City of Residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Retired Warner Robins city clerk, educator
Q: People say you brought a lot of change to the clerk’s office in your five years there, prior to retiring last year.
A: I wouldn’t say changes, I’d just say we put emphasis on some aspects. I tried to highlight some things.
Q: Such as?
A: I like to think customer service was something we emphasized. The city clerk and staff are there to serve every person when we get the opportunity, whether it’s at the counters, on the phone or in private meetings. I believe we learned to excel in customer service. We stressed the attitude that people, our customers, weren’t a headache but were the reason we were there. We wanted to be concerned with their concerns and find solutions if there were problems.
Q: How did you work on that?
A: It’s a tone of attitude. It’s considering others as important. I had that attitude toward my employees and wanted them to have it toward one another and our customers. Each person’s job in the clerk’s office is important or they wouldn’t be there, and I wanted them to see it that way. Each person that comes in to do business or resolve a problem is worthy of our attention and best effort whether they make $5,000 a year or $125,000.
Q: That’s attitude, how about practical change?
A: I made coming into my office -- the city clerk’s office -- more accessible. People could come in and talk to me and I could hear what was going on out at the windows. I could step out and get involved if need be. We took a kiosk idea from Houston County so people could take a number, have a seat, then be called for service. I have to give (former) Mayor Chuck Shaheen credit -- it was a concerted effort all around -- but the mayor said he wanted to stress customer service and he said he didn’t like people having to stand in line. I said OK, give me some money and we’ll change things. He did and we were able to get the kiosk and reorganize the layout a bit to make it easier on people.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: That we instituted a program to work with people behind in their utility payments or taxes or whatever they owed the city. We could help them get it paid over time and keep up with their current charges. We weren’t worried if it was three months or a year, we wanted to help them get out from under it, feel better about themselves and see the city get its money. Utilities are essential; water, gas, trash, sewage--they’re essential. It reflected the mayor wanting to make sure we were humane in our daily procedures. If we couldn’t work something out with someone, we made sure they knew why.
Q: How were you connected to the city before becoming clerk?
A: I came to Warner Robins in 1966 as a teacher. In those days especially, as a male teacher and breadwinner, you had to have a second job to make ends meet. I went to work for Claude Lewis at the recreation department. I was youth center director and involved with quite a few things through the years, from ’66 to 1987, so I was no stranger to the city. When Mayor Shaheen asked me to be clerk I said I’m no clerk, I’ve got three jobs I do already, I’m not interested. Willie Talton called me and encouraged me to consider it. I agreed to accept.
Q: Advice to a new city clerk?
A: By all means, I’d say be candid and understand your employees. Be willing to listen and, by all means, tell the truth. Be compassionate, find out your employee’s needs and provide for them to do their job. Set an example. Also, understand exactly what the mayor expects from you. Do this on a one-on-one basis, then let your employees know as well. City clerk is an important position, they oversee seven vital departments for Warner Robins. You need to know what’s expected of you and your staff then work to deliver it.
Editor’s note: The Q&A with Alton Mattox will continue next week.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.