Candace Grubbs is proud of where she works. The Butte County Hall of Records, just down Nelson Avenue from the entrance to the county’s administrative center in Oroville, represents the culmination of extensive efforts to modernize her clerk-recorder/registrar of voters’ office. Six years since its opening, updates continue with integration of a new electronic records system.
Grubbs smiles widely as she shows off features of the building, from the archives to the vote-count rooms to the warehouse. Her days conducting tours are winding down, though, as she decided not to seek a 10th term. County Elections Manager Keaton Denlay is running unopposed to succeed her.
She took office in January 1987, making her the longest-serving elected official in Butte County (Grubbs has a few months on District Attorney Mike Ramsey). She’s been clerk-recorder/registrar for the entire life of Denlay, 34, and many others in her department.
“She’s not using the ‘retirement’ word,” Denlay said, “she’s moving on to new things.”
Denlay is the brother of Kami Denlay, the Chico city councilwoman who resigned eight months after the 2020 election following reports she lived in Red Bluff (see “Out of bounds?” News, June 30, 2021). As an elections official who’s an attorney, he received public scrutiny, but Grubbs has fully endorsed him.
“She’s seen the work I’ve done for the department,” Denlay said, “and we conduct elections here with the utmost security and integrity. We’re going to continue to bring that to our voters.
“Kami’s her own person,” he added.
After guiding the CN&R around the building, Grubbs spoke about her decision, her successor and what’s to come.
The job is never done, so why now?
Why now because being elected nine times, nine times—my staff, many of them weren’t even born when I first took office—and you start looking at that and you’re thinking, “You know, I think it’s time for the younger generation to take over.” Even though I love it.
And I have found after all these years that I’m single-focused. By that I mean, I’m focused on work; therefore, I don’t take the vacations I should. So I think I want to get out there and see what’s over the hill, you know? [chuckle] I have a feeling I need to do something, I don’t know what, but I know that as long as I have this job, I will be here all the time.
Some people say elected officials don’t have to show up—phooey! In this job, you have to show up, and if you’re going to make changes, you have to be there…. There’s a lot of things I’d like to do; I’d like to have more time for people outside of just work, and family.
This just seemed like a good time for me to make a transition.
When did you make the decision?
It came on slowly. I wasn’t really, really sure until this last year—and then until the last day [the filing deadline, March 11], I thought, “Am I going to change my mind?” But no.
I like the job, but I did not like running for office. That’s what it is. Even though most likely I would be reelected, the thing is, I like working with the people here, they’re like my family, but spending time away from the job to go campaign is not what I ever enjoyed. I enjoyed talking to a group about our office and what we do—I want more people to understand the recorder side of the business and how important that is to the county—but campaigning wasn’t my thing.
And I didn’t enjoy people saying, “You’re just a politician.” No I’m not! I’m just a farm girl who fell into a great job.
Did you feel the job, apart from campaigning, was getting more political because of the environment surrounding elections?
Yes, but we were fortunate here; a lot of it didn’t affect us as much as other areas—and I have to thank the public out there. Butte County seems to find its way. … We do have some areas of the county that get more excited than others, do more recalls than others, or try. If I could do anything, I would convince people to do more reading, more investigation, on the people they elect before they elect them.
Elections is a nonpolitical office. Thank goodness, in California our [local] offices are supposed to be nonpolitical—we’re nonpartisan offices. Other parts of the country are not, and that’s what the furor back east is.
Many people know your successor from notoriety surrounding his sister. What can you convey about him?
Keaton is a very bright young man. He’s an attorney; he passed the bar. He is very astute on election law; if he doesn’t know [something], he looks it up. And he will run this office adhering to election law—I have no doubt about it. He interprets it very well.
He’s going to be running the election for the Tuscan Water District that’s being formed. For this [primary] election, he’s hands off of any vote count. I’m hoping in the future, he’ll go out to vote centers and make himself known to people. He’s very interested in the recorder’s side, and his rapport with the other management staff is very good. He has gone through the national election center certification [as a certified elections registration administrator] and he enjoys elections.
That’s what it takes: It takes a person who enjoys elections, doesn’t look at it as just a job. It’s a passion.
The issue with his sister has raised questions …
I have full faith in him, that he will carry on elections with utmost integrity. I really do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t support him.
Legacy seems a cliched word; what are you most proud about when you look back?
I think two things. When I came into office, I didn’t know any better, so I went out and automated my offices—and we got computers in the courtroom. My work with the court those first nine years, I’m really proud of that.
And then it took me a long time, though several CAOs [county administrative officers] to finally get to a CAO, [Paul Hahn], who could fathom my vision [for the Hall of Records]. Of course, I think I owe a lot to Mike Ramsey: He wanted me out of the [old] building so he could take over my space! But I had this vision for a long time.
I want this to be a building that people use—that they come to look up history, as many people do who are writing books, researching property rights, water rights—and [where] people will come to see how elections are handled.
Some registrars are extremely beat up by people. I hope that never happens here. But I think it’s how you approach people, how you handle people. If you notice when you come into this office, though we haven’t taken down the [COVID-safety] plexiglass yet, we don’t have barriers. This is the people’s building.