Making the Change
Tax Assessor/Collector Offices Modernize Services
When longtime deputy clerk Dannie J. Abercrombie threatened to quit after 33 years in the Covington County Tax Assessor/Collector’s office, she was frustrated that Mississippi was changing the vehicle registration and titling system in place since 1980.
“I did not like MARVIN,” Abercrombie explains, using the acronym for the new Mississippi Automated Registration Vehicle Information Network. “I was going to quit the very first day I was introduced to him.”
As the office’s most experienced employee, Abercrombie was only giving voice to the uncertainty the entire team felt about the change, explains Cindy Aultman Sanford, the county assessor/collector since 2007.
“We had to update the equipment, and a lot of training was involved,” Sanford remembers. “Education was the key. We had to educate our staff to make sure they were prepared to use the new tools they would need for MARVIN and continue to be successful every day.”
Sanford, who sees the assessor’s office as the heartbeat of the county, wants to provide residents with the efficient services they need. MARVIN can fulfill these needs by digitally linking Mississippi officials to the statewide insurance-verification system, as well as to the nation’s fraud-prevention system. Also, the web-based network transfers titles, replaces decals, changes contact information, and will email renewal notices upon vehicle owners’ request.
In the months before rollout, the Mississippi Department of Revenue conducted training with logistical support provided by the Mississippi State University Extension Service. However, Sanford’s team in Covington County kept telling her they needed more help, so she followed up with Extension.
She called Terence Norwood, an Extension instructor with the Center for Government and Community Development. His specialty area is local government education.
“When I called him, I never dreamed he would actually come to our office,” Sanford laughs. “I said, ‘Is there anything the Extension Service offers that you can provide to me and my staff as far as computer training goes?’”
Norwood jumped at the chance to help.
“We knew that MARVIN would be a massive undertaking for these offices, and there was great apprehension, concern, and fear,” he explains. “I spent 2 days in the Covington County office, just mentoring them, encouraging them, and showing the clerks different tricks with using new technology.”
Not only did Norwood personally visit the Collins office, but he also offered individual instruction to employees who expressed fears, concerns, or problems with MARVIN. Norwood met them, talked to them, and helped them learn what was needed for their transition to the new system.
Bookkeeper Frieda Whiddon said Norwood’s personality made the training experience smooth for her.
“Terence is very knowledgeable and does a great job of doing follow-up,” she explains. “He’s just so easygoing; he never gets flustered. He’s cool and calm.”
Norwood met each person’s individual needs and talked them through their challenges; he provided the personal coaching and instruction that staff needed to serve locals through a brand-new system, Sanford says.
“All I had to do was ask, and Terence showed my staff that MARVIN is something they can do,” Sanford says. “I can see what Extension did for my staff. It gave them the encouragement and support to tackle MARVIN. I’m just thankful for Terence and the Extension Service.”
Sanford says she’d be quick to recommend Extension to other elected officials, especially when they’re faced with system changes.
“I can’t say enough good things about Terence—the work he did went beyond the call of duty, and he helped each deputy clerk feel like, ‘I’ve got this,’” Sanford says.
And as for Abercrombie, who was against MARVIN from the very beginning?
“I can do it now,” she laughs. “It’s just something different, but everything new is going to take time. And once we get started, we’ll do it. It’ll be all right.”