Rocky Mount City Clerk Jean Bailey’s office walls, desk and shelves are filled with mementos from friends and coworkers she has met throughout her 38-year career. By the end of March though, the gray granite nameplate she won at a conference and her pictures will find a new place in her home as she prepares for retirement.
“She will not sit on the porch and rock because she has always been involved in the community and many worthwhile projects, so I have no doubt she will still be busy,” said Assistant City Clerk Pam Casey.
Bailey never planned to work for city government, though. She was active in her children’s schools, but as they got older, the Georgia native said she got bored. She asked a friend to keep an ear out for part-time secretarial jobs and in the early 1970s, she took a job in the city manager’s office where she developed a friendship with then City Clerk Georgia Langley.
When city officials separated the clerk’s office from the finance department, Langley approached Bailey about helping three days a week.
“It just seemed like when I got there, I wanted to learn everything about it,” Bailey recalled. “I helped set up all the files for contracts and typed documents we still use now. I organized ordinances and other things that had never been done.”
The position eventually became a full-time job and when Langley left in 1979, Bailey stepped up.
“I was in a position then that I knew the job and if I didn’t take it, I’d have to train whoever did,” Bailey said.
She said it was a stressful transition, though.
“It was scary in the beginning, I mean, really scary,” Bailey said. “Even though I’d done it all in the past, all of a sudden, the buck stopped with me. If something went wrong, it was my head.”
Bailey took it in stride and made her own mark on the office by utilizing evolving technology. Among the changes she implemented during her tenure was indexing minutes from several decades of City Council meetings.
“If someone was looking for when something happened before, it was a ‘seek and you may or may not find’ mission,” Bailey said. “Someone would try to put you in the ballpark and then you’d have to go page-by-page looking for it.”
The former stay-at-home mother went before the City Council to request help for the task and was granted a part-time assistant. In the decades since, the City Clerk’s office has grown to four full-time employees working to preserve a written history of city government.
Bailey also made her mark on the profession of city clerks on national and international levels through her work in trade organizations and by helping to develop a certification course for clerks at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“I think there is a general perception – not as much as it used to be though – that this is a glorified secretary position,” Bailey said. “It might be in some small towns, but in order to manage all the legal responsibilities, everything the council does has to have the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. It is quite an administrative position.”
She said serving as the president for the International Institute of Municipal Clerks was one of the most rewarding experiences, especially since it allowed her to travel the globe.
“I was gone somewhere almost every week, but I only missed two council meetings during the whole year,” said Bailey. “One conference was in South Africa and I didn’t get back to Raleigh until 5 p.m. I arranged my administrative assistant to sit in my place, but came directly here and the meeting had only been going about 15 minutes when I got here.
“That was quite an experience,” Bailey said. “I was so thankful to have the freedom to do that and I felt like I influenced a lot of clerks throughout the U.S. and other countries.”
She said she plans to stay active in her retirement, traveling to see other clerks she met through her career, visiting with her late husband’s family, her siblings, her two children and four grandchildren. Bailey said developing a cookbook of her family’s recipes and continuing her volunteer work also are on her agenda.
“I wish every citizen felt that they owed something to their community and wanted to give back because communities provide a lot for people that they don’t realize,” Bailey said. “I’ve gotten a lot from this community so I wanted to give back.
“I will certainly miss the every day contact with my colleagues at City Hall, but the City Clerk’s office is prepared for the transition.”