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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

After more than four decades of service, Heathcott plans retirement

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One of the challenges Heathcott faced in her career was the initiative to require administrators to test for certification. Here, Heathcott poses in the conference room of the current election office with her own certificate, presented to her on June 29, 1987.
For over four decades, Jane Heathcott has been in charge of one of the most controversial areas of service in Dyer County - the election process. Effective Dec. 31, the beloved administrator will hang up her ballot box and retire from community service.

Since 1970, Heathcott has served as Dyer County Administrator of Elections, a title she has held under five state election coordinators, five secretaries of state and nine governors.

In her tenure, the state has changed voting machines four times - moving from paper ballots to purely electronic machines. It has been Heathcott's responsibility to protect the confidentiality of elections conducted in each system. She must also educate both precinct volunteers and voters on the new procedures - usually in a very short time frame.

"We had to educate the voters on every one of those machines and systems," said Heathcott. "It required a lot just to be able to get people to change because, (as a whole), we don't like change."

In her years of service, she has also moved the office of the Election Commission five times and served with 28 different election commissioners.

"I've had a lot of good election commissioners," said Heathcott. "If you don't have good commissioners, you are dead in the water. My election commissioners are different than they are in most counties. They take an interest in this office and this process and they've got your back. They are here to help and not all election commissioners are like that.

"In the 41 years, I do not ever remember a vote of the Election Commission that was not unanimous," continued Heathcott. "The election commissioners were with me. And, without them, some days you couldn't have gotten through the day."

Heathcott was appointed to her current position after a call from Willie Clarence Moore in 1970.

Retiring Administrator of Elections Jane Heathcott poses with her office's current staff. Heathcott credits the people she has worked with throughout her tenure - office staff, election commissioners and precinct workers - for helping her through 41 years in her position serving the Dyer County community. A reception, hosted by this special group, is planned in the Election Commission office from 1:30-3:30 p.m., on Thursday, Dec. 22.
"He worked for the city at that time," said Heathcott. "He called me at home and asked me if I would come to work. I told him I would think about it. After a call from Harold Holt, I took the job and I have been here ever since."

Heathcott said the biggest challenge of her career spanned nearly two decades.

"The most challenging thing I had lasted 16 years," said Heathcott. "And that was 'cousin' Jeff Holt running for sheriff. The reason being, the candidates running against him blamed everything that could happen under the sun on Jeff and me. (The state officials) just laughed a lot, but it wasn't funny."

Another challenge Heathcott and administrators of elections throughout the state faced was a request to the state Legislature that administrators receive certification.

"We have to pass a test, equivalent to the bar exam we've been told, on Chapter 2 of Tennessee law," said Heathcott. "It makes you a certified administrator of elections."

Although Heathcott passed the test in 1985, she did not receive her certification until two years later on June 29, 1987.

Heathcott poses with her staff and members of the Dyer County Election Commission at a reception in her honor in Jackson.
"It took 10 years in the Legislature to get the bill passed to certify us," said Heathcott. "Most of us took this test on election laws in good faith, to prove to the Legislature that we were willing to take this test in order to be certified. After we took the tests, they certified us. Now, all administrators are required to take the test."

Tennessee Election Administrators are now also required to undergo training to update their certification each year.

Heathcott has had an active role the Tennessee Association of County Election Officials, a statewide group in charge of annual training. The first president of the organization elected from West Tennessee, she has also served three terms at vice president, two terms as secretary and one as treasurer.

"I have served on our legislative committee for about 30 years," said Heathcott. "And I am the only one given the honor of being appointed honorary coordinator of elections."

Heathcott received an embossed proclamation concerning the honor on June 15, 1983. The wording of the proclamation offers a humorous look at the duties Heathcott took on after three years of assisting the Coordinator of Elections in the planning and execution of the annual training seminars.

This unique cake - shaped enough like a ballot box that Heathcott thought it was the real thing - was a focal point at a reception honoring the retiring the Dyer County Administrator of Elections. Held in Jackson, the reception was hosted by the Tennessee Association of County Elected Officials.
"... Whereas (Jane Carolyn Heathcott) has now learned the joys of attempting to get 95 counties to all pull in the same direction and do the same thing at the same time," reads a portion of the proclamation.

"And Whereas she has demonstrated that she can endure all of the above and still retain some degree of sanity,

"Now therefore, be it resolved, ordered, decreed and ordained, that Jane Carolyn Heathcott is hereby bestowed the title of Honorary Coordinator of Elections, with all the rights, privileges, honors, lawsuits, cussings, fussings, duties and responsibilities pertaining thereto."

In her tenure, Heathcott has managed to balance the precision and accuracy required to maintain the integrity of the election process with that same humor. She credits the upbeat atmosphere of the office and the Election Commission meetings with the workers she has served alongside.

"The most rewarding part (of my career) has been the people I have worked with," said Heathcott. "The ladies and men who have worked in this office with me, the commissioners, our precinct workers. I've met a lot of people and that's what I am going to miss the most. The people I work with and the people who just stop in to visit. I have made a lot of new friends along the way and some that I hope are in my life for the rest of my life."

Anita Fowlkes was appointed by the Election Commission to take Heathcott's place in August. She is scheduled to take her certification test in mid-December and will be appointed to the position of administrator of elections on Jan. 1.

"I am leaving a great staff here and the lady that is going to take my place is going to do great," said Heathcott, who said the office has had a good transition. "The state trains her first on the law. And what I have got to teach her is how to implement those laws because two-thirds of this job is not in that law book. You've got to learn how to run this office and that's a lot of work with a high stress level."

Heathcott dealt with the stressful position by creating a team atmosphere.

"I have been their administrator, but we have worked together and we have made a lot of decisions together," said Heathcott. "That comes from having a good staff. Without the people who have helped me these past 41 years, I wouldn't have made it. They have been my right arm and my left arm, too, sometimes."

Heathcott's staff will honor her with a reception at the Election Commission office from 1:30-3:30 p.m., on Thursday, Dec. 22. The public is invited.

"I have all kinds of plaques and awards," said Heathcott. "If people want to see them, they can come to my reception. I also have scrapbooks that I have kept from Day One."

Heathcott's official date of retirement is Dec. 31.

"You may have to look high and low to find me on that day," said Heathcott. "I am ready (to retire). The job is changing so much and it is time for somebody else to have all this fun. For a good while, I am just going to rest and go only where I want to go. When this weather clears up a little, my husband and I are going to do a little traveling. It may not be any further than Paris, Tenn. at first."

Right now, Heathcott and her husband, Don Heathcott, plan to spend more time with their three sons, Jeff Heathcott and Tommy Heathcott, both of Dyer County, and Dino Heathcott of South Carolina.

The couple will also enjoy some extended time with their seven grandchildren.

"I have loved it," said Heathcott. "You have got to love it or you wouldn't be able to stay. It's going to be difficult not coming down here. But I know the way to come back and visit."

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Jane, We will definitely miss you!!! I believe that I speak for a number of people when I say Thank you for all that you have done for our business. There will only be one "Mother Superior." The Tennessee Association of County Election Officals would not be where it is today without the dedication and fortitude that YOU and others before us set in place. Thanks for all that you have done. We will miss you.

-- Posted by henry_co_aoe on Mon, Dec 19, 2011, at 11:15 AM

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