HOTSEAT- Last train to Clerksville: Keeping the board running on time

When Ella Carey promises something will be kept "in the vault," it's a lot safer bet than the same vow from a blabber-mouthed Seinfeld cast member, who notoriously spilled the beans anytime a secret was dubbed vault-worthy.

Carey is keeper of the vault– literally– that contains the records of Albemarle County's Board of Supervisors dating back to 1920.

Clerk of the Board of Supervisors for the past 15 years, she sets the agenda for meetings, delegates the actions the board takes, and serves as first contact for angry citizens who have decided they don't like the latest forest-crushing subdivision.

Just don't tell Carey she has a desk job.

"Ninety percent of my time," she explains, "is spent providing some kind of service or research or dealing with citizen problems." "It's not just sitting at a desk."

Carey has probably attended more BOS meetings than anybody. Particularly grueling are the ones that start at 9am and continue until 6pm.

Over the years, Carey has seen an increase in citizen attendance and participation. "When I first came, not many people came unless it was a budget meeting," she recalls. Now put a development issue– like North Pointe– on the agenda, and people show up.

Meetings can get tedious, especially the ones that drag on for nine hours. Has she ever nodded off? "Only with my eyes open," she laughs.

When Carey started as a deputy clerk 21 years ago, the technology du jour was mag cards, and meetings were recorded on reel-to-reel tapes. "I keep paper records because of changes in technology," she says, musing about the mess the county would be in if all its records had been stored on outdated media.

And when equipment dies at a BOS meeting– and it does– "Then you get a notepad and pen and start taking notes," Carey advises.

Don't expect Carey to dish about the supes: "I serve at the pleasure of the board," she points out. She doesn't seem to fret about whether she'll be reappointed when her next one-year term ends December 31. "I think if I do my job and am fair and do it right, I shouldn't have to worry about it," she says.

In fact, Carey was voted Virginia clerk of the year by her municipal clerk peers, and she's president of the Virginia Municipal Clerks Association.

Carey even refuses to say who her favorite supe is. "I like them all," she says. "I've been lucky. I know clerks who've had contentious relationships with supervisors."

Of course, her diplomacy may be fueled by the fact that "I don't have just one boss– I have six."

Carey is an Albemarle native who grew up in Esmont. "I remember walking down the road to the little country store with a friend in the summer," she reminisces. "I don't think kids do that anymore."

Hmmm. With the county's emphasis on walkable streets, i.e. "the neighborhood model," maybe they will again someday.

Age: 44

Why here? I was born and raised here and havent had the nerve to leave yet.

What's worst about living here? The lack of cultural and social opportunities/activities for African-Africans.

Favorite hangout? My grandmothers front porch in Howardsville

Most overrated virtue? Probably generosity

People would be surprised to know: Im a romantic at heart. When I was a teenager, I joined a Harlequin Romance Club. Every now and then when I want to clear my mind, Ill purchase one.

What would you change about yourself? My habit of procrastination

Proudest accomplishment? Being a mother

People find most annoying about you: That I jump from one subject to another. I'll begin talking about one thing, and next thing I know, my mind is moving onto another topic.

Whom do you admire? Young people who spend their time enjoying life and striving to achieve more than past generations

Favorite book? A Time To Kill– I love all John Grisham novels.

Subject that causes you to rant? People who say money doesnt matter; just let them not have it and see how much it matters

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Having adult conversations with my children

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Reality TV and MySpace

What do you drive? Lexus

In your car CD player right now: John Legend and Shekinah Glory Ministry

Next journey? New York City

Most trouble youve ever gotten in? I seem to get in trouble when I talk too much; so less said, the better.

Regret: That I dont take more risks

Favorite comfort food: Banana split with wet walnuts

Always in your refrigerator: Milk

Must-see TV: Law and Order

Favorite cartoon: The old Batman and Robin with sound effects, and Road Runner

Describe a perfect day. Sitting on the deck of my beach house (if I had one) listening to the ocean and reading a good novel

Walter Mitty fantasy: I love driving fast– to be in the starting field of the Indianapolis 500

Whod play you in the movie? Angela Bassett

Most embarrassing moment? I try to forget them until I do something else to embarrass myself.

Best advice you ever got? Always make time for yourself.

Favorite bumper sticker? Common sense is not so common.

Ella Carey