The Douglas County Clerk’s Office is well known for conducting elections. However, it also is responsible for paying all of the county’s bills and employees as well as maintaining current records of real estate property in Douglas County.
That’s where Chief Deputy County Clerk Marni Penrod plays an important role. She works closely with elected officials, county department leaders, employees and vendors to ensure everyone is getting paid and the county is meeting all of its financial requirements.
Penrod has worked for Douglas County since 1995 when she was hired in accounts payable. “I didn’t think I would end up in numbers and taxes,” she said. “When I was a child, I thought, ‘Why do grownups talk about taxes so much?’ It was one of the most boring things I could think of.”
Penrod was born and raised in Douglas County and is a Lawrence High School graduate. As a toddler she lived in the small town of Clinton, but she grew up on a farm west of Lone Star Lake. Her father, Loren Anderson, worked for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and served as Sheriff for 12 years. She vaguely remembers visiting him as a young child when the jail was located next to the County Courthouse.
While a junior in high school, she was in a club called Youth in Local Government, where students were assigned to attend and learn about a local board. She was assigned to the Board of County Commissioners and attended their Monday morning meetings. The meetings were typically attended by the three commissioners, the county administrator, two local media representatives and Penrod. “I really enjoyed it and learned so much. They would sometimes ask me questions which I thought was very kind,” she recalled.
In college, she worked for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and then for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a summer park ranger at lakes and rivers in Douglas and Jefferson counties. She said the experience gave her an appreciation for government.
Although she earned a degree in biology from the University of Kansas, she has spent most of her career working for Douglas County in the Clerk’s Office. She has filled in for every position or held the job.
In 2003, she was named Deputy County Clerk of Elections by then-County Clerk Patty Jaimes. Penrod was responsible for the elections in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, she filed to run for the County Clerk position because Jaimes was retiring. It was a difficult year for Penrod because she was not only responsible for conducting the election, but she also was running for office.
She was defeated by current County Clerk Jamie Shew, who she describes as a great boss. “We were always nice to each other when we were campaigning and attending public forums. We didn’t disagree on anything,” she said.
About a week after the election, she met with Shew and he offered her the Chief Deputy County Clerk position. It ended up being a perfect fit. “One of the best decisions I have made as Clerk was asking Marni to be a partner in managing our office,” Shew said.
Penrod enjoys helping with elections, but is grateful that’s she’s not in charge of them. She said the elections staff works countless hours from June to November, especially during presidential election years. It’s difficult to begin working on the next election in the winter and spring because laws can change. For example, the state legislature is currently discussing redistricting. “Once election season hits, it’s like a mad dash,” she said. “They work so hard. I don’t know how they survived the 2020 presidential election during COVID. They were reinventing everything and not getting much sleep. They did a remarkable job.”
Penrod has seen a lot of changes during her 25 years at the county. She recalled serving as the bookkeeper and posting all of the county’s daily business in big ledgers. In 2015, the county’s entire finance system was transferred from paper to electronic. It was a large three-year project that involved multiple departments, and Penrod served as the project manager. “Many times I have thought about how fortunate we are that we made that transition because working remotely during the pandemic would have been extremely difficult otherwise,” she said.
While her job may seem like it’s all about numbers, Penrod is quick to say that it’s about people. She describes her job as a public servant and not as a government worker. “It’s about taking care of the citizens and making sure their money is being spent properly and being a good steward of their tax dollars.”
She enjoys helping people who come through the County Courthouse or by phone. Often, they are seeking where to pay a parking ticket, get a marriage license or pay for their vehicle tags. Many are college students or new residents.
“People just like to be listened to,” she said. “Even if I can’t fix it, people appreciate someone listening to them and appreciate that they are not stuck in a ‘press 1 now’ mode.”
She also is known for helping her colleagues and serving as a mentor. Finance Manager Brooke Sauer described her as the jack of all trades when it comes to county business and operations. “Staff across multiple departments rely on her experience and expertise. She has deep-rooted knowledge and a passion for public service.”
Douglas County Treasurer Adam Rains appreciates how helpful Penrod has been to him and his department employees over the years. “Being a new Treasurer, Marni has helped me extensively with learning county software, policy and procedures. I leaned on her several times when I was first appointed Treasurer to ensure that I understood timesheets, end-of-year procedures and how to best navigate the finance system. I enjoy our conversations and value her input.”
Penrod enjoys working in local government because she believes citizens can more easily create change versus at the state and federal levels. Residents can contact county commissioners, elected officials and department leaders. “If you think there is something that needs changed or hasn’t been done correctly, there’s a really good chance that you could change it. I love that.”
She also loves Douglas County where she and her husband, David, raised two children. She has lived in rural areas and a few years ago moved to the Old West Lawrence neighborhood. “It’s a great mix of the small-big town feeling and rural community where I have a deep connection and roots. People who are nationally-known come to Lawrence to speak, play basketball or perform and that provides a lot of opportunities in one place. I like the balance of it.”