Thursday, May 1

'Nita' leaving City Hall after 32 years

[MAY 1, 2003]  After 16 years, Juanita Josserand, better known as "Nita," is stepping down from her job as Lincoln city clerk. Double that 16, and that's how many years she's been an employee of the city of Lincoln, working in City Hall.

She came in 1971, starting in accounts payable and payroll when Helen Zeter was city clerk. Before that, she had been a bookkeeper at Mount Pulaski Farmers' Grain Elevator.

In the early 1980s, when Bob Madigan became city clerk, an elected position, Nita was named deputy clerk and bookkeeper. Then in 1987, Madigan ran for the Illinois Senate and won, and Mayor Pete Andrews appointed Nita as city clerk. She ran for the position in 1989 and defeated challenger Joan Ritter, who later became mayor of Lincoln. She has run unopposed ever since.

In all, Nita has worked under six mayors: Ed Malerich, Bill Wilson, Pete Andrews, John Guzzardo, Joan Ritter and the current mayor, Beth Davis.

She's seen a lot of changes in those 32 years, but the biggest is the coming of the computer. That was in 1986-87 under Madigan. Although the system needs to be upgraded now, Nita says the city has never had a time when its computers were down; because they were not hooked up to the outside world, no one could get into the system and mess it up, she points out.


The computer is very helpful in retrieving information quickly, but it hasn't done what was once predicted: eliminate paper.

"It just makes more paperwork. We buy so much paper, it's hard to believe."

Because of the computer, Nita has been able to do a better job of keeping old city records. By law the city clerk is the keeper of all records, such as minutes, deeds, ordinances and codes, and must be sure they are safe and can be found when needed. Nita bought a scanner and now has most of the city's records on disks, going well back into the late 1800s. Records can be printed out if anyone wants to see them.

"We have to keep all the records, but we don't have to keep on storing paper copies. "We've got records nobody ever asks to see, but they're there."

The very earliest records, dating back to 1865 when the city was incorporated, present a challenge even the scanner can't meet.

"The first three books of city minutes were written in script that's almost impossible to read now. We can't scan these or the books would break apart, the pages are so brittle," she says.

Mayor Beth Davis had set as one of her goals preserving these earliest records, possibly getting them into a climate-controlled vault so they will not disintegrate, according to Nita.


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Lincoln area residents who like to save time and postage by dropping bill payments into the boxes on Kickapoo Street can thank Nita. She got the drop boxes installed in 1992 to make it more convenient to pay for city services, utilities, medical care and some business services. The city purchased the boxes, and companies that wanted them paid the cost.

Recently she set up a system so residents can pay sewer bills by credit card at City Hall. The city accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discovery and ATM cards during regular business hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. She hopes the system will help the city collect overdue sewer bills, which have been a continuing problem.

She has always been very complimentary about her staff.

"Your staff can make you look good or bad, and I have a very good staff," she says. Her three full-timers were Melanie Riggs, deputy clerk, who will become city clerk when she steps down, Louis Mauney and Brenda McCabe. Her part-time staff member is Susan Gehlbach.

She is confident Riggs will do a very good job as city clerk.

"This is not a job you can just step into. I'm recommending her because she has been here and knows the system. She has filled in for me at board meetings and firemen's pension board meetings. And since the city is not going to hire a replacement for me, and the staff will be cut by one, I'll be available to help out if Melanie needs me.

"I'm looking forward, though, to finally having time to do something when I want to do it. I've always been involved with my grandchildren's activities, especially sport events, and I'll continue to do that."


She has a son who lives in Lincoln, a daughter who lives in Mount Zion, and three granddaughters. One is at Western Illinois University and making the dean's list, one is at Lincoln Community High School on the golf team, and one is at Mount Zion High School playing soccer and basketball.

"I'm proud of all my granddaughters," Nita says.

She's also planning a trip to Arizona very soon to see a brother who is ill.

"I think the hardest part of this job is dealing with the public," she says. "When people fail to make payments on time, somehow it's our fault. But the public is who we work for."

[Joan Crabb]

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