Laurel City Clerk Mary Ann Hess has always had a passion for public service and learning. As the daughter of a college professor, education is in her blood. Her father was the physics teacher at Jones College for 33 years and her mother worked in the registrar’s office. “I grew up on campus, literally,” she explained. “As a small child, I have fond memories of playing in the physics lab and the old administration building.”
It seemed destined that Hess would follow her family into education. When she first arrived at Jones College as a student, she thought that she might have become a guidance counselor. “I am good at listening and I have always liked helping people,” she explained.
However, she enjoyed her business classes so much, that she majored in Management with an emphasis in HR Management. She transferred from Jones to Ole Miss where she completed her undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Business Administration.
Her first job was as a performance auditor in the Department of Finance and Administration for the State of Tennessee.
She lived and worked in Nashville for the next four and half years before accepting a position in Greenville as the Assistant City Clerk. She was soon promoted to City Clerk/Finance Director. At the time, Greenville was the third largest city in the state.
In February 2000, she discovered that her hometown of Laurel was looking for a City Clerk. She applied, got the job, and has been working at City Hall ever since.
As City Clerk, Hess is responsible for working with county officials and election commissioners to ensure that city elections are held in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. Her office also oversees the administration of privilege licenses. Additionally, she leads the city’s finance department where she prepares and oversees the city’s nearly $ 73 million-dollar annual budget. She is responsible for all city accounting except for payroll.
Her department is currently working to digitize the city’s records. “We’ve made a lot of progress on this,” she said. The department follows guidelines and a record retention schedule provided by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Digitizing the records will make them easier to store and easier to find in the future.
In addition to completing the digitization project, she would also like to implement a five-year capital plan for the city. A capital plan is a type of planning and budgeting tool that allows city departments to make requests for capital items and projects ahead of time. For example, if a police department knows that they will need a new car in the next few years, they can request to have the purchase built into the capital plan. Then they will know that on year three of the capital plan, they will be able to purchase the new police car. This type of planning is common among municipalities and offers a way to be proactive in planning each budget year.
Although Hess’s duties usually involve working with city finances, she has never forgotten her first love – education. This love comes through in her work with the International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC). The IIMC is a professional organization dedicated to promoting the work of municipal clerks. The organization has over 15, 000 members worldwide in 15 countries.
Last year, Hess was awarded the organization’s highest honor, the Quill Award. “I am very proud and honored to receive this award,” she said. Of the organization’s 15,000 members, only three clerks can be chosen in a given year for the award. However, if the panel does not believe any of the applicants are deserving, no one will receive it.
In 2020 only Hess and one other person were awarded. The IIMC judges applicants based on their contributions to the profession in general, their work as a municipal clerk, and their efforts to improve their communities. They also look at a clerk’s work and leadership within the organization.
Hess is the first Mississippian to receive the award.
In April, she was elected Vice-President of the IIMC and in May 2022, she will be promoted to President Elect. She will be President in May 2023. She is the first Mississippian to have this honor as well.
Her priorities as a leader in the international municipal clerk community are to enhance educational resources for her colleagues around the world.
“It breaks my heart to see clerks, especially in small towns and villages, without the education or resources to do a good job,” she explained. She wants her work with the IIMC to enhance educational opportunities by making courses easily accessible and affordable.
She has also encouraged her coworkers in the City Clerk’s office to work with the IIMC to obtain specialized credentialing that will help them in their careers and help them to continue to provide excellent service to the City of Laurel. Hess is thankful that she has come full circle in her career and that she has such a supportive work environment. “The city has always stressed education and this mayor really promotes education,” she explained. “He’s a firm believer in it.” So is she!
When Hess is not at work, doing community service, or working with the IIMC, she enjoys conducting genealogical research. She has discovered that she is a 9th generation Jones Countian and is a member of the Order of the First Families of Mississippi. “I like puzzles,” she explained. “And genealogy is a puzzle.” She has been a member of the Nahoula Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution since October 1996 and a state officer for the past nine years.
Her other professional and community involvement includes serving as past State President of the Mississippi City County Management Association and the Mississippi Association of Parliamentarians. She attends First Baptist Church of Laurel, where she has served many years on the budget and personnel committees.
Last year before the pandemic, she adopted a Jack Russell (mixed with something else, maybe a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) dog from the Laurel Animal Rescue. In her spare time, she can be found walking and playing with Jack. “This past year Jack has been a blessing to my mom and me and is now a part of our family.”