CHAZY — Leo Oliver was a man ahead of his time.
There were no computers in use by the Town of Chazy when he took office as town clerk/tax collector in 1990, but he had one at home and used it to type up the minutes he would take at Town Council meetings.
Oliver was named budget officer by then-Town Supervisor George Deno, so for the first spending plan he had to craft, he relied on the previous budget as a guide.
“At that time, I had Lotus 1-2-3 on my own computer, (so) I created my own program for creating the budget,” he said.
Twenty-four years later, software for both town-clerk and tax-collection duties streamlines the work, and it’s just part of the daily routine.
The firm that provides it, Business Automation Services, “is great to work with” should any issues arise, Oliver said.
In fact, technicians can access the system remotely to check out problems.
“I would never have imagined that back then at all,” he said, remembering the dark days of technology at the Town Hall.
With 24 years in office, Oliver will retire as his term ends on Dec. 31.
Phil Beauharnois will take over as clerk/tax collector with the new year; Mark Henry will be town supervisor, both new to the posts.
That’s very much how it was when Oliver and Deno took office in 1990 — they were both newcomers who learned the work as it unfolded before them.
For Oliver, it more blanketed him, with tax payments flooding in that very month.
“Thanks to my wife (Susan) helping me, I was able to get through that.”
Tax payments, along with those for dog, hunting and fishing, and marriage licenses, were recorded manually.
The tax-collection software the town installed “was a great thing,” he said.
A state trooper, Oliver had thought he would retired when he hung up his cap in June 1988 with 21 years on the job.
But in the summer of ‘89, Town Clerk Peg Spiegel decided she wouldn’t seek re-election.
Patricia Ayer — now town assessor — ran for the seat on the Democrat ticket, and the Republican candidate backed out.
Oliver, who had already told the Republican Committee he wasn’t interested in a town-justice seat, found some appeal in the clerk/tax collector job.
“I said, ‘Why not?’ It’d give me something to do.’”
He won the seat and didn’t face a single challenger from one term to the next.
The job did more than fill some hours for a retired police officer.
“It’s a lot of different hats,” he said.
And adding complications were such events as the fire that destroyed the town garage, declining revenues and huge jumps in cost for such expenditures as health-insurance premiums, state retirement.
‘PLEASURE TO SERVE’
During his tenure, Oliver won a records-management grant for the town that allowed reorganization of the vault.
It also brought on Marie Gennett, who performed that work and then served as historian for many years.
With her, the clerk noted, “we got a twofer,” for her husband, Leon, worked alongside her at no cost to the town.
The couple are examples, Oliver said, of the town staff and officials who made it a pleasure to serve in the position.
Another was Deno, who, sadly, died while in office in 2004.
Deno was a Democrat.
“But that didn’t matter,” the Republican clerk said. “Party doesn’t enter into it, as far as I’m concerned.”
Oliver has enjoyed his interaction with the public, as well.
“As a whole, I haven’t had problems with people,” he said. “Sometimes, you just have to sit and listen, and when they’re done, they’re fine.
“They’re not really sounding off at you.”
Town Supervisor Staub Spiegel — whose mother was clerk before Oliver — offered what might seem conflicting observations about him.
“He was an absolute pleasure to work with,” he said. “Very easy-going demeanor.”
As well, the supervisor said, “we call him the Godfather.”
That nickname, however, strictly refers to Oliver’s wealth of knowledge in the ways of the town.
Spiegel had served as a town councilor for two years before taking the supervisor’s seat, but he had a lot to learn.
“I went in green,” he remembered. “I had to learn as I went.
Oliver and secretary to the supervisor Susan Patnode, he said, “were fantastic, great guidance for me.”
“Leo has been wonderful to work with over the last 13 years,” Patnode said. “I will surely miss his knowledge and the kindness he has shown to me.”
The supervisor also chose not to seek re-election.
“I’ve been juggling two jobs for (eight) years now,” he said. “It’s time to slow down.”
Mr. Spiegel, who is a sales executive at Northern Insuring Agency, takes pride in town accomplishments under his watch, including centralization of the computer system, the new salt storage shed at the Highway Garage and renovation of the entire Town Hall, including a new vault.
The worst blow to the town in the past decade was the loss of the Pfizer plant that employed many and added to the tax base, he said.
“That was hard to swallow.”
Without Pfizer, the town had to exceed the state tax-cap levy for 2013, but the budget is back on track for next year, the supervisor said.
“We accomplished quite a bit,” he said of his time in office. “I’m going to miss it — there’s no doubt about it.”
So will Oliver.
But his daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Aly El-Basuni; and his grandchildren, Zane, 7; Emry, 4; and Layla, 1; live in New Jersey, and he and his wife want to see more of them.
Every workday since the November election, Beauharnois has stepped through the Clerk’s Office door, intent on learning the job before Oliver retires.
“I’m letting him do the work,” Oliver said with a chuckle. “I’m just sitting back and watching.”
After all, he said, “you don’t do it yourself, it’s hard to remember it.”
Or, considering his retirement is just around the corner, he’s practicing.
Email Suzanne Moore:email@example.com
A casual retirement party for Leo Oliver is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Cattle Barn Pub & Grill on Route 9 in Chazy. All are welcome.