One thing reporters learn pretty quickly when covering local government is that you don’t write about the clerks.
However, there are exceptions to every rule.
Tuesday, Jan. 8 Greensboro City Clerk Betsey Richardson clerked her last meeting before retirement on Jan. 31. Richardson said she would be at the meeting on Jan. 15, but she will be in the co-pilot’s seat, not the clerk behind the computer screen officially keeping track of everything and trying to keep the meeting moving along according to the agenda.
Richardson has been the city clerk since November 2008 which means she has served through four mayors, five managers and a lot of different councilmembers. When Richardson was hired Councilmember Yvonne Johnson was mayor and Mitch Johnson was city manager. A few months later, Johnson was fired as city manager. The turnover in the manager’s office is fairly constant, but actually firing a manager is rare.
But for over 10 years, through all the raucous, controversial meetings Richardson has been a sea of calm, quietly taking notes and making sure the official record is accurate or as accurate as it can be when a bunch of councilmembers are all talking at the same time, making motions that never get noticed, motions that get seconds and somehow get ignored and everything else. There’s a lot that happens at council meetings some of it important and some not so important and the official record of it all is the city clerk’s record.
When asked about all the mayors and managers during her time as clerk, Richardson said, “I don’t have a favorite. There were benefits to working with all of them.”
She noted that she had worked with former City Manager Jim Westmoreland the longest which was four years before he retired last spring.
About her job she said, “The hardest part is dealing with last minute emergencies especially on Council meeting days.”
Richardson said her favorite part of the job was not trying to have the minutes make sense, but “providing assistance to people in the community.”
She said a lot of people call the clerk’s office because they don’t know who to call and Richardson said she enjoyed listening to their stories and then steering them in the right direction to get assistance.
She also said that despite all her efforts still about 35 percent of the calls to her office were people who actually wanted the Guilford County Clerk of Court.
Richardson said that she has enjoyed listening to the people who come before the City Council and learning about issues that she never would have otherwise. She said, “It’s opened my eyes to how other people think and what other people are going through in their lives.”
But she said no matter how interesting a speaker is or how raucous a meeting gets she has a job to do. She said, “I call it being in the zone.”
Richardson said, “My goal at the meetings is to keep those meetings running smoothly.”
A lot has changed since Richardson took over as clerk, in those days hefty agenda packets were delivered to the home of each councilmember by a police officer, then by a city employee and today agendas are sent to the councilmembers’ iPads. She said that going digital had made the entire agenda process much more streamlined and she was pleasantly surprised at how supportive the city councilmembers were of making the change.
Richardson is a certified paralegal and worked in the city legal department before becoming city clerk.
When asked what she was going to do on Feb. 1 when she no longer had to worry about the City Council, Richardson said, “I plan on taking the first three to six months relaxing and deciding what I want to do next.”