Meet Melissa Hannah, Catoosa County clerk
When Melissa Hannah was a little girl, she would sit on a bench in front of her grandfather’s Ringgold store – Gene Orr’s Grocery – with a bottle of Coke she’d dropped peanuts into and sing John Anderson’s “Swingin’.” Her grandfather gave her a quarter for every time she sang the song.
But Hannah learned about responsibility early-on, too. “My grandfather kept a tab of all the candy my brother and I ate from the store and we had to pay for it,” she says. By the time she was seven or eight, she was running the store’s register and pumping gas for customers.
Life was not all work and performing for the Lego-constructing, arithmetic-loving, girly tom-boy. “I loved to build things and play in the dirt,” she says. “but I made sure I had my make-up on first.”
Today, Hannah serves as Catoosa County clerk, a job far more complex than most might realize. Her path to that position began with the passion for community she developed at her grandpa’s store and her natural love of math.
Hannah graduated from Ringgold High and started college at Dalton State where she intended to major in mathematics and work toward becoming an algebra teacher. But as a single mother with a young child to support, that plan gave way to more immediate needs. Hannah dropped out of college and entered the workforce.
Still, the dream remained and in time Hannah returned to it. She signed up at Northwestern Technical College. “There was a course in architectural and mechanical drafting,” she says. “It was mathoriented and very hands-on, which I liked. And I was lucky to get a very supportive teacher.”
Shortly after earning her certification, Hannah’s former teacher suggested she apply for a job as draftsman with the city of LaFayette. She was hired and spent the next four years with the city, adding management and human relations skills to her résumé. “I learned that I liked working in government and I loved public service,” she says.
Next, Hannah applied for a job as elections registrar in her hometown of Ringgold. The position had been filled, but there was an opening for an economic development assistant, which she got. At a luncheon, she met then-Catoosa County manager J.D. Bird and started working with him on the county’s new GIS program.
“I had done some reading on GIS and knew enough about it to help develop it for the county,” says Hannah.
GIS, or geographic information system, is a computer system that can layer maps and information to help analyze data and make it easily comparable. Hannah says that many departments in the county find it useful, from the tax assessor’s office to the storm water department, planning and zoning, and the fire and police departments.
In 2004, Hannah moved to the position she holds now – that of Catoosa County clerk. “I have five bosses – the five commissioners,” she says. “My job is to keep them informed, coordinate their meetings and schedules and act as a liaison between them and citizens and sometimes others.”
When a new commissioner takes office, one of the first things Hannah must coordinate is their initial training to become certified, which involves taking nine courses that come to 66 hours of class time within a year. “I make a matrix that shows where the courses can be taken – Athens, Macon, Savannah and Atlanta are common places – and when they’re available, then I help them work the training in around their schedules and make travel and other arrangements.”
Hannah had her own certification to attend to when she became clerk – four years’ worth of training. “A lot of the courses have to do with law – how to operate government openly and legally, which is very important to us.” She’s currently working on her master clerk certification.
Hannah is responsible for coordinating the bimonthly commission meeting agendas. “We hold agenda-setting meetings where department heads and others can come to present their concerns and things they’d like to see a vote on. The county manager, county attorney and chief financial officer are there to verify agenda items, then I put together the agenda for the next commission meeting and make it available to the public.”
Hannah says that the commissioners want the public to look over the agenda and come to meetings if they feel they have knowledge that might contribute to a better understanding of an issue. “We have nothing to hide,” says Hannah, “and citizens may know something we don’t about an issue. We want to hear from them.”
Another of Hannah’s jobs is making sure the law is followed regarding a quorum of the commission. “If the commission is invited to attend a board meeting or something else of a potentially political nature, I need to find out how many want to go. If it’s three or more, I need to publish it to keep within the law.”
Keeping commissioners aware of citizens’ concerns is a big part of Hannah’s job, too. “If we’re getting calls about something, I want to make sure all the commissioners know about it so they can talk to people, do research, whatever they need to do to address the issue.”
As county clerk, Hannah also manages all open records requests. “I don’t have a shredder. We run an above-board operation. Everything we do in the course of business is considered an open record and available to the public if they wish to view it or receive copies of it.”
Hannah says the twice-yearly clerk training she attends can be not only useful but eye-opening. “You meet a lot of other county and city clerks from around the state and get to compare notes and learn helpful things. Sometimes you discover that not all municipalities operate as openly and honestly as we do in Catoosa County. We really are committed to operating by the book.”
Away from work, Hannah is devoted to her husband, 21-yearold son and four-yearold son. “I’m a people person at work, but I love being at home in sweats and sneakers wrestling and playing video games with my family when the workday ends.”
Melissa Hannah has served as Catoosa County clerk since 2004. (Catoosa News photo/Tamara Wolk)