Warren Slocum’s family always ran a variety of businesses — a wholesale pet supply operation, an insurance company, a motorcycle gear shop.
As Slocum, San Mateo County’s Assessor-Clerk-Recorder and chief elections officer, put it in an interview, “I came from this DNA that is very much private-sector.”
That’s why he thought that when he took a job with San Mateo County in the late 1970s, it would only be for a few years before he moved on to the business world.
Instead, he was elected to his office in 1986 and never looked back. “Three years became a career,” Slocum says with a smile.
Slocum, 62, is retiring in January after 24 years of overseeing a $24 million budget and 110 staff who reach county residents at life’s biggest milestones — birth, marriage, starting a business, buying a house, death. His office will be taken over by Supervisor Mark Church, who was elected in an uncontested race in June.
Along the way, the affable Michigan native has kept his family’s entrepreneurial spirit alive and developed a national reputation as an innovator, applying technology in new ways to improve mundane tasks like running an election and recording property values.
“I think a key element of his legacy will be that he embraced and understood the advantages of technology,” said Board of Supervisors President Rich Gordon.
Born in Pontiac, Mich., Slocum enlisted in the Army and served in the Vietnam War, later graduating from San Diego State University. He worked in elections and health care in San Diego and Santa Barbara counties before coming to the Bay Area.
Among the first projects Slocum took on when he was elected was replacing the county’s old lever voting machine booths — which weighed 800 pounds and had curtains that voters emerged from “like the Wizard of Oz” — with a new optical scanning system. The system was replaced again in 2007 with state-of-the-art touch-screen devices.
Slocum willingly embraces his geek credentials, with innovations like digitizing court records, helping to launch the educational site Smart Voter and making the county the first in the state to use all-electronic recording of private land records.
Gordon said Slocum “brought a level of dedication to his work that is unparalleled” and helped the county has developed a reputation as having the most timely and accurate election returns in the state.
In a rare step into a politically charged topic, Slocum was one of the first clerks in the state to publicly support marrying same-sex couples, writing a letter in 2007 that encouraged his fellow clerks to get on board. For him, it’s always been about doing things differently.
“As corny as it might sound, I wanted to make a difference,” he said. “I didn’t want to work for the profit motive. I wanted to work for the public good.”
Church follows in father’s governmental footsteps
One could say the job of San Mateo County Assessor-Clerk-Recorder is in Mark Church’s blood.
Church’s father, Marvin Church, held the job of county clerk from 1967 to 1987, when Warren Slocum took over.
Now, as Slocum retires after 24 years at the helm, Church is leaving the county supervisor seat he has held for a decade and is becoming the new assessor-clerk-recorder and chief elections officer after winning an uncontested election in June.
Church, 59, said Slocum ran “an efficient and a cost-effective office, and at the same time he’s been responsive to the needs and concerns of the community.”
Once he takes office in January, Church said, he intends to do some long-range planning and look for new efficiencies where possible. Like Slocum, he intends to be an advocate of expanding the use of vote-by-mail ballots.
With the budget challenges facing the state, “Right now, I will be satisfied if we can continue with the same level of efficiency and service that already exists,” Church said.
— Shaun Bishop
A career of service
1994-2010 Served as Assessor-Clerk-Recorder after the formerly independent office of assessor was combined by a charter amendment with clerk-recorder
1987-1993 Elected County Clerk-Recorder for San Mateo County
1983-1986 Assistant county clerk for San Mateo County
1979-1983 Assistant county recorder for San Mateo County
1976-1979 Elections supervisor for Santa Barbara County
1974-76 Assistant for child health and disability and prevention program for Santa Barbara County
1972 Graduated from San Diego State University
1966-1969 Served in Army in Vietnam, honorably discharged