Iron County’s Luhtanen retiring after 18 years in clerk’s office


Staff Writer

CRYSTAL FALLS – After 18 years of service, Iron County Clerk Joan Luhtanen is set to retire at the end of the year.

Luhtanen was appointed to the position of county clerk in 1996 by Judges John Payant and Francis Brouillette. She replaced Klaryce Bilski, who had retired.

Before her time as county clerk, Luhtanen served 12 years as the Iron River Township clerk.

Luhtanen said that she has seen plenty of changes in the county clerk’s office throughout the years.

For example, in 1998, Iron County switched from a circuit court system to a trial court system. Since the county clerk handles the duties of the circuit court clerk, Luhtanen was heavily involved in the process.

“Judge (C. Joseph) Schwedler was interested in consolidating the courts,” Luhtanen explained. “If we did it, the state would give us computers to store court records instead of the books we had been using.”

Although the transfer was hard work, Luhtanen said that she believes the trial court system has been advantageous for Iron County. With the circuit court system, judges from Dickinson County had to split their time between Dickinson, Iron, and Menominee counties. Now, Judge Schwedler handles all of Iron County’s cases, whether they be misdemeanor, felony, or probate matters.

In 2000, another big change came with the decrease in number of county commissioners from six to five.

“We used to have tie votes with six,” said Luhtanen. “I ended up being the chairperson once.”

After viewing the most recent census information, the apportionment board made up of Luhtanen, the county treasurer, the county prosecutor, and representatives of the local Democratic and Republican parties realized that population centers had shifted and there was a need to re-district the county.

“We decided on the fairest way to get an even amount of people in each district, and we came up with five instead of six districts,” said Luhtanen.

Another change, although gradual, involved getting all Iron County municipalities to use one ballot system.

Luhtanen pointed out that local clerks had been using different formats like paper ballots or punch card systems. Now, all local clerks use the Accuvote system, which electronically tallies paper ballots.

When not busy with her many county clerk duties, Luhtanen has taken time to promote Iron County through the annual Iron County directory. She also has a strong interest in the Iron County Courthouse, and even helped to organize a 120th anniversary celebration for the building back in 2010.

As her last contribution as county clerk, Luhtanen is creating a display of old newspaper clippings for courthouse visitors to browse.

Iron County Administrator Sue Clisch said that Dickinson County Circuit Court Judges Mary B. Barglind and Richard Celello interviewed candidates for Luhtanen’s replacement earlier this week.

They will appoint one to serve out the remainder of Luhtanen’s term, which runs through 2016.

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