Nearly 20 years ago, on Jan. 3, 1992, Freddy Burton announced his candidacy for Saline County clerk, a position held at that time by George Ramsey, who was not seeking another term.
Today, at age 64, Burton is making another kind of announcement: "I will not seek another term."
He noted that some people who are already aware of his decision have asked him why he's ending his political career.
"Honestly, I never thought I would stay 20 years," he said. "Someone else needs to have the privilege that I’ve had as county clerk."
Another factor that Burton says has influenced his decision is his health. Recently, he was diagnosed with lupus.
"For the past three years I have struggled with my duties as county clerk and my service to our community while dealing with some health issues," he said.
Reflecting on the past two decades, Burton says he is "so grateful and thankful to so many who have helped me during my years as county clerk."
The first he mentioned was his predecessor, George Ramsey.
"George had in place an exceptional group of ladies in his office in 1992," he said. "George is like me in that we both know our abilities and our limitations. So, consequently we see the need to have around us those who have the ability to make us look good, and they have certainly accomplished that job.
"Once I read where the late Andrew Carnegie had written this for his epitaph: 'Here lies one who knows how to get around him people who were cleverer than himself.'
"By no means am I comparing myself to Andrew Carnegie, but I think you get my point," Burton said. "Over the past 20 years I’ve had the challenge to hire additional office staff and can say today that the team in the Saline County Clerk’s office is, by far, one of the best county clerk offices in the state. Because of them, the office has such a pleasant working environment, which spills over into the manner in which they do their work and in the way they treat their real boss, the taxpayers of Saline County.
"Service is their priority," he added, noting that he continually receives letters, emails and phone calls informing him of the excellent service and the caring attitude of his staff.
As an example, he mentioned this comment made by Pam Morgan, one of his employees: "We aim to please."
"We’ve all experienced the person on the other side of the desk trying to figure out a way not to help us, instead of looking for a way to help solve our issue, especially in government offices," Burton noted. "One of my favorite quotes about customer service, particularly applicable when a customer has a problem and needs someone to listen, goes like this: 'It doesn’t matter how much you know, but how much you care.'
"I can say with confidence and through experience that the office staff of the Saline County Clerk’s office cares.”
Burton referred to a number of changes that have occurred since he took office, particularly regarding elections. He mentioned the following:
•The number of registered voters has grown from 36,230 to 62,901. He expects this number to be 66,000 by the presidential election this November.
•Numerous polling sites have been made handicap-accessible or relocated as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which went into effect about the time Burton took office.
He also recalled the voting system changes that came about as a result of the controversial 2000 presidential election in Florida.
"That election made the term 'hanging chad' a household term," Burton said. "In my mind, I can still see that election official in Florida, with his eyes bugging out, glasses on top of his half-bald head, trying to see if the punch card ballot had a legitimate vote or not."
After 2000, Saline County was forced into a revamped election system — from punch card ballots, to touch-screen voting for early voting, and optical scan ballots for Election Day.
"Without the dedication and hard work of the people in this office, these changes could have been a nightmare, especially the voting system change," Burton said.
In spite of the adjustments that were made, the pollworkers of Saline County have stayed loyal, he said.
"Trying to find over 300 pollworkers that can take off work, and are willing to stay at a polling site from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for minimum wage, becomes a challenge, but the pollworkers of Saline County have never let us down,"Burton said.
He pointed out a unique factor about elections: "You’ve only got one shot — one day; you can’t come back next week and try it again.
"A lot is at stake. The last thing you want is for the wheels to come off on Election Day. If one election goes south, folks won't remember the 200 that went well; you’ll be remembered for that one election that went in the ditch."
Burton referred to the congenial working relationship that exists between his office and the Saline County Election Commission. "Nineteen years ago I started with Melvin Sossamon as chairman, then Greg Brown and at the present time Lib Carlisle. In Arkansas all counties have two Democrats and one Republican member on their election commission. As usual, the problem in most counties is a partisan difference."
This isn't so in Saline County, he said. "We are so fortunate to not have this problem. It may surprise some people, but the Saline County Election Commission has this attitude: It’s not about what’s best for their particular party; it’s all about conducting our elections with integrity, honesty and transparency, so that all the citizens of Saline County can trust that their elections are fair, for both the candidate and the voter."
(At present the two other members of the Election Commission are Margaret Ramsey and Patrick Rhodes.)
Burton is grateful for many people who have helped him along the way, but says the one he especially appreciates is his wife, Brenda.
"Some say I never would have been elected if it hadn’t been for her, and I have to agree."
He said he has, on occasion, posed this question to a potential candidate: “Is your wife 100 percent behind you?”
If the answer is "no," then that person has problems, he said. The candidate may win, but without the support of the spouse, it will be more difficult.
"I once heard an old-time politician say: 'There are three things you can’t talk someone out of — buying a new car, getting married, running for political office.'"
He said he's found this philosophy to be true.
In expressing gratitude for the joys and blessings he's experienced throughout his career and in other facets of his life, Burton said: "Last, but for sure not the least, I would like to thank the Lord who has blessed all of us in more ways than we will ever know."
And he remains grateful to Saline County for "the privilege and opportunity to serve you."