Treasurer retires after 23 years in office

By Colin Willard, Staff Writer
Posted 1/4/23

VIENNA — The new year brings a couple of new things to the Maries County Treasurer’s office. 

The treasurer’s office distributes money paid to the collector’s office …

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Treasurer retires after 23 years in office

Posted

VIENNA — The new year brings a couple of new things to the Maries County Treasurer’s office. 

The treasurer’s office distributes money paid to the collector’s office the previous year, and for the first time since 1998, it will not be Rhonda Slone handling the money. Slone retired from the role at the end of December, and Angie Stricklan, who voters elected to the office last November, now serves as Maries County treasurer.

With her career coming to a close, Slone shared some of her experiences as treasurer and looked ahead to the next chapter of her life.

When Slone was younger, she didn’t picture herself working in government and especially not as a treasurer.

“I didn’t even like math in high school,” she said. “But I had a good accounting teacher. Her name is Beverly Lemberger. I wasn’t good at algebra, but accounting I liked, and that just carried on into this.”

She said that even if she had gone to college, her enjoyment of her high school accounting class wouldn’t have been enough to convince her to major in accounting.

Instead of college, Slone entered the workforce with a state government job for the eight years following high school. When she had children, she moved back to Maries County and started working in the University of Missouri Extension Office for two years. Then, she moved to the county clerk’s office for four years before her 1998 campaign for treasurer.

Slone said she found the motivation to run from office on her regular walks with then-Maries County Circuit Clerk and Recorder of Deeds Leo Thompson. She said he told her “You need to run for that. You could do good.”

“He talked me into it a little bit,” she said. “It scared me to death at first. I thought ‘Oh my, I don’t want to run for public office.’ But back then, it was a little different than it is now. There wasn’t any mudslinging or trash-talking like there is now. It was very civil back in the day. It would hurt you politically if you trash-talked people like they do now. It’s changed since I went in. The political realm is totally different.”

Slone’s family supported her throughout the election and helped her build confidence in her campaign.

“My dad wanted me to do it,” she said. “Both of my parents went out and helped put up signs. We had a band (The Rowden Review), and we would sing locally around here, so we were kind of known through that. Anytime we’d get up onstage somewhere, he (Slone’s father Harold Rowden) would be like ‘Now, you need to vote for her.’ It was embarrassing.”

The only time Slone had an opponent in an election was the first time she ran. The treasurer’s seat was open.

“I put signs out, and I went door-to-door,” she said. “People don’t even like you coming to their door now. I’m very thankful I have not had an opponent since that time. That is not fun.”

Sometimes people would tease Slone about running against her. “They’d be like ‘I really need to run for your job. You’ve got it made,’” she said. “I was like ‘I really don’t. I really don’t have it made.’ I’d play it down. Once you’re in a position here in the county, it seems like you can stay there until you want to make a move.”

Although Slone said she didn’t “have it made” as treasurer, she said the job never put too much pressure on her.

“It’s very low-key,” she said. “There are just certain times of the month when you get your deposits, and you get a turnover from every office. As soon as you get it, you have to work it out because that money goes to all the public entities, the ambulances, the schools. They’re all waiting on their money. It’s a juggling act sometimes. We have a total of 56 funds right now that need to keep balanced, and I tell them when their funds are getting low. It’s just (about) keeping everything in the black.”

In her four years with the county clerk’s office, she had run payroll and helped work elections, which she said helped familiarize her with the inner workings of the county government before running for an elected office.

“These two offices were so intertwined that I knew I could handle the financial part of it,” she said while sitting in the treasurer’s office and pointing toward the county clerk’s office. “I knew what he (former treasurer Ronnie Terrill) did. I already understood all the funds and how to handle all the receipts. He had the old ledgers, and they were just added up at the bottom and transferred over. I entered them in the computer, so I already knew that part of it. I just didn’t know if I would be good with the public or with the political part of the job.”

Slone took over the treasurer’s office during a period of transition. In the MU Extension office, she had what she thinks is the first computer in the courthouse. The previous treasurer used paper ledgers, but Slone had a computer in the office when she took over.

“Slowly each office started getting computers, and it just evolved from that,” she said. “We went from no computers at all to now, when no one operates without a computer. I wouldn’t want to go back to the old ledger thing.”

Slone’s biggest challenge as treasurer was in 2008 when the economy crashed during the Great Recession.

“All the employees and all the elected officials worked together to really watch what we spent,” she said. “By the time September or October would get here, I’d start looking at the figures and be like ‘I don’t know if we’re going to make it to the end of the year and still be able to pay the bills that have to be paid. Some of those years were very lean.”

The Great Recession was not the only time Slone had to urge county offices to keep tight budgets.

“When I first took office, it was lean then, too,” Slone said. “It seems like the sales taxes have helped us, and there seems to be more spending locally than there has been in years past.”

When she started, the county made about $200,000 annually on a half-cent sales tax. Now, the county makes about $300,000 annually on each of three half-cent sales taxes.

“We are doing well with our sales taxes locally,” she said. “We couldn’t survive just on what portion we get from (Maries County Collector) Jayne’s (Williams) collections because we just get like one-eighth of all collections, so sales tax is what we survive on. It runs the county.”

Slone said that when she started, the collector’s office brought in about $1 million each year, but now that number is closer to $5 million.

“Five million seems like a lot to me, but it’s nothing compared to Phelps County and Cole County,” she said.

Being treasurer may not have caused Slone much stress, but she said that she did have some recurring dreams about working in the office.

“I can’t balance, or I’m a penny off and I’m just sitting here pulling my hair out,” she said about her dreams. “It’s awful.”

Slone said the hardest part of retirement will be saying goodbye to her coworkers around the courthouse.

“I’m going to miss everybody,” she said. “We all worked really well together. I go to these treasurers’ meetings of all the treasurers in the state once a year. A lot of these (other) counties don’t get along at all. We (in Maries County) have always gotten along, and if we don’t, we work it out between each other and then it’s done.”

Slone was the subject of many pranks by Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre, who would use things like masks or noise machines to startle Slone throughout her time at the courthouse.

“I have a phobia of mice,” she said. “He put one in here (her desk drawer) that moved. He could sit in there and make it move and hear me scream. Leave it to Eddie. You ever need to laugh, just be around Eddie for a little while.”

Besides Slone’s colleagues, she will miss some of the strange happenings around the courthouse. One morning when she worked in the extension office, she found a big footprint in her desk chair. An inmate from the jail escaped through her office window. Another time, another escaping prisoner asked courthouse employees to excuse him for making so much noise while he ran out.

“I heard him run,” Slone said. “It was like a herd of cattle. It’s mostly prisoner stories that are funny around here. Sad, but that’s the funny part.”

Slone said the future of the treasurer’s office is in good hands with Stricklan taking over.

“She’s going to be top-notch,” Slone said. “Everything that I have run by her, she has caught immediately. She’s keeping great notes. She will be awesome.”

With more time for herself, Slone plans to do some traveling.

“My goal is to do more with the grandkids now that I have some free time,” Slone said. “They live in Lee’s Summit, so we’re going to have to keep the road hot. They’re both in sports right now. We try to go to as many of those games as we can.”

She said her daughter’s family often tries to convince her to move closer, but she is unsure how she would adjust to moving from Vienna’s population of about 600 people to Lee’s Summit population of about 105,000 people. Plus, her mother and three brothers still live in Maries County.

Slone’s travel goals also include several national parks.

“I want to go to Yosemite,” she said. “I haven’t seen the redwood trees. That’s on my bucket list. I’ve never been in California, period. I want to go to Grand Teton. I also want to go to Hawaii someday, if I can stand eight hours on an airplane.”

Some people struggle with boredom in retirement, but Slone hopes she will not have too many commitments keeping her busy.

“I’ve told people at church that for the first year, I’m going to say no to everything because they say you get even busier after you retire,” Slone said.

She joked that no one had asked for her help with any chores yet, but once they saw her quote in the newspaper, she’d be wondering, “Man, why did I say that?”

Now that Slone has the time to do what she wants, she hopes she can remain social.

“That’s been my biggest worry about retiring,” she said. “I’m such a people person, and I talk all the time. I’ll just have to go out and find somebody to talk to.”

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