• Four people and the words, Extension Matters.

Navigating a New Normal

A smiling woman holding a tablet stands outside in front of a flagpole.
Jo Ann Robbins had to make several changes when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Extension supports city clerks during pandemic

Story by Susan Collins-Smith • Photos by Kevin Hudson

Tablet screen showing a man and woman video chatting.
Dr. Jason Camp, a Mississippi State
University Extension Service instructor,
video chats with Mississippi Municipal
Clerks and Collectors Association
President Jo Ann Robbins.

Many things about the way Jo Ann Robbins did her job changed when coronavirus hit.

“The COVID-19 pandemic impacted my work and my personal life in ways I never dreamed possible,” says the Sumrall city clerk and president of the Mississippi Municipal Clerks and Collectors Association. “In years past, we have experienced hurricanes, tornadoes, and flash flooding. But no other natural disaster prepared me for a pandemic.”

Like all city clerks, Robbins carries out several administrative and support functions for city officials and employees and provides a gateway for communication between the city and its citizens.

“In 2020,” she says, “we are better able to communicate electronically with vendors, employees, and customers than we would have been 10 years ago. That makes things a little easier.”

Dr. Jason Camp, Extension instructor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service Center for Government and Community Development, helps make sure clerks can do their jobs, connect to their professional association, and stay updated on the pandemic situation.

Video by Leah Barbour

“When the pandemic started, local officials faced situations that had never crossed anyone’s mind,” explains Camp, who leads the city clerks and collectors program. “Technical assistance has always been a vital part of our relationship with local officials, but the requests skyrocketed during this time.

Before the pandemic, interacting with the public meant conversations in person a lot of the time—in my office, on the streets in town, and in the businesses of Sumrall. But the pandemic changed all that.

— JO ANN ROBBINS

“We helped them work out how to hold virtual board meetings, navigate open-meetings laws, set up officials to work from home, and understand health regulations. Because we have a well- established relationship with clerks, other state agencies turned to us to share critical updates with municipalities.”

Robbins says she is grateful for her relationship with Extension.

“I cannot imagine doing my job as city clerk without the training I have received through Extension,” shares Robbins, who has served the city in this role twice, totaling 17 years. “Jason has always gone above and beyond to meet our needs, and the one constant during this pandemic has been my ability to depend on Jason as my connection to Extension.

“All the technical assistance was great, but what I appreciated the most was Extension was still just a phone call away. Same numbers. Same quick response. I got just what I was expecting, which was what I had received before the pandemic—a prompt and accurate response,” Robbins says.

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