Fulton County Recorder Sandra Barber spent her last day in office Monday ensuring a smooth transition following her departure.
Barber, 71, leaves the position after serving 23 years and about six elected terms in office. On Wednesday, Deputy Recorder Wendy Hardy was named interim recorder during a special meeting of the county commissioners. A new recorder will be appointed Jan. 17.
“I’ve enjoyed everything,” Barber said. “Every day there’s a new challenge, and it’s kept it interesting. All in all, it’s been a very positive experience, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”
The Defiance native was a Fulton County homemaker with accounting experience when she was elected county recorder in 1996. Barber had faced tough competition, but was no stranger to politics. As chairman of the local Republican Party – a position she still holds – and through keeping the books at her husband’s law firm over 11 years, she was familiar with the work.
“I’ve always had a love of politics,” she said. “I was just fascinated with it, and I’ve never lost interest in it. My idea is that, we are so lucky to live in this country and enjoy the freedoms that we have, that people who are involved in politics and government must do their very best to make sure that we retain those same principles.”
Her office was initially located in the county courthouse. Before the advent of modern technology, she and her staff microfilmed by hand all documents coming across their desks. They then had to place each document into its correct corresponding book, a laborious task.
Those burdens were lifted after her office was moved to the county’s administration building in 2001 and became equipped to scan documents. Since 2016, they have been e-filed, a process that will soon surpass hard copies.
“The 23 years that I’ve been here have just been an amazing change. We are moving so quickly in technology,”Barber said.
She always tried to include her staff in her decision-making process. She eventually learned every job under her leadership, and always kept her office on a professional level.
“I’m here to serve the public. I think sometimes people forget that in public life,” she said. “I’ve always told my staff that I didn’t care if the president of the United States came in or a bag lady – you treated them with respect. Everyone is important, their request is important.”
She remembered a period during the mid-2000s when interest rates were exceptionally low and the office’s workload skyrocketed. The staff was handling between 100 and 160 documents daily.
“We could hardly keep up. People were refinancing constantly. We were coming in at six in the morning, and sometimes working until six or seven at night,” Barber said.
Over the years, she sometimes had to remind visiting professionals and members of the public who were upset that she would not tolerate foul language or the verbal abuse of her staff. “You’ve got to let them know that this is an office owned by the taxpayers, and I expect people to act professionally in here,” she said.
Still, relating to the people Barber conducted business with was the most enjoyable part of her job. They included attorneys, title examiners, community members, and, more recently, representatives of pipeline companies. Their inquiries into county properties were varied enough to keep Barber constantly interested and enthused.
And some were downright humorous. She remembered several instances in which people about to purchase a property sought information because they’d heard it was haunted.
“I said, ‘Well, we don’t keep track of ghosts,’” she recalled, laughing. “But they were very serious about it.”
A man once wrote for information about a parcel of land he thought he might own, but didn’t include enough details for a search. Barber’s return letter suggested that he could find the data online.
“He wrote back in big letters, ‘I’m in jail, you idiot.’ I hadn’t noticed from the return address that the letter had come from (the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in) Stryker,” she said.
Last August, Barber traveled to Columbus to receive the state Republican Party’s Chair of the Year Award. President Donald Trump spoke at the event.
She mulled over retiring for most of 2018, and finally took the plunge in November, setting a final date of Dec. 31.
“The office is running smoothly…It’s a good time. I’m definitely ready to move on and start a new chapter in my book,” she said. “But it’s going to be hard to leave the people.”
Her husband, former Common Pleas Court Judge James Barber, with whom she recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, took mandatory retirement in 2016. Though he often travels around Ohio as a visiting judge, she wants to take three wish-list trips with him: Vermont and New Hampshire in the fall, a train ride through the Canadian Rockies, and a stay on Prince Edward Island.
Barber also wants to visit more often with her children – Matthew in Dayton, Caroline in Washington, D.C., and Joel in Denver, Colo. She plans on overdue lunch dates with friends, playing lots of tennis, continuing her gym workouts, and remaining involved with several community organizations.
“I want to be able to travel and see my family, and visit people. I still have a few irons in the fire,” she said, adding wryly, “And if I get too bored I might be a Walmart greeter.”
Interim Recorder Hardy said Barber was a great mentor. “She runs a fine office and she loves the public, and that’s what I want to do. I’m very honored that Sandy thought of me to do this,” she said.
County Commissioner Jeff Rupp said Barber dedicated her adult life to politics and causes she believes in.
“Her leadership of the Fulton County Republican Party, along with leadership on many other organizations and boards, has been a true example of civic service at its finest. Her mentorship has meant a lot to me,” he said.
Barber said, for now, she’ll take her retirement at an easy pace and wait to see what inspires her.
“Whatever door God opens for me, I’m going to be receptive to,” she said.
Anyone interested as a candidate for the county recorder’s position may send a resume to Sandra Barber at 319 E. Elm St., Wauseon, Ohio 43567. Deadline is Jan. 14.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.