BEMIDJI – Kay Mack is sitting in her car outside a Bixby Avenue home.
It’s 1986 and Mack, then a nine-year veteran of the Beltrami County treasurer’s office, is running for the county treasurer position after her boss left the seat.
She sat in the car for about 30 minutes, steeling her nerves to knock on her first door of the election season. It would be the first and last election that she would run against someone for the job.
Now after more than 30 years at the county, Mack is taking over as the Beltrami County administrator.
Mack has been in the position on a temporary basis since May after Tony Murphy announced his resignation in March. It marked the second time in her career that she served as the interim administrator.
Her peers and county commissioners pointed to her knowledge of the county and leadership abilities as reasons she would make a good administrator.
But keeping the job on a permanent basis didn’t interest Mack initially, she said, mainly because she felt “intimidated” by the union negotiation process.
After going through that process this year, Mack said she felt more comfortable with the job.
“It wasn’t until I was doing it for a few months that it occurred to me that it really would be a good fit for the county and for me,” Mack said.
An early start
Mack began working as the deputy treasurer for Beltrami County in 1977, when she was 20 years old. At the time, she was a senior at Bemidji State University, and married to her husband Larry.
Along with her job at the county, Mack worked at the local A&W as a waitress to help pay tuition.
“I literally went to work at A&W on Sunday and went to work at the county Monday,” she said with a laugh.
She took classes around her work schedule to finish her final 33 credits at BSU, graduating with a degree in business administration in 1984. By then, she had three children.
She said the degree she earned was “tailor-made” for her position.
“Property tax systems are so unique they’ll never be able to teach that in a college,” Mack said. “But if you’re good with numbers and just understand those concepts… that came pretty naturally to me.”
A few years after Mack was first elected as treasurer, administrative changes led to birth and death certificates and other records being processed through the treasurer’s office. Mack said that challenge helped prove to her that she could do the work.
Her job as the county treasurer was combined with the auditor position in 1997. Mack said she had little knowledge of the intricacies of running elections before taking the job.
“I used to really discount the difficulty of administering an election, until I became the one who had to do it,” Mack said. “It’s just a ton of detail.”
Kay Murphy, the city clerk at Bemidji, has worked with Mack on local elections. The two have known each other since going to Bemidji High School together.
“I think the county has made a really good choice,” Murphy said. “She takes the time to educate herself on things.”
When she took over the administrator position in Murphy’s absence, the goal was to keep the county running smoothly, not necessarily taking on new projects and stretching county offices too thin, Mack said. She said she’s excited to get up to speed as the full-time administrator.
“I think the first thing I would look at is holding a planning session with the board and really kind of cementing what are their values as a board,” Mack said.
Beltrami County commissioners lauded her experience and leadership. Commissioner Jack Frost said she was the “clear choice” after her interview, citing her knowledge of the county.
“She enjoys people,” Commissioner Richard Anderson said. “But she’s also considered very honest and very straightforward.”
As administrator, an unelected position, Mack said her job will be to carry out policies that commissioners design and maintain partnerships within the community. All the department heads, except for the sheriff, attorney and auditor/treasurer, will report to Mack.
“Communication…is going to be one of my huge focuses,” Mack said. “That’s one of the things I think we found during the transition is that people felt communication wasn’t as strong as it could be.”