ELKHORN — One of the highest ranking people in Walworth County government is stepping down.
Nicki Andersen, who served as deputy county administrator, is retiring after a 35-year career in county government.
Those who worked with her say Andersen climbed the ranks in the county and performed increasingly important jobs, all without seeking out glamour or commendation.
“She’s an unsung hero,” County Supervisor William Norem said.
Andersen, 63, said it is difficult to leave a workplace where she has dedicated her talents ever since she was in her 20s.
But reciting the names of many skilled colleagues, she said she is confident in the remaining county staff’s ability to continue providing good service to the people of Walworth County.
“They’re in good hands,” she said.
Andersen’s retirement was effective July 2.
During her tenure in county government, including many years as finance director, the county won awards for its budgeting process, boosted its credit rating, and achieved the unusual distinction of running entirely debt-free.
County Administrator David Bretl, who worked alongside Andersen for nearly 20 years, said she deserves much of the credit for such improvements in the county’s operations.
“We would definitely not be in the place we are today without her leadership,” Bretl said.
Andersen started her county career in 1984 as a clerical worker in the county’s land conservation department. At the time, she was enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as an accounting student.
She later became an accountant in the county finance department, where her responsibilities multiplied until she became finance director in 1998.
As her authority grew to include oversight of county payroll, purchasing and other functions, her title was changed to deputy county administrator. A second deputy county administrator position existed for a while, but it was later changed to public works director.
At the time of her retirement, Andersen was earning $153,000 a year.
Norem said Andersen easily could have become a county administrator — the top county staff position — but she chose to stay in the background, providing consistently dependable advice on financial matters.
“She was always there — and always solid,” Norem said.
Andersen said she is most proud of her work in helping the county to achieve a AAA credit rating, which makes it easier and less expensive for the county to borrow money.
At the same time, she also had a hand in helping the county become debt free last year.
She credits county board members and other county staffers with such accomplishments.
“I was very fortunate to work with some really great people,” she said. “It was really a good team.”
Andersen was already with the county in 2001 when the county board hired Bretl as county administrator. The two developed a good working partnership over the years.
Andersen called Bretl a visionary and a strong leader with whom she enjoyed collaborating on ideas for making the county more efficient and effective.
“You put two heads together, and you come up with a better plan,” she said.
Bretl said Anderson has left the county with a talented staff that she helped to cultivate, as well as good-government strategies and protocols that she put into place.
“This has created a system,” he said, “and, in turn, a system that will benefit the taxpayers of Walworth County for years to come.”