Retiring Blaine clerk had huge impact behind the scenes

When Jane Cross was hired as the city of Blaine’s deputy city clerk 17 years ago, one of the first questions she as then City Clerk Joyce Twistol was couldn’t the city send out more emails instead of mailing out letters.

Plymouth City Clerk Sandy Engdal (left) was one of many city clerks who came to Jane Cross’ (right) May 29 retirement party. Cross recently retired after 17 years with the city with most of that time as its city clerk. Photo by Eric Hagen
Plymouth City Clerk Sandy Engdal (left) was one of many city clerks who came to Jane Cross’ (right) May 29 retirement party. Cross recently retired after 17 years with the city with most of that time as its city clerk. Photo by Eric Hagen

At that time, only supervisors had access to email.

A lot has changed since Cross began working for the city of Blaine May 28, 1997.

“We’ve gone from a lot of paper to mostly electronic,” said Cross, Blaine’s retiring city clerk.

A city clerk’s work happens behind the scenes, but “you count on them being there so you can do your job,” said Tom Ryan, who has been the Blaine mayor since January 1997.

Cross rarely needed to make presentations at Blaine City Council meetings other than the occasional licensing issues when the city was looking at its massage parlor ordinance or when a charitable gambling application was questioned, for example.

But she was making a difference, both inside and outside city hall, colleagues and friends said.

Some of her highlights included helping the city move to Legistar software and transitioning staff and most of the council to electronic tablets to reduce paper documents, overseeing the city’s purchase of DocuWare software so scanned documents could be electronically stored instead of using microfiche, and partnering with the counties of Anoka, Blue Earth and Crow Wing to implement the Modus Election Manager software program that creates a centralized database of election judge contact information, polling locations, form letters, and much more.

“The long hours of elections” was Cross’ least favorite part of the job, especially in the days leading up to the election. When cities started accepting absentee ballots in the 2012 election rather than sending everyone to the county, she was putting in some more than 80-hour work weeks.

However, working with election judges and “the public in general” was her favorite part of the job.

Prior to being chosen from 17 applicants for Blaine’s deputy city clerk job in May 1997, Cross worked in Anoka County’s Family Center for eight-and-a-half years and before that for the Randall, Dehn & Goodrich law firm in Anoka as a legal secretary who became well-versed on city ordinances and resolutions.

She applied to the job in Blaine because the family center “wasn’t the most pleasant place to be” because people often came in angry, but she still wanted to work in the public sector.

During her time in Blaine as deputy city clerk and then city clerk, Cross made a positive impression even on those she only saw occasionally. Joe Ouellette, a Blaine Planning Commission member since 2001 and chairperson since 2003, said Cross always made him feel “so comfortable” when he was nervous about being interviewed by the council when re-applying for a commission seat.

The Blaine Parks and Recreation department started Blaine World Fest in 2008, but Ouellette remembers Cross being a huge supporter of the city starting this festival that has become an annual tradition for one day in September. Ryan knows a challenge Cross faced as the city grew more culturally diverse was finding translators when people whose first language was not English came in to apply for a license.

Election stories

Cross became Blaine’s city clerk three weeks before the 2000 general election. Although she was familiar with the equipment, she had never coordinated an election and this would be an important one not only because of the local and state races, but because this was the George W. Bush and Al Gore presidential election.

Thankfully, there were no “hanging chads” to contend with as there were in Florida, but it was still “baptism by fire,” as Cross put it.

How 2000 differed was results on election night were faxed or called into the county. Now everything is transmitted electronically to the county, who sends the results to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office to be posted on its website extremely quickly.

The 2008 recount for the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman was much more challenging than 2000, Cross said. A lot of attorneys were making data requests. Some directly contacted election judges. Cross made sure all requests came directly to her office. Hand counting every ballot, called canvassing the results, happens after election, but ballots needed to be counted a second time. The process was less challenging than in other counties throughout the state.

“It was a learning experience, but it reinforced to me how well elections are run in Anoka County,” Cross said.

The question Cross hears the most now is, “What will you do now that you’re retired?”

The answer is simple. She wants to spend more time with family and friends. She has one daughter and two grandchildren, ages 19 and 10. She has three sisters and two brothers.

Her husband Bill is already retired, so they can at the spur of the moment take their motorcycles on a long road trip. She first plans to take a trip with her “girlfriends” in August around Lake Superior.

She will also be riding again with her daughter Chloe Trivelpiece and other family members at the Patriot Ride June 14 in Ham Lake as she has done every year since it started. Diane Haugen, one of Cross’ sisters, said Jane does a lot of volunteer work with the Minnesota Patriot Guard that organizes this ride and “goes out of her way to help veterans.” She visits the Veterans Administration clinics, plays Bingo at VFWs, and has made blankets for veterans in nursing homes. Her son-in-law Special Troops 1st Sgt. Schon Trivelpiece served in the U.S. Army for 22 years with two deployments to Iraq during the Gulf War and Iraq War and another deployment to Afghanistan before retiring in 2012.

Cross, who will continue living in Blaine, does not plan on becoming a stranger to the people who work and have worked at city hall.

As she caught up with former colleagues who came to wish her well at her May 29 retirement party, Ryan said, “What’s nice about this group is they come back to see each other.”

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]