HAMILTON - Ravalli County Treasurer Mary Hudson-Smith resigned Tuesday, six weeks after taking the oath of office.
"Given the external negativity in Ravalli County, I feel that I must tender my resignation," Hudson-Smith wrote in her letter to the county commissioners. "I have given my best to Ravalli County over the past 16 years and the county obviously needs, and deserves, better than I can give to the treasurer's office at this time."
That was the extent of the letter, which commission chairman J.R. Iman read at a meeting originally scheduled as an update from the treasurer on recent questions about her job performance.
After Iman finished reading the letter, a group of about 30 people gathered in the commissioners' meeting room broke into applause.
Hudson-Smith did not return a message from the Ravalli Republic to further comment on her resignation.
"This is an extremely unfortunate event," Iman said, "because this person was duly elected."
"It's with regret that we accept this resignation," Iman continued.
The commissioners will hold their first public meeting for transition planning on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher commended Hudson-Smith for taking what he said was the appropriate action. Kanenwisher said he appreciates the conscientious decision Hudson-Smith made and thanked her for her resignation.
"I think exactly the right thing has happened in this situation," Kanenwisher said.
Commissioner Suzy Foss agreed, saying she has admiration for the tough decision Hudson-Smith made.
"Our first loyalty is to our citizens and I think this was displayed in this decision," Foss said.
Hudson-Smith, who was a tax and motor vehicle clerk in the treasurer's office for 16 years, defeated incumbent treasurer JoAnne Johnson in last November's general election. A Republican, Hudson-Smith was part of a GOP sweep of the county's top offices.
In her first month in office, though, she quickly fell behind, failing to reconcile county accounts for December and sending out disbursements to county and state agencies late. County investments also were not being actively managed.
The commissioners expressed their concern with the situation, and formed an oversight committee to have daily contact with Hudson-Smith, as well as weekly updates with the full board.
Then came a recall effort, launched late last week by a former employee of the treasurer's office. Those critics complained both about Hudson-Smith's job performance and the fact that she originally filed for office as a Democrat - then switched to the Republican ticket.
With her resignation, Hudson-Smith designated chief deputy treasurer Marie Keeton as the contact person between the county commissioners and the finance office, said human resources director Robert Jenni.
Jenni said Hudson-Smith will still be available between now and the end of the month, but said he's not sure how active she will be in the office.
"We have a full staff. They know what's going on. And we have a chief deputy in place who can help fulfill those duties until the end of the month," Jenni said.
It is now up to the commissioners to appoint a treasurer, who will fill the vacancy until the next general election in 2012, said Deputy County Attorney Karen Mahar.
"The board would then schedule on the agenda a public meeting to discuss the process you're going to follow for appointment, so the public has an opportunity to come and comment," Mahar said.
That person, if they want to continue in office, would have to declare their candidacy for the primary election in 2012 and eventually succeed in the general election to fill the unexpired term.
Mahar noted that in state law there is no appointment procedure the commissioners have to follow. However, Mahar said generally counties advertise for the position and interview finalists from a list of qualified candidates.
Mahar said Hudson-Smith's resignation is effective 72 hours after Tuesday's submittal - after a "cooling off" period, allowing her to withdraw the resignation within that time frame. If she does not withdraw her resignation, Hudson-Smith cannot change her mind later, Mahar said.
Mahar advised the commissioners to take their time in finding a highly qualified applicant for the position.
"I don't see a big exposure as long as you've got your finance department, your personnel department seeing everything is getting done that we can do down in the treasurer's office," Mahar said.
County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg said this is the first time a county official has resigned from office in the 12 years she has worked for Ravalli County.
Reporter Whitney Bermes can be reached at 363-3300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.