When Patty Strauss retired as town clerk, she left big shoes to fill.
On January 19, Jeff Dunkerton will be fitted for them.
Most recently the assistant town clerk for Danbury, he was responsible for the automation of that office, including digitizing all city records. His management and administrative functions included preparation of department budgets and day-to-day oversight of departmental staff.
Before that, Dunkerton served as a registrar of voters in Brookfield, and was an operations manager for a Pitney Bowes division. He is a volunteer firefighter in Brookfield, a marine patrol officer for the Candlewood Lake Authority, and a mentor with the Danbury Schools & Business Collaborative program.
“I am very impressed with Jeff’s background and employment history,” says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.
“His dedication, experience and commitment to his profession are precisely what we are looking for in a town clerk. We look forward to having Jeff join the town staff in this important leadership role.”
Representative Town Meeting Moderator Velma Heller ads, “We look forward to working with Jeffrey in his new position. I’m certain that he will be a very effective Town Clerk.”
Dunkerton lives in Brookfield with his wife Amber and their 2 sons.
Patty Strauss loved her career in banking. But in 1997 Westport Bank & Trust — her longtime employer — was in the midst of a dizzying succession of mergers. The “hometown bank in a town of homes” felt less and less like home.
So when she saw heard that Westport Town Clerk Joan Hyde was retiring, Patty called Diane Goss Farrell.
The newly elected 1st Selectwoman phoned right back. “Am I overdrawn?” she worried.
“No!” Strauss replied. “I’m just letting you know: I want to apply for town clerk.”
“Then who’ll take care of my account?” Farrell asked.
Strauss got the job. Farrell got a new banker.
Patty Strauss, in her Town Clerk’s office.
At the end of December – 23 years later — Patty Strauss retires. She’s overseen many changes. Technology has modernized many tasks. But at its core, she says, the town clerk is still in the business of customer service.
Connecticut law mentions several hundred town clerk duties. Strauss breaks them into 4 main categories:
Recorder of land records. This includes all property transfers, liens, mortgages and releases, from Westport’s incorporation in 1835 to the present.
Recorder of vital records: births, deaths, marriages, etc.
Overseer of elections (federal, state and local). This covers petitions, nominations, financial filings and more.
RTM clerk: secretary of the town’s legislative body.
“I have dozens of bosses,” Strauss notes. “Jim Marpe, the Connecticut Secretary of the State, the Department of Public Health, and 36 RTM members.
“I’m not the decision maker. I just make sure the paperwork is done correctly.”
Which is like saying Alex Trebek was just a guy who asked questions on TV.
Patty Strauss (center) with state legislators Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg. She spent plenty of time in Hartford as legislative chair for the Connecticut Town Clerks Association (2008-11) and president (2015-17).
Strauss just completed her last big project: her 6th presidential election. Her Westport tenure was bookended by the 2 that have drawn the most attention for the voting process: 2000 (hanging chads) and 2020 (mail-in ballots).
Thankfully, there has never been a whiff of controversy over any Westport (or Connecticut) votes.
To the surprise of many — from real estate regulars who relied on her for much of their work, to residents with random but gotta-have-an-answer queries — Strauss is not a native Westporter.
Raised in Maryland, with a degree in education from Radford College, she moved here after marriage. Her husband Ed’s family were longtime owners of the Depot Liquor Store.
Strauss opened WB&T’s Georgetown office. She worked in the Saugatuck and Greens Farms branches too, before moving to downtown headquarters (now Patagonia).
That’s how she knew so many Westporters — and all about mortgages and land record searches too. The transition to Town Hall was easy.
Patty Strauss, at one of her many Memorial Day parades.
Farrell valued Strauss’ customer services skills. “People need to be treated well,” the 1st selectwoman told the new town clerk.
That’s still the case. Some of the hometown hominess is gone — a cheerful operator no longer personally transfers each call to the appropriate department, and patrons can get answers to many questions from the town website, not an actual human being — but for many Strauss is still the face of Westport government.
Patty and her husband Ed love the water.
During her tenure, records have become more accessible. She once spent most of her days in an enormous vault. Paperwork from 1835 on — births, land records, maps, elections, RTM minutes, burial permits — is still there.
But gone are the days when people had to make appointments to walk in and search (8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. only, please!). Now 17 different collections are online.
Strauss does it all with a fulltime staff of 4, and 1 part-time assistant. She hires extra help during busy seasons, like elections and springtime (dog licenses).
The staff follows Strauss’ philosophy of treating everyone promptly, with courtesy, and alike — no favors to the famous. However, she says, after years of friendly banter with Paul Newman, one day they asked for a photo with him. He put his arms around the women.
It’s still there, on the wall.
Paul Newman and the Town Clerk office staff, after picking up his 2006 absentee ballot.
When COVID hit last March, Town Hall closed. But, Strauss notes, “you can’t swear someone in, issue a marriage license or notarize a signature on Zoom.”
The Town Clerk’s office relocated to a picnic table behind the building. Bird droppings from a nearby maple tree intruded, so now there’s a tent. Town Hall will reopen soon, but Strauss and her staff never stopped seeing people face to face. That goes with the gig.
The gig ends soon for Patty Strauss. She and her husband are moving to Wilmington, North Carolina.
Like every other property transaction, the closing will be recorded in the town clerk’s office. It’s a routine — yet vital — task.
For 23 years Patty Strauss handled that job, and so many others. Countless Westporters have been helped by her organizational skills, attention to detail, and knowledge of (and love for) our town.
When Patty Strauss’ son Greg suffered a traumatic injury last month — he broke his back cliff-jumping, but lost his right foot below the knee — all of Westport rushed to help.
We should. In over 20 years as town clerk, Patty has helped nearly everyone here.
Folks in Town Hall were especially affected. She’s just one official among many, but her work is important to every department. Her warmth and generosity has impacted every office.
Everyone loves Patty.
On Friday, nearly everyone in Town Hall wore Virginia Tech colors: maroon and burnt orange. Greg graduated from there just 4 months ago, and was working his dream job — crewing on a Caribbean yacht — when he was injured.
Showing the Virginia Tech colors for Greg Strauss.
They added messages of encouragement and inspiration. Those are small gestures, but they boosted Greg’s spirits — and of course Patty and her husband Ed’s too.
#GregStrong — started by Greg’s cousin — has caught on. Patty’s assistant Colleen Tarpey ordered stickers that will be sold soon.
Many Town Hall employees and Westporters have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign, for Greg’s mounting medical expenses. We’re all giving back to Patty, in whatever way we can.
Even non-employees sent best wishes.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe — wearing Virginia Tech orange — joined the chorus of encouragement.
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