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Managing the boss — or at least trying to!

By Elaine Stevens //

They used to be called secretaries — those who serve the rich, powerful and in the Renaissance, royalty. Derived from the Latin, secernere, it means “to distinguish” or “to set apart.” The meaning eventually evolved into secret, private or confidential. Thanks to political correctness, private secretaries are today most often referred to as administrative assistants in the corporate world and clerks — with titles and official swearings-in — in the political arena. They are even honored during the year with their own Administrative Professionals’ Day. Nonetheless, those they serve remain “bosses.”

Politics first

It’s difficult enough to get into a routine with one boss: His or her way of managing, how he likes his coffee, when to speak or wait until spoken to, along with a myriad of other tasks and character traits one becomes accustomed to over time. Well, how would you like to have seven bosses — at once? And, out of that seven, a solid majority of them could change every four years? That’s the employment saga of clerks of city councils in South Mississippi municipalities. Gulf Coast Woman met three such dynamos at Biloxi City Hall who have as much political savvy and diplomacy as any international ambassador. They are different personalities, range in employment tenure from barely a year to more than 30 years, and have a variety of skills and talents. However, their commonality: They love their job, they love Biloxi, and all seven of their bosses.

“We have never had as many as five new members to come on board at one time as was this most recent administration,” says Clerk of Council Karen Brashier, who began her career with the city of Biloxi in 1984. “Obviously, the transferring process can be quite challenging, but things work out, with lots of prayers.”

On the other end of city clerk employment status, at about nine months on the job, Stephanie Rosetti, assistant deputy clerk of council, describes working for seven people of varying genders, personalities, and political views as “interesting, invigorating, never boring!” She adds that there is “constant tutelage” for all involved.

With more than 20 years of service, Keri Campbell, deputy clerk of council, was a high school senior when she came on board. By adapting to change, Campbell says, serving seven masters isn’t that complicated, if you are up to the daily challenge. “One of the hardest things is when they all call at the same time with different problems … we just prioritize and get the job done.”

Veteran city employee Brashier says humor and respect really make the difference in the quality of customer service, whether she is dealing directly with council members or the public. She added that funny questions like “how does someone who is in prison get a marriage license,” often make her want to answer the phone, “Good afternoon, Counseling Office.” Campbell had a similar experience when the caller on the other end actually said, “Honey, I need some counseling.” To which Campbell replied, “Don’t we all!”

Or, how about the day there were flooding issues with numerous residents calling constantly, last minute resolutions to be added to the agenda, two clerks on sick leave and only one left holding down the fort! All agree that remaining calm in the midst of that kind of chaos and handling each case in the order of necessity is the best formula to follow. Technology, they say, has proven to be their greatest ally in such scenarios. For the novice in the trio, Rosettti sets her goal as “creating the highest outcome for our City and citizens.” Her credo: “Successful people build each other up. They motivate, inspire, and push each other to be the best we can be.”

From “serving” politicos like Attorney General Mike Moore to casino executives, Nancy East is a true professional when it comes to remaining calm in crises, attending to details, and managing male bosses. She says being the executive administrative assistant to Todd Raziano, Hard Rock Casino’s executive vice president and general manager, isn’t really that different from working with Moore — with one exception: “I went from speaking legalese in Mike’s office to trying to figure out what a WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) and a Konami (type of slot machine) were — had to learn an entirely new language!”

Over her 30-plus career, East has found a great deal of excitement in her administrative assistant positions, regardless of the endless phone calls and clerical tasks often required of her. “I was able to finally fulfill my lifelong wish of standing just one foot away from my hero, Willie Nelson, at a private press conference. I was in heaven!” Working with the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic each year has allowed East to get to know many of the nation’s top professional golfers on a first name basis. She has also met actor Russell Crowe, news personalities, Stone Phillips and Connie Chung, and many others during the tobacco litigation under Moore’s administration, at which time the Academy Award-winning movie, “The Insider,” was filmed on location in Pascagoula.

Being at the beck and call of high profile casino executives like Raziano can be demanding, but, “I love every minute of it,” East says. “… and it definitely keeps you on your toes 24/7.” She chuckles as she explains the hardest part of her job is “making sure my boss checks his inbox each and every day.” As for communication with Raziano, East says, “It’s great. We talk constantly about that darn inbox!”

Like her colleagues in City Hall, East says being a good listener is a key to excelling in your job. Her advice to others in her field: “Do your job, keep your head down, your mouth shut, and be a buffer zone for the boss.” And, if she were boss what would East do differently? “I would check my inbox every day!”

By the way, as of this writing, East says she is doing a happy dance, because her boss is finally working on — that’s right — clearing out his inbox!

Note to boss

Administrative Professionals’ Day is April 22!