord. “She put public service above herself.”
A celebration of life was held for White on Saturday, March 17 at the Friday Harbor Airport terminal lobby. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her memory to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.