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Published: Wednesday, 12/17/2008

Retirement will conclude 27 years of service to Wood County

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN Wood County Clerk of Courts Rebecca Bhaer has had so many people ask her what she ll do after retiring that she s taken to telling them things like hang-gliding and motorcycle riding.

I really don t know what I m going to do. I m waiting for offers, she said in a more serious tone.

After 21 years as clerk of courts and a total of 27 in the clerk s office, Ms. Bhaer, 65, will turn over the reins in January to Cindy Hofner, her longtime chief deputy clerk, who was elected in November. A reception for Ms. Bhaer is scheduled from 2 to 7 p.m. tomorrow in the atrium of the courthouse.

I feel like I m leaving the office in excellent hands, Ms. Bhaer said. There is a very good staff in place, and I feel Cindy is well-equipped to do the job she s certainly better equipped than I was.

A business education teacher by training, she began working for then-Wood County Clerk of Courts Betty Haas in 1981. Ms. Bhaer had taught for four years after college then taken off 10 years to be home with her son and daughter.

Ms. Bhaer said she was ready to take a new job at Bowling Green State University in 1987 when Ms. Haas encouraged her to stay on and run for clerk of courts.

Unbeknownst to Ms. Bhaer, her boss announced she was retiring while Ms. Bhaer was on vacation and she quickly found herself running for clerk before the Republican Central Committee, which was charged with filling the vacancy.

I was the long shot, Ms. Bhaer said, adding that she began her first campaign in earnest anyway, calling on each of the central committee members personally, putting together a brochure, and making what she recalled as a less-than-stellar presentation to the committee.

My voice was quivery. I was nervous, but they liked what I said, she said.

She got the appointment, and for the next 15 months set out to prove herself. She ran in her first general election in 1988, and she s been in office ever since.

I love meeting people. I love serving, but I am not as much of a risk-taker to really want to spend a year not knowing what the outcome is going to be, Ms. Bhaer said.

It helped that she only had an opponent in 2004 a young Democrat she easily defeated.

Still, she decided not to run this year, supporting Ms. Hofner instead.

I was not feeling like I had the energy to run a campaign if it turned out to be a really hard-working opponent and still do the job well, Ms. Bhaer explained.

I opted to do the job.

And she s done it well.

Paul Dobson, who takes over as Wood County prosecutor in the new year, said Ms. Bhaer is widely respected for bringing the clerk s office into the high-tech age.

Over the many years that she s been in charge of the clerk s office, she was responsible for the leaps that it took ahead as far as everything from professionalism of the staff to the most recent advancements of putting dockets online, he said.

Ms. Bhaer said her background as a teacher has served her well in the clerk s office.

My philosophy has been to hire good staff and give them everything they need to do the job without having to run to me for everything, she said. I ve always wanted the office to run as if I m here when I m not here.

Customer service and accountability are her other priorities. While the clerk s office has 28 employees and operates on just over $1.2 million a year, more than $18 million in fines, court costs, restitution, and other payments pass through the office each year.

That s the amount we have to account for to the penny and that s the amount we have accounted for to the penny for 21 years, Ms. Bhaer said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:jfeehan@theblade.comor 419-353-5972.



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