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Beverly Kaufman: Humble public servant taking a graceful bow

BeverlyKaufmanLargeBeverly Kaufman: Humble public servant taking a graceful bow

After 35 years of faithful service to the public, Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman will retire on December 31. Looking back on her career of opportunity after opportunity, Kaufman counts it as a blessing and is grateful for those who encouraged her along the way. 

Kaufman became interested in public service at a young age. Her parents, both voters, often discussed the news and politics. Describing herself as a studious kid, she would watch the political parties’ conventions on her family’s television during the summers.  This first taste of politics fascinated her. A cousin running for constable in Waller County gave her insight into the campaign and election process.

Between her junior and senior year in high school, Kaufman competed to attend a 10-day summer government camp in Austin, Bluebonnet Girls State, sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary.

The girls were also divided into political parties and ran for office. She was elected county judge and later appointed to the court of criminal appeals. Kaufman says that experience kept her interested in government, but it would be several years before she would have her hand in politics again.

Shortly after marrying her husband, Al, a gentleman committed to Republican politics, she found herself volunteering on a state representative’s campaign in a special election. (Al had volunteered her to serve in his place.) Eventually, she joined Republican Women’s Club and, later, became its president.

“I just found a home in the Republican Party,” she said.

In 1974, Kaufman served as an active volunteer on Jon Lindsay’s campaign for county judge.

After his election, she was urged (by a friend) to apply for a part-time position that hadn’t yet been filled. Kaufman’s first reaction was to decline; she wasn’t looking for a career. Her aspirations were to be a good wife and mother. But, Kaufman’s friend continued to press, knowing Kaufman had (years before) worked for a group of lawyers in Houston and had the legal secretary and courthouse experience needed for the position in Judge Lindsay’s office. Finally, Kaufman applied for the job, and Lindsay hired her. 

Over the next 20 years, Kaufman worked her way up the ladder — to an administrative position and as hearing master for Lindsay’s alcoholic beverage license protest docket. She served as liaison to the county clerk’s office and the library and led many community projects, including the annual blood drive and United Way campaign.

In 1994, when Lindsay announced he would not seek another term, Kaufman went to work as communications director for Falcon Seaboard.

“I jumped at the chance because I didn’t know what the future held at the county,” she said.

That same year, the veteran county clerk passed away. Kaufman’s name was in the running to take her place, but Molly Pryor was appointed. Nine months later, Pryor passed away. Kaufman was again eligible for appointment, and she was selected.

After her appointment, she was nominated by her party and won the November election with more than 60 percent of the vote. And that start brings her to today.

“I’m just very grateful,” Kaufman said. “It’s not like I sat down as a young person and outlined my life. Opportunities have come along; and I’m grateful. My philosophy is: “Don’t waste opportunities, and when you’re given an opportunity, give it your best.”

As county clerk, Kaufman keeps records of the Commissioner’s Court meetings, serves as the county recorder, keeping vital documents including property records and marriage licenses, and is the chief election officer of the third largest county in the country.
In her 17 years as county clerk, Kaufman has seen several changes, including the increasing use of technology. When she first came into office, microfilm was used to keep records. Now, records are stored digitally; some stored offsite for protection.

The voting process has also evolved under her watch — from paper ballots to electronic machines — greatly enhancing convenience to voters. Harris County introduced electronic voting during the early voting period in 2001. Now voters can go to any of 37 locations during early voting prozac valium, find their precinct’s ballot and cast their votes.

“My office does many things. Being able to enhance services to the public and know we are being fiscally responsible while utilizing technology to the advantage of public service has been good,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman has also kept the interest of the public at the forefront of her response to the August fire that destroyed nearly all of the county’s electronic voting machines. She immediately put out requests for loaner equipment from surrounding counties and replacement equipment from Hart InterCivic, taking steps to ensure that election season, particularly election day, runs as smoothly as possible.

“I’m happy to say everyone who has been in a position to help us has helped us,” she said. “We should have a pretty close-to-normal election day.”

As chief elections officer, Kaufman prepares voting machines and distributes them to polling locations, assigns election judges and their alternates and trains all election personnel. She admits the elections process is the most emotionally charged aspect of the job.

A day may come, though, when election duties are not the county clerk’s responsibility. In May, County Judge Ed Emmett asked the commissioner’s court to consider the costs of appointing a non-partisan elections administrator. Kaufman has encouraged them to pursue this appointment because of the partisan pressures on both the tax assessor-collector, who handles voter registration, and the county clerk, both partisan elected officials.

Seventy-seven Texas counties have already taken this step – Harris and Travis (Austin) counties are the only two urban counties who have not. Ultimately, the commissioner’s court determines if that position will be implemented in Harris County. The county judge, county clerk, tax assessor-collector and chairs of the two major political parties have to choose the individual.

When asked what has kept her interested and involved in public service for so long, Kaufman says the first job she had in an elected official’s office opened up a whole new world to her. She is grateful to Jon Lindsay who taught her what it means to be everyone’s official and a consensus builder. Kaufman also fondly remembers Pat Krischke, a mentor who constantly encouraged her and “did everything she could to get the best out of me.”

Colleagues and friends have seen how closely Kaufman took that wisdom to heart.
Former County Judge Jon Lindsay commented, “Beverly is one of the smartest people I know, and she’s got a memory like an elephant. If we ever needed to know something (from history), we went to Beverly. She always remembered exactly how things happened.”

Catherine Mosbacher, CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future, said, “Beverly Kaufman is someone who walks the walk; she doesn’t just talk the talk. She is a highly ethical woman with a high standard of integrity.”

Mosbacher and Kaufman met through the Houston Federation of Republican Women.
Kaufman, in turn, has done what she could to get the best out of her staff. Kaufman is constantly complimented on the caliber and character of her staff. She has taught them what it means to be a public servant, and it is recognized.

“Nothing that’s been accomplished in my office since I’ve been here has been all about me. It’s been all about the team,” she said. “That’s going to be the hardest part of leaving — having to walk away from people who have been so loyal and have done such a great job.”

She also will be missed by many.

“I’m sad on the one hand, disappointed that I won’t be working with her,” says Bob Collie, colleague and friend. “But I’m also very happy for her. She will have the opportunity to do many other things.”

Throughout her career, Kaufman has put the citizens and the public first, remembering that the job is more about the people she serves and not about herself. She sees that as key to her success.

“Across the board, we’ve served everyone to the greatest degree of efficiency that we can and have used technology to do a better job. I believe we’re leaving the office better than we found it.”
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