After 30 Years, Town Clerk Doucette Announces Retirement

By: William F. Galvin

Town Clerk Anita Doucette will be retiring at the end of her term in May. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH – After serving the community for 30 years, Town Clerk Anita Doucette will retire at the end of her term in May.

“It’s happening. I am not taking out my nomination papers,” Doucette said. “I love my town, my job, but I need to spend more of my time with my family. I have beautiful grandchildren and want to spend more time with them all.”

Her tenure as keeper of the records for the municipality is the second longest in the town’s history. Nathaniel Stone, Jr. was elected to the position in 1742 and served for 35 years, Doucette said.

Doucette began working for the town as a member of the board of registrars in 1985 and has served on the recreation and beach commission and the bylaw and charter review committee. She has been a member of the Democratic Town Committee since she was 26 years old, and has served in a number of local organizations.

“When I started in this office we didn’t even have computers,” she said. “Everything was done on paper and by hand. When I started on the board of registrars we had paper ballots that had to be counted by hand.”

Doucette grew up in Harwich, graduated from Harwich High School in 1970 and went to work for the Cape Cod Five Cents Saving Bank for eight years. Then she worked for Chatham attorney William Hammatt for five years.

In April 1991, Doucette was hired by then-town clerk Ruth Ericson. Ericson appointed Doucette assistant town clerk in January 1992. Ericson then announced she would not be a candidate for another three-year term as town clerk, which opened the door for Doucette to run.

The primary function of the town clerk is the keeper of the all of the records of the town. Those records include the “Proprietor’s Share,” the original document of the purchase of Harwich land from the Sipson Indians in the early 1600s, and the First Book of Harwich, which was signed on April 20, 1688 and inscribed “The Year and Reign of Sovereign Lord William of England King and Queen Mary.”

A lot has changed and tasks have been added to the position, Doucette said, including the town clerk’s role in the oversight of the Open Meeting Law and more recently the added task of public records access officer. The town clerk is responsible for overseeing more than 200 laws, she said.

Doucette started taking town clerk courses in 1993 and received her Massachusetts town clerk certification in 1999. She was the third town clerk in the commonwealth to receive a master municipal clerk certification in 2005 from the Master Municipal Clerk International Institute, which requires schooling for one week a year.

She has served as chairman of education for the Massachusetts Town Clerks' Association for 10 years and is an active member of the Cape and Islands Town Clerks' Association. Even though Doucette will be retired, she has been asked to continue to teach during the summer educational training session for town clerks next summer and to also do educational training at the New England Town Clerks' Association annual meeting to be held at the Chatham Bars Inn in the fall.

Election laws and running elections can be a challenge. Doucette said her first election as town clerk was the 1992 presidential election when President Clinton was chosen over George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. The town had transitioned from paper ballots to a punch card system requiring voters to read the ballot and punch a card to cast a vote.

“I got to the polls at 5:30 a.m. on election day and got home at 5 a.m. the next morning,” Doucette said.

Doucette brushed aside charges of fraudulent results in some states in the last election, praising the handling of elections in Massachusetts.

“ I know how I’ve been taught, it’s pretty much straight forward,” Doucette said. “When we do recounts the numbers hardly ever change because these ballots are processed by computers now.”

Technology has changed over the years, and Doucette said it is time to get younger people involved. 

“It’s time for me to step aside,” she said. “When things change there is a positive to it, never a negative.”

The change for Doucette will include more travel. She said she has never been to California and would like to make that trip and see more of the rest of the country. She also has a camp in Oxford, Maine, where she would like to spend more time. 

Doucette praised the people who have worked with her over the years, including Paula West, Katie Gaudet and the many people who have served on the board of registrars.

“Town clerk is the position I have, but it’s not me,” Doucette said. “I couldn’t do my job unless I had good people working with me, not for me.”

She said no one has yet expressed an interest in running for the position.

“I’ll only be a phone call away if anyone needs me or my 30 years of institutional knowledge,” she said.