Surveyor’s office getting changing of guard

0
2136

Donna Copeland, left, administrative assistant for the Hancock County Surveyor’s office; Hancock County Surveyor Susan Bodkin; and Hancock County Surveyor-elect Chad Coughenour have been working together for years. Copeland and Bodkin are retiring at the end of the month after over 30 years of service.

Mitchell Kirk | Daily Reporter

HANCOCK COUNTY – Nearly 70 years of experience is leaving the county surveyor’s office, but those who possess it say the operation is in good hands.

Their soon-to-be successors bring a few decades of their own.

Susan Bodkin is finishing her final term as Hancock County surveyor, a post she’s held for 14 years amid a total of 37 in the field. Chad Coughenour, the office’s survey crew chief, is preparing to replace her. Also retiring at the end of the year is Donna Copeland, who for the last 32 years has served as administrative assistant for the office and secretary of the Hancock County Drainage Board. Her colleague, Cori Shambaugh, will step into those roles.

After earning a degree in agriculture from Purdue University, Bodkin worked for the Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District from 1985 until the mid-1990s. Then she moved to the county surveyor’s office to work for David Smoll, who served as surveyor until his death in 2008. Bodkin was then caucused into the role. Other than that caucus and the 2010 general election, the Republican didn’t face any election competition throughout her time in office.

Bodkin, who grew up in Hancock County and graduated from Greenfield-Central High School, was drawn to the surveyor’s office because she knows many local farmers, enjoys working with them and likes being outside.

“I want to go out doing my best and I think we are,” she said. “I feel like it’s time. I have no regrets. I think the county’s in a good position. I think we’re leaving it in good hands.”

She’s looking forward to spending more time with family, whose support she’s appreciated over the years.

Coughenour started at the surveyor’s office in 1999 and left for five years partway into his time there before returning in 2008. He’s originally from southwestern Pennsylvania and has degrees in political science and sociology as well as a minor in mathematics. He was working in construction when Smoll, a relative of his wife’s, recruited him. Coughenour ran uncontested this year on the Republican ticket.

“I like that it’s not always the same thing every day,” he said of working in the surveyor’s office. “Some days you’re out in the field, some days you’re in the office, some days you’re dealing with government agencies, some days you’re dealing with individuals, some days you’re dealing with businesses. You’re dealing with everything that entails our community, but having the heart and compassion to try to help them – that’s what drives me, and I think that’s what drives our office, and that’s what I think makes our office very special, because we think about them first.”

Copeland started at the surveyor’s office over three decades ago after working for an Indianapolis company for 20 years that closed down.

“I love the job,” she said. “I just like working with the public, to help people. There’s so many people that don’t know until they go to do something – what they have to do. And it’s just good to be able to help them through that process.”

The county surveyor’s office has two overarching responsibilities. One is section corners – stone markers placed by a federal surveyor when the state of Indiana was created in the 1800s, which people who hire private surveyors use to establish property lines. The county surveyor’s office maintains records of the markers and updates them as development occurs. Markers are often buried and require digging to locate.

“It’s a little Indiana Jones when you get out there sometimes too – looking for things from the 1800s,” Coughenour said. “It’s pretty neat when you find them.”

The office is also in charge of regulated drains, open drains and drainage tile throughout the county, including keeping them open, maintained and improved.

“It’s always nice when you can remove a blockage and make that water flow,” Bodkin said. “That’s always the best day for me is when we’ve got something that we’ve repaired and it wasn’t working and we can make it work and people benefit by that.”

Reducing flooding and drainage issues has been one of Bodkin’s priorities throughout her career.

“If the forecast calls for 2 inches of rain, we’re out making sure where we know we have problem sites – that they are open, and clear and can run the best they can,” she said.

The three recalled how they and other members of the office filled sandbags to fight flooding one Christmas Eve when the ground was frozen and had snow atop it before the weather warmed, melting snow and dumping 3 inches of rain.

Other surveyor’s office responsibilities include floodplain management, managing a water quality program, overseeing the county’s geographic information system and reviewing development plans to ensure drainage standards are met.

Bodkin, Coughenour and Copeland have seen how office functions have changed over the years, including how farmers relay needed drainage repairs, which was formerly done by coming in and filling out a form.

“Now they have GPS in their tractors, so they call in and you fill it out,” Copeland said with a laugh.

“Or they send you a text with a pin dot,” Coughenour added.

Coughenour looks forward to digitizing certain practices at the office and said Bodkin has influenced how he plans to approach the role, adding he admires her people-oriented nature and how she seeks feedback from others.

Shambaugh, who will take on Copeland’s duties, has been with the surveyor’s office for 14 years.

“She’s very efficient in her job and very dedicated,” Copeland said.

A challenge the office faces will be making up the extensive knowledge lost upon Bodkin’s and Copeland’s departure, Coughenour said. He added they’ve been helpful over the past year and beyond walking through processes and policies their successors will need to know, and passing on other knowledge and information that’s become second nature for them.

“One nice thing about being government is it’s not the same pace as you do things in the private sector,” Coughenour said. “I’m not worried about a bottom line that it has to be done tomorrow. I’m worried more about am I taking care of the constituents. And so by doing that, it allows me to actually sometimes take more time to say, ‘Hey, we want to get this right.’”

If you go

What: Retirement celebration for Hancock County Surveyor’s Office employees (open to public)

When: 2-4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20

Where: Commissioners Courtroom at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex, 111 American Legion Place, Greenfield

Cake and refreshments provided