Retiring Auditor Milene Henley shares insights

After sixteen years of public service as San Juan County’s Auditor, Milene Henley sat down with the Journal to discuss her experiences, insights and accomplishments during her tenure.

Henley is retiring at the end of her fourth fourth-year term to travel, spend more time with her grandchildren, purge her house of unwanted or unnecessary items, perhaps join some boards to do volunteer work and “basically have the time to choose what I want to do.”

The County Auditor is an elected, non-partisan position. Primary responsibilities of the Auditor’s office includes financial responsibilities; financial reporting for the county, assisting the County Administrator with budget preparation and monitoring, paying county bills, county payroll, fixed asset tracking, grant accounting and reporting centralized purchasing for the county, except Public Works. The Auditor also supervises elections, administers all federal, state and local elections, serves as Chair of the County Canvassing Board, registers voters, and maintains voter records as well as the official voter list. The office also records deeds and other legal instruments, licenses vehicles and vessels, issues marriage licenses, and issues dog licenses for both the town and county. The job is more than just numbers. It is multifaceted and detail-oriented.

“I’ve learned that there is no perfect time to leave,” she added. “There will always be unfinished projects. And there will always be more that I’d like to do. I’m leaving at a good time because I think Natasha will be a great successor. And the staff we have is great. And yeah, we’re [the county] in a good position.”

When asked what her proudest moments and highest accomplishments were during her time in office, Henley offered two ideas.

“First of all, the reserve policy. The county never had a reserve policy before 2009 and I encouraged the council to adopt one in the wake of the Great Recession. Everybody said that the middle of a recession is no time to adopt the reserve policy. And I said it’s the best time. So they adopted it and we’ve been faithfully contributing to it for a rainy day fund ever since,” she said. “And the other thing I would say is that some of my proudest accomplishments are the smallest ones. Like communicating regularly with the citizenry. Like trying to speed up vendor payments. Like bringing some great stuff into the county.”

When asked about her perspective on what’s ahead for San Juan County in the years to come, Henley was quick to respond with a sobering message.

“Well, given the normal pattern of economic cycles, I expect another recession. I don’t think it will be as bad as 2007-2008 but there will be some corrections to the crazy growth that we have experienced in the last couple of years. I think we are well-positioned for it. The county government is well positioned for it,” she said. “We’ll still have the challenges that we have now, as far as the everyday man, which is ‘how can I afford to live here?’ and that is the greatest challenge facing the county as a whole. You cannot control market pricing of existing housing. So the only thing you can do is create more housing that is intentionally affordable. We are in a better position than any other county in the state because of the home fund funded by our unique real estate excise tax that supports affordable housing.”

Henley believes that there are some good housing projects underway in the San Juans.

“We just need to continue to be careful to vet those projects to make sure that they will meet the objective. I think that the leadership and affordable housing and the county, notably Mark Tompkins and Ryan Page are doing a great job,” she said.

When asked if she has any advice for her successor, Auditor-elect Natasha Warmenhoven, Henley responded: “she has my cell number.”