Meet Melissa Han­nah, Ca­toosa County clerk

The Catoosa County News - - WORSHIP DIRECTORY - By Ta­mara Wolk

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)

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