By Josh Troy
Cathy Clark has been a fixture in the Clarksdale City Clerk’s Office since 1988 and the department head since 2001; after more than 34 years of service, she will be retiring at the end of the month. Clark moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to Clarksdale in 1987 with her husband Ricky, whose family is from Sumner. In Texas, she worked for the Credit Bureau, where people called to get credit reports, and General Dynamics, where she typed up invoices. Sylvia Burton, the Clarksdale City Clerk at the time, hired Clark as an Accounts Payable Clerk in Dec. 1988, just after Thanksgiving. John Mayo was the Mayor at the time.
Clark worked her way up through the years and became the City Clerk on July 1, 2001, and has held the position for more than 22 years. Laketha Covington, a seven-month deputy clerk with an accounting degree from Delta State University, will be the acting city clerk when Clark retires at the end of the month. Henry Espy took office for his second go round as Mayor on the same day Clark began her tenure as city clerk in 2001. Espy served as Mayor from 1989 to 1997 and from 2001 to 2013.
“Henry was a good person to work for, and he didn’t have any problem treating me as his equal,” Clark said. “We worked together side by side all the time, and we are still best friends to this day. He calls me all the time. He’ll call me on Mother’s Day and wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. We are very close.” Clark has also served as City Clerk under current Mayor Chuck Espy, the son of Henry Espy, and former Mayor, the late Bill Luckett.
Clark said she is also close with Chick Espy and knew him as a child. “He’s probably the most productive Mayor,” Clark said. “We got a lot of things done, and he came in full-charge trying to get things done, and it’s probably the most I’ve seen done in all the years that I’ve been here.” Clark said Chuck Espy, among other things, was able to get bonds passed to deal with flooding issues on Pearson and Sasse streets, equipment for the Public Works Department, and streets paved.
Clark said Luckett was good about promoting the downtown area and believed in tourism, which was important for attracting businesses. Every time a new board came into office, Clark said she had to show she could handle the job. “As city clerk, you’re appointed every time a new board comes in, and you’re not guaranteed,” she said. Clark recalled Chuck Espy making personnel changes in key positions after becoming Mayor, but as soon as he was elected, he came to city hall, told her it was important to keep her as City Clerk, and he did not want her to worry about it.
“From June to July, Chuck and I spent a lot of time together going over city finances and talking about all the different positions and everything,” Clark said. “And then when he came in office, he pretty much was ready to handle that position.” Clark said one of the biggest changes since she began working for the City Clerk’s Office in 1988 was when it went to a computer system for finances in 1993. The office uses the same system, Harris Computer, out of St. Louis, Mo., today.
“Technology, of course, has changed a lot,” she said. “We still have a lot of manual (records). You still have to keep up with the manual, but that’s all required by the state. The state hasn’t gotten rid of all of that.” Clark said that when she went to work for the City Clerk’s Office in 1988, it collected taxes. “We put lots of hours into it,” she said. “That December, when I started, we worked till midnight, 2 o’clock in the morning, trying to get taxes ready to go out the door. So we did that for maybe a good five years before we entered into an agreement with the County to collect taxes.”
Clark said the City distributes the money after Coahoma County collects it. While the City uses line printers for checks, Clark said the goal is to eventually switch to a copy machine. However, she said the City recently began paying employees through direct deposit. Clark has been the City Clerk during six terms of office. Every time a board takes office, Clark said she pulls sections from laws to show elected officials how things work. She added that she believes in mentoring.
“When the new board comes in, I start working very closely with them, trying to help them,” she said. “I give them material to help their training, and we get close during those four years.” In an effort to remain neutral during election time, Clark said she distances herself from the board as much as possible. Clark has been involved in the City Clerk’s Association, trained and mentored several Clerks, and served as President of the organization for one year.
“We all have the same challenges,” she said. “I always say when I go to the meetings, it’s such a relief because you get to hear these other towns are having problems you’re having.” Working for Sylvia Burton Clark spent her 12½ years working for Burton before becoming City Clerk herself. Burton became City Clerk in Oct. 1988 and hired Clark two months later. Clarksdale has had five mayors since Clark first came to work for the City. They were Mayo, Henry Espy, the late Richard Webster, Luckett, and Chuck Espy.
Clark was one of two Accounts Payable Clerks to start working for the City in Dec. 1988. When the other Accounts Payable Clerk did not work out, Clark said she was given more responsibilities. Clark said she was asked to attend city meetings and type the minutes in 1989, which was the same year Henry Espy and current Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals were elected. “When I first started, we were typing,” Clark said. “We didn’t have computers, and then I got a computer I could type minutes on. And, eventually, we all got computers.” Clark said she and Burton worked together to learn Harris Computer to do the finances and even went to St. Louis, Mo., for training.
Clark said she became a Deputy Clerk in the early 1990s, did the payroll by herself in 1995, and became City Clerk in 2001.
About Cathy Clark
Clark graduated from Paschal High School in Fort Worth, Texas, and all of her training to become City Clerk was on the job. “I didn’t even know what a city clerk was,” said Clark reflecting on her days in high school. Clark’s father, the late Dale Hallan, earned an accounting degree from Texas Christian University. Clark did not graduate from college but knew she wanted to be like her father.
“I always wanted to do accounting,” she said. “Numbers were my favorite, and math was my favorite subject, so I knew I wanted to do something with numbers. And my dad had an accounting degree, and I always wanted to follow in his footsteps.” After getting her start with the Credit Bureau and General Dynamics in Texas, she met her husband, Ricky, during a hail storm. Ricky is a roofer. “We tried to work it out there (in Texas),” Clark said. “As a roofer, it’s very difficult in a big city. So we tried the long-distance relationship, and that was hard. And so, I decided to quit and move to Clarksdale, and it was a challenge.”
Clark said it is easier for a roofer to be self-employed and make a good living in a smaller community. Clark married Ricky in 1985 and moved to Clarksdale in 1987. She has one child, Angela, from a previous marriage, and three children, Joshua, Patrick, and Chelsea, with Ricky. Ricky’s sister, Cheryl, is Clark’s best friend and helped her adapt after moving to Clarksdale in 1987.
“Adjusting from big city life to small town was very difficult,” she said. “I found myself having to take the two-lane highway to Memphis all the time just to get that big city life feeling. Now, I don’t have the urge to go to Memphis at all, and I love being in a small town now.” Clark said it took her a year to adjust to living in a small town. Clark began looking for work through the WIN Job Center in Sept. 1988 and started working for the City Clerk’s Office the following December.
Clark said she plans to travel internationally to places such as Switzerland and Germany during her retirement. When coming to work for the City, Clark said she needed to put in 25 years to receive retirement benefits, and she then needed to work a total of 28 years for extra benefits with the retirement program. She is now able to receive Medicare benefits, as she turned 65 on March 1. Clark said she would be coming back part-time in July as a consultant to help train employees. She added that she wants to help finish projects such as installing a new roof on the Clarksdale Civic Auditorium, redoing the City Hall elevator, and fixing Friars Point Road.