‘Renaissance’ meeting recorder retires
Karen McLaws quietly walked into the Summit County Courthouse Council Chambers last week and made a beeline for a table along the wall.
McLaws took out a recorder, a pen and a yellow notepad before setting down her bags. Summit County Clerk Kent Jones sat down next to her and they started casually talking as they waited for the County Council.
Once council members joined and the meeting resumed, the conversation quickly turned to McLaws’ retirement. The County Council bid their farewells as staffers gave McLaws flowers and small presents.
"It’s been an interesting journey and I would have never dreamed I’d end up doing this," McLaws said. "I’ve kind of been a fixture in Summit County for a long time now."
McLaws ended her 25-year career as a contracted employee recording minutes and performing secretarial services for Summit County meetings following that meeting on Dec. 16.
McLaws, who turned 70 in November, said her retirement should come as no surprise to Summit County officials because she announced her decision nearly two years ago, knowing "it would soon be time."
"It’s just really time," McLaws said. "My oldest son has two children and my other son lives in Wisconsin and has three little ones and it would just be nice to spend more time with them. I wouldn’t have to run out the door to go to the County Council meeting."
"When you hit this age you realize you don’t have very many good years left and I don’t want to spend them driving up the canyon in a snow storm anymore."
‘She would not let me off the phone’
After McLaws graduated from Weber State University with a bachelor’s degree in business education and a minor in German, she moved to Los Angeles with her husband briefly before returning to Utah.
A friend of McLaws owned a secretarial service in Salt Lake City with an office downtown when she asked her to join the business.
Soon after becoming a partner, McLaws said she received a phone call from the secretary of former Summit County Development Director Bruce Parker who "would not let me off the phone until I found a solution for her."
"She needed someone to take minutes at a meeting and I told her that people bring their work to us. Now we had some subcontractors we would send out to work, but that was it," McLaws said. "I finally gave in and she goes, ‘good my boss will be there at 2 p.m.’ and that’s really how it all got started.
"My business was not interested in that part of it," she said. "And that was about 25 years ago."
McLaws’ client basis quickly grew to include Park City, the county’s planning commissions, service areas and homeowner associations.
"It just kind of spread from there," McLaws said.
As the business continued to grow and focus more services on recording meetings, McLaws and her partner split in 1997.
The first retirement
In 2005, McLaws began turning over her client base to some of her subcontractors in anticipation of retirement. She kept the corporation, but sold other parts. Once McLaws retired, she traveled to East Germany for more than a year for an LDS Church mission.
"I was there for a year and half and when I came back the lady I had sold the Planning Commission to asked me to come back and subcontract for her and that’s when I became a contracted employee," McLaws said.
Since then she has "sat in her little corner" and recorded minutes for several entities, including the County Council, Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, Summit County Health Department and the Park City Fire District.
She’s a Renaissance woman
When McLaws attends the Basin Planning Commission meetings, she sits next to Jami Brackin, Summit County Deputy Attorney. Brackin said she appreciates McLaws for her experience and familiarity with the community.
"This is a Renaissance woman. She is so professional and so polite and sometimes she would come out with some really fun comments and make me giggle," Brackin said. "She is a fabulous woman and I adore and I will miss her terribly, but she has been doing this for 25 years.
"She knows all the players and she knows everyone that comes to the microphone," Brackin said. "This is a person that is not going to be easily replaced.
25 years worth of perspective
When McLaws began working with the local governments more than two decades ago, several new systems were being introduced, including the matrix code, resulting in late meetings and heated discussions.
"That caused so many people so much grief and there was a lot of contention in those meetings and they really did go until 1 or 2 a.m.," McLaws said. "I was just saying to someone the other day with 25 years worth of perspective I look back and I can just say that all of these issues are just transitory. It’s one issue and then a certain cast of characters is on the scene they get passionate and that goes by the wayside and then another comes up and another cast of characters.
"Over all of those years I have seen issues come and issues go. It’s so interesting because they are all transitory," she said, before adding "but very important."
While her career veered from the path she had originally seen for herself, McLaws said that using her talents and training to serve others has been just as important.
"I have always felt that if I’m not doing something to help others then why am I doing it? And it has been really gratifying," McLaws said. "I will just miss the associations with the people I have worked with. The commissioners and council members have all been great and wonderful to work with. They are all just wonderful people and I will miss them."
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.