Rupert Howell Column 5/10/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 10, 2013

Efficient Miss Sally satisfied auditors and the electorate

A recent column about the late Bill Sissell who at one time served as Panola County’s Superintendent of Education was intended to be combined with column about the late Sally Fisher who served as Panola County’s Chancery Clerk from 1988 through 2003. Too much information for one column—R.H.

When Sally Fisher decided to retire from the office of Chancery Clerk, she was planning on spending time with anticipated grandchildren from one or all of her three sons.
Like her predecessor Brooks Vance, she could have remained in office as long as she was living but instead served as Chancery Clerk four terms from 1988 through 2003. She passed away 10 years later, on March 11, 2013.

When her predecessor and mentor, Vance, announced he would retire prior to the 1987 election, he said he would not get involved with the campaign of a successor.
But something happened during that election cycle that pushed him back into the fray and he whole-heartedly backed his deputy, Fisher, against two popular and formidable opponents, Joe Reid and Charles Ray Nix.

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Fisher won and the rest is history. Maybe Vance felt that he owed the loyal deputy his support after she had kept abreast of the details of that office’s functions and county’s records and helped him to run an efficient operation for so many years prior to her election.
During, before and after, a transition of change in county government was occurring as a young state auditor named Ray Mabus brought down, a notch or two, the state’s supervisors association and their powerful lobby.

Accounting practices, purchase requirements, budgeting and other tasks of county government were changing rapidly.

Not only does the Chancery Clerk clerk for the court and maintain county records, the Chancery Clerk is also official clerk for the board of supervisors which made the one serving in that office the county’s chief administrative officer.

That would change in Fisher’s first term as the supervisor board changed to the county unit form of government, hiring a county administrator as the county’s administrative officer to navigate changes. Some counties chose to use their Chancery Clerk as administrator, but Panola decided to add a new office.

While that move tended to put more control and accountability on supervisors’ individual spending and consolidated services, most notably road and bridge construction and maintenance, it centralized more of the decision making, consolidating power to David Chandler, the county’s first administrator.

Chandler, who recently began serving federal time for rascality during the time as county administrator,  will have to pay restitution and “volunteer” many hours of labor to Panola County for his misdeeds.

While the Chancery Clerk had to answer to the electorate and supervisors,   a county administrator serves at the “will and pleasure” of the supervisor board and basically only had to keep three of those board members happy to stay employed.
Among Fisher’s duties even as deputy clerk was cataloging the supervisors’ official minutes. Only a short time since Watergate, Sunshine Laws were still in infancy in county government in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

But Fisher knew the law and when a (then) young reporter asked if he might see the minutes she would give him the whole stack of pages, stating every time, “You know they’re not signed and won’t be official until next month. And don’t get the pages out of order.”
Such efficiency and order kept Panola County’s Chancery Clerk’s Office in good stead with auditors and the electorate for many years under Miss Sally’s watchful eyes.