New Vinton Town Clerk has Interesting Career Path

Susan Johnson is the new Town Clerk in Vinton.

by Aaron Layman

Susan Johnson’s journey has taken her throughout southwestern Virginia, from near the southern border to Bonsack. Her most recent turn has taken her from the City Attorney’s Office in Roanoke City to the town clerk’s office in Vinton. Since assuming the position in August, she has quickly settled into the small town’s rhythm.

Born in Bassett, Johnson worked for an attorney for over 17 years right after getting out of college. When the attorney retired in 1995, she found herself looking for a job and applied for the Martinsville town clerk position. She held the position until 2007 when her family relocated to the Roanoke area.

The move was a pragmatic one. Her husband Donnie had worked for the city of Salem since 2001 as a risk manager and they both finally decided on a shorter commute. With her extensive years in the legal field, Johnson found work as a legal secretary at the Office of the City Attorney in Roanoke City.

When she saw the opening for the town clerk position in Vinton, she found herself wanting to tackle that again. “I like the interaction with people and meeting the citizens,” Johnson says. “It allows me to be both a team player and work independently.” She also says that it gives her the opportunity to coordinate events, a role she didn’t perform as much in the City Attorney’s office.

Johnson has taken quickly to the essential duties of setting town council agendas and recording council meeting minutes. She serves as the town manager’s  executive assistant, scheduling his meetings and essentially serving as his office manager.

“It’s a critical position, there has to be someone to do it. [They’re] kind of responsible for making sure town council members have what they need,” says Darlene Bailey, retired town clerk and Johnson’s predecessor. She worked with Johnson shortly before she left and thinks the office is in good hands. “She’s got just the right personality of being smart and energetic. [Town Manager] Chris Lawrence and the council made a great choice when they chose to hire her.”

One of the efforts Johnson is most excited about going paperless in Vinton, an effort that started before she came to the office. She had experience in a similar capacity using Laserfiche software and uses it as now head officer in charge of scanning and disposing of town records. The search function, she says, will make access to old town council notes quite easier. “If you want to know what happened in 1962, you don’t have to go through all the books.”

Among the ideas she is bringing to the table is a quarterly employee newsletter that will feature employee profiles, celebration and service awards. She’s also part of the The Council in the Neighborhood meetings, where Town Council members go to different Vinton communities to have open meetings with the residents.

Clear communication with the town citizens is a focus of hers. “I have three bosses: the council, the staff and the citizens,” Johnson notes. To this end, she has also put together a book with contact information for the town’s boards / commissions and committees, along with data on regional organizations.

Within the town, she heads up the town’s United Way program. The town’s goal is to raise $4,375 among its employees. The town has contacted fifteen local businesses, asking them to be a part of a gift card raffle drive to raise money. Among all these duties, she still finds time to knit, teach Sunday School at Bonsack Baptist Church and play with her new grandson Clayton (her daughter and son-in-law recently moved from Maryland to Roanoke).

As town clerk, Johnson hopes to serve not only as an administrator but as a guide to the corridors of government.  “I try to be a listener and connect people to the right sources—even if people are calling for a federal court.”

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