Two Union area residents are seeking the Franklin County public administrator seat in next Tuesday’s election.
Democratic candidate Mary Jo Straatmann will face the Republican candidate Julie Bowen for the open seat.
Carol Eckelkamp, who has served in the position for nearly 20 years, is not seeking re-election and will complete her fifth four-year term in office.
A public administrator’s primary role is caring for individuals who are unable to care for themselves.
The administrator is appointed by probate court to serve more than 100 people annually, acting as their guardian or conservator and ensuring they receive proper placement in nursing homes or residential care facilities. The public administrator also files for medical insurance on behalf of the individuals and plans burials and estate auctions.
The Missourian met with both Bowen and Straatmann to ask them why they are seeking the position, and what qualifications they have for the seat.
Bowen, 51, graduated from Union High School and attended East Central College. She has two sons and lives west of Union.
She is the senior branch office administrator for Edward Jones in Union and she has been with the company for 17 years.
Bowen said she is “up for the challenge” of the office and she will make the right decisions when it comes to helping those in need.
“There are many people who are in need in our county,” she said. “They are relying on someone to make well-planned decisions for them — I believe that I am good at making sound decisions and utilizing the resources that are provided to get the best outcome.”
Bowen has not held political office. She is a member of First Christian Church in Union, and a member of the Washington Federated Republican Women’s Club.
She explained that Franklin County continues to grow, and the number continues to grow of those residents in need of the help from the public administrator’s office.
“The public administrator’s position is important because our county is growing and the number of people this position will serve will continue to grow,” she said. “Franklin County needs someone in this position who will run an efficient and firm office. I have always managed my own affairs in an efficient manner. I will treat other resources in the same way.”
Bowen noted that her experience in the financial sector will be a major asset if she is elected to the position.
“I have worked in the financial industry for the past 17 years. I have worked with estate accounts, decedent accounts, IRA and probate accounts,” she said. “I have gathered a lot of knowledge on these accounts and more importantly when I didn’t understand something I found the resources to complete the task.”
According to Bowen, her experience in the field includes working with the public and families.
“I have also had experience dealing with families on an individual basis,” she said. “I know that everyone has different wants and needs. I feel that I do a good job getting to know people and working with them to get the job done both timely and effectively, all the while focusing on making the end result best for all parties involved.”
Bowen said she is ready to step into the public administrator’s office and would make an impact on those in need.
“I believe that I am approachable, however, I will stand behind the decisions that I make,” she said. “The people of Franklin County deserve to have someone in this position who can make good, sound decisions in a timely fashion. A public administrator must remember that they are putting the needs of others before their own — and that is how I will treat this position.”
According to Straatmann, she knew that she would seek this position four years ago when she learned that Eckelkamp would retire after her fifth term.
Straatmann, 50, has 30 years’ experience in related work. She is a paralegal for attorney Daryl Hartley, at Baylard, Billington, Dempsey and Jensen, P.C., Union.
Her experience includes drafting and filing probate court pleadings and financial settlements, and working closely with guardians, conservators and personal representatives to assist them in performing their duties.
“I enjoy doing this kind of work,” she said. “I understand and have the working knowledge of cases that the public administrator does.”
Straatmann is a graduate of St. Francis Borgia High School. She attended classes at East Central College and is a paralegal program graduate from St. Louis Community College at Meramec.
She is a member of The County Seat Senior Center Foundation Board, the Union Rotary Club treasurer, a Franklin County Honor Flight guardian, member of the St. Louis Paralegal Association, and a member of the Union, Washington, St. Clair, Sullivan and Pacific Chambers of Commerce.
Straatmann is a fifth-generation Franklin County resident and a lifelong member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Villa Ridge.
She said that her duties as a paralegal include locating assets for those who are mentally or physically incapacitated.
“It is hard to discover those assets and I know the techniques to quickly and efficiently find those assets,” Straatmann said. “It is important to locate them right away because they could be disappearing.”
She added that her experience will be crucial if she is elected.
“I can walk in Jan. 1 and continue what she (Eckelkamp) is doing,” said Straatmann.
Another qualification needed for the public administration position is compassion, according to Straatmann.
“They become like family,” she said. “You have to have it in your heart to be there for them all of the time, 24/7,” she said. “If there is a crisis, I will respond immediately.”
Straatmann noted that she has several years of office management experience, which she will draw upon if elected.
“I will take care of the elderly, veterans, the physical and mentally disabled and maintain a conservative and commonsense budget,” she said.
“This is a unique position in the county, and politics have nothing to do with it,” Straatmann added, “It is about caring for people who have nobody to take care of them — people first, politics last.”
Furthermore, Straatmann said if she is elected, she intends to educate the community on the role of the public administrator so those who need help can find the resources.
Straatmann said she will keep family and loved ones of those she helps updated and will have an “open door.”
She added that she will make efforts to meet personally with all of those who she would be in charge of helping.
“These people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” she said. “It is no fault of their own that they need these resources.”