ELLISVILLE – While Jones College may have laid a foundation for Mary Ann Hess’ professional success as the Laurel City Clerk, her abilities since graduating in 1985 have distinguished her uniquely amongst her peers. She is the only Mississippian to receive two honors, The Quill Award and the Athenian Award, through the International Institute of Municipal Clerks (IIMC), in addition to being elected President of the IIMC. No other Mississippian has achieved any one of these accomplishments or leadership positions in the city or state’s history.
“It is a huge honor to represent Laurel and Mississippi, as well as the United States on a world-wide stage. Whenever, I mention the show ‘Hometown,’ it becomes a good icebreaker because so many people have heard and seen the show. The Laurel City Council and Mayor are very generous to let me go and represent the city.”
Although Hess’s duties are finance related, her first love is education. She gets to enjoy that passion through her work with the IIMC. This professional organization is dedicated to promoting the work of municipal clerks with over 15,000 members worldwide in 15 countries. From 2014 to 2017, Hess served as the IIMC’s Region IV Director, representing Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. In 2020, Hess was awarded the organization’s highest honor, the Quill Award.
“Only three clerks can be chosen each year for the award. However, if the panel does not believe any of the applicants are deserving, no one will receive it,” Hess explained. “Hess and one other person were awarded this top honor for their contributions to the profession and their work as a municipal clerk and their efforts to improve their communities.”
With her mother, Reba Hess who is also a JCJC graduate and her brother, Michael, beside her in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mary Ann was officially sworn in as President of the IIMC at the 77th Annual Conference last May. Before becoming president, she had to get elected Vice President.
She began her international campaign via zoom and email, in the fall of 2020 through the spring of 2021, during COVID. Hess was elected in April 2021, beating out a clerk from Texas, and Illinois. She was sworn in as President-Elect at the 2022, IIMC Annual Conference in Little Rock. Being selected to run an organization of this magnitude is a challenge Hess enjoys. However, she also has very noble reasons why she is devoted to supporting her peers.
“The reason I ran for President was to help municipal clerks all over the world to obtain the education that they need to do their jobs. This year I will preside over a Board of Directors that does both – set education policy and provide educational opportunities, both in-person and online learning.”
So far, Hess has attended two state conferences and one provincial (Ontario) conference since May with plans to attend an Officer’s Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has also been to Wisconsin in August, and in October, she will be in Murfreesboro, Tennessee speaking to Clerks. Hess will also be visiting the IIMC Headquarters located in Rancho Cucamonga, California for Executive Committee meetings in September and then, preside over the Mid-Year Board meeting in Orlando in November, in preparation for the IIMC Annual Conference held in Calgary, Alberta, May 2024.
“After I attend a conference, I write my article for our News Digest and for my blog on the website. In my articles, I include things that I thought were good or interesting, so that we can all learn from each other.”
Her parents, Larry and Reba Hess who worked at Jones College for years, may have been instrumental in their daughter’s love of learning. Mr. Hess was a physics instructor for 33 years before retiring in 2000, and her mother Reba, worked in the Registrar’s Office for 20 years. Mary Ann’s grandmother, Amy Grice was a women’s dorm mother in the early 1970s. She literally grew up on campus!
“As a little girl I could be found either in the back of the physics lab, the Registrar’s Office or playing in the dormitory,” explained Mary Ann.
As a JC student, she served in leadership roles for the International Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society as the Reporter and attended the National Convention in Washington, D.C., the Honors Institute in Biloxi, and the Regional Convention in Meridian. As a member of Phi Beta Lambda, Business Honor Society, Hess served the JC student organization and the State PBL as Parliamentarian. She topped off her time at Jones by being selected to the Hall of Fame.
Her relationship with Jones College may have also pre-destined her to become an Athenian Fellow, which she compares to as a “book club” to train leaders. To be a Fellow, you go through 10 classes, which means reading 10 books, get recognized, and then do more training to be a Facilitator. With only one Facilitator in the state, Hess said she has her eyes on that designation next.
“I know of a few clerks who only have six or seven classes,” she explained. “To train and get leadership on an international level with skills that are specific to each state is difficult. We take a book on leadership then do a report. We report back in small groups to discuss the points of the book and the Facilitator teaches the eight-hour leadership skill-based class on the books we’ve read. It’s a really good way to learn.”
Her priorities as a leader in the international municipal clerk community are to enhance educational resources for her colleagues around the world. Hess shared, “I want to make courses easily accessible and affordable. It breaks my heart to see clerks, especially in small towns and villages without the education or resources to do a good job.”
Mary Ann encourages and ensures her coworkers in the Laurel City Clerk’s Office also have opportunities to work with the IIMC to obtain specialized credentialing that will help them in their careers. Ultimately, excellent service is allowed to flourish in the City of Laurel with this training.
“The city has always stressed education and this mayor really promotes education,” Hess explained.
Hess has worked in city government for more than 28 years, with her first job being the performance auditor in the Department of Finance and Administration for the State of Tennessee. In 2000, she began working at City Hall, obtaining her Certified Municipal Clerk (CMC) designation in 2001, and in 2012, she became the first City of Laurel staff member to earn her Master Municipal Clerk (MMC) designation.
Other organizations Hess has served in a leadership role include being the Past State President of the Mississippi Municipal Clerks and Collectors Association, Mississippi City/County Management Association, and the Mississippi Association of Parliamentarians. For 13 years, she has also served on the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Municipal League. Her community activities include serving as a State Officer for nine years in the Mississippi State Society Daughters of the American Revolution and as a Past Chapter Regent of the Nahoula Chapter in Laurel.
City Clerks are responsible for working with county officials and election commissions to ensure that city elections are held in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. Her office also oversees the administration of privilege licenses. In addition, Hess also leads the city’s finance department where she prepares and oversees the city of Laurel’s nearly $73 million-dollar annual budget. She is responsible for all city accounting except for payroll.