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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Utah County's new clerk, Amelia Powers, says hello to people as she visits her new offices at the Utah County Administration Building in Provo on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

PROVO — Amelia Powers wore a wide grin when she stepped into the Utah County elections office and leaned over the front counter to say hello to the staffers.

"I just wanted you to know, I'm not firing anyone," Powers jokingly told the women. They laughed in return.

Powers — later explaining to the Deseret News that rumors of firings have been flying amid fear of new leadership — told the staff the reason why she hadn't met with current employees yet was because she's been focusing first on budget resources for next year.

"I've just been too busy putting out fires," Powers said. "But I'll get there."

"Does the budget include a scanner?" one staffer asked, only half-jokingly.

Powers' answer was immediate: "Yes!"

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Utah County's new clerk, Amelia Powers, at the Utah County Administration Building in Provo on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

The staffers burst into laughter.

"If my budget doesn't include a scanner, then my personal budget does," Powers continued, over the women's laughs. "Even if we have to do a GoFundMe, we'll get one."

As she waved goodbye and walked out of the office, Powers said the election's office scanner was so old and worn out it was "literally being held together with a roll of tape," and "it crashes like three times an hour."

It's just one of the examples of how the clerk's office is "severely under-resourced," Power said.

"They literally have a third of the resources they need," she said. "When I look at an office like that and (see) they've managed to — even though disorganized — run an election, that tells me that the people are good."

That's why, Powers said, she doesn't plan to "clean house."

"We need to do a lot of changes — we need to do a lot of work — but if they're willing to do that work with me, there's no reason to ever get rid of good, dedicated people," she said.

Powers' swearing-in as Utah County's new clerk/auditor happens Monday, but she has been a familiar face within the Utah County Administration Building for a while.

As she strolls the halls, employees smile and wave. Since her election, Powers said she's been spending 20 to 30 hours a week at the clerk's office, preparing for her transition.

Prior to the recent tour of the office with the Deseret News, Powers even poked her head into Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson's office, shook hands and chatted briefly with the man she unexpectedly unseated at the county GOP convention earlier this year.

Relations with Thompson have been "amicable" but "tricky," Powers said.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Utah County's new clerk, Amelia Powers, outside the Utah County Administration Building in Provo on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

Surprise win

Powers won so much support from the party, she forced Thompson out even before a primary. As a Republican in red Utah County, Powers' win at the convention meant the seat was easily hers heading into the November election.

The 36-year-old's run — not to mention her landslide GOP win — was unexpected, even to her.

In fact, she and her then-fiance, Tobin Gardner, had to delay their wedding from April to August when she decided to run for the post.

The win also makes her Utah County's first ever female clerk/auditor — or at least that's according to what she can find in the county's early records. "Just the fact that there are no records is killing me," she said.

Powers said she didn't plan on running. Initially, in her work as a business consultant, she said she tried to recruit potential candidates. But when she couldn't find anyone willing to take on the challenge, she decided to run. Two hours before the deadline, she filed as a candidate.

Why did she care so much about the Utah County Clerk's Office?

Powers said she grew up in Utah County — and now she wants the place where she and Gardner raise their five kids to have a stable and healthy future.

"If we can't figure out how to run elections, we're going to get in a really bad spot here soon," Powers said, noting that projections say Utah County's population may surpass Salt Lake County's by 2030.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Utah County's new clerk, Amelia Powers, at the Utah County Administration Building in Provo on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

Prior to starting her own consulting business, Powers worked for a big construction machinery company, Caterpillar, in product support and then as a marketing manager.

That work took her to Canada for several years, where Powers said she was struck by the lack of competitive attitudes in a "socialist" society, she said. When she left that multimillion company, and Powers decided she wanted to raise her family at her home Utah County, she said her experience in Canada inspired her to get more involved in local politics.

Powers said she followed issues in Utah County's elections, and "it was apparent to me we needed a lot of work in our clerk's office."

"We needed more organization, better process flow, and that's really what I specialized in the business world," she said.

As for the county's Republican delegates that voted for her over Thompson, Powers said delegates "tend to be pretty in tune" to issues in their local governments.

"They're aware of long election lines," Powers said. "They're aware of 68,000 Republican ballots getting sent to non-Republicans. They're aware of results not coming out for weeks."

So, Powers said she focused on telling the party "we need to prepare for the future."

"Up until this point over the last decade, we've been playing catch-up, every election. Every election we hear problems," she said. "And so what I focused on is as we grow and as we prepare to become the largest county in Utah, we need to have the systems in place now."

Vision

To start, Powers said she wants to keep Utah County out of headlines for election fiascos, including the more than four-hour waits seen in November.

For the presidential election in 2020?

"My hopes are not to be the 'epicenter of dysfunction,'" Powers said, referring to Gov. Gary Herbert's criticism of his own home county after this year's election.

"I would like to see the longest wait line be less than an hour," she said. "I would like to see Utah County be able to release our results in a timely manner and not constantly be last."

Her goals for 2019 are to first "update and modernize the office into the 21st century," she said. That includes allowing forms to be filled out online.

Also, she plans to hire an elections director — a position that was eliminated years ago.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Utah County's new clerk, Amelia Powers, says hello to people as she visits her new offices at the Utah County Administration Building in Provo on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

The fact that a county the size of Utah County didn't have an elections director baffles Powers. She said filling that position is her "No. 1 priority."

Powers said she also plans to comb through the office's budget and find any and all inefficiencies before — if need be — going to the Utah County Commission to request more resources for her staff.

That includes the duct-taped scanner.

"Our county government has been very good at doing more with less, but they are not prepared for the population boom that we're going to experience," she said.

This year, facing requests for more resources across all departments, the Utah County Commission considered raising property taxes to increase county revenues. But facing public backlash, the commission voted to delay its consideration until at least next year.

Powers, even though she wants more resources for her staff, said she's not so sure yet whether a property tax hike will be necessary.

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"We definitely need more money," she said. "But we should find it first."

"I'm not saying we don't need a property tax increase, but I'm the type of person that says, 'If we do, show me what that money's for, exactly,'" she said. "We can't do that right now because we don't even know how efficient our departments are because our auditor's department hasn't done an efficient job of auditing."

Overall, Powers said she's got her work cut out for her. But she's ready to "work her tail off" and "hit the ground running."