By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
Iva Nelson never thought much about local government until 1984, when she found herself working for the city of Gadsden in the clerk’s office. What began as a better job opportunity resulted in decades of dedication that earned recognition.
Nearly 36 years later, the Alabama Association of Municipal Clerks awarded Nelson Municipal City Clerk of the Year.
As a child born and raised in Gadsden, Nelson attended the barber shop with her father, where the barber asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Nelson responded “a teenager” because she aspired joining the fun youth groups that her parents supervised at their church. But once her teenage years arrived, Nelson discovered a love for clerical work. She recalled her excitement learning typing in school and realized a clerical profession was what she wanted to pursue.
When Nelson first began working for the city, Martha Elrod, the former city clerk, took Nelson under her wing. Elrod told Nelson that she wanted Nelson to know everything she knew and in a short time, Elrod became a mentor to Nelson in both work and life. After Elrod retired in 2002 and Nelson became city clerk, she followed in Elrod’s footsteps to support others the way Elrod supported her.
“The clerks association really is a sisterhood and brotherhood.” said Nelson. “If another clerk is struggling or needs to know something then I’m going to do everything I can to help that clerk. We really have a lot of cooperation and collaboration among the clerks with the challenges and opportunities we face.”
Nelson never knows what might appear on her daily agenda. Over the years, she learned to multitask and prioritize. Some days, she may have a stack of papers piled on her desk that she intended to focus on, then the phone rang or people filtered in from other departments needing her help, and at the end of the day, that stack of papers was untouched. Instead, she found a new pile to address.
While the city clerk performs dozens of roles, from recording minutes to serving as City Preservation Officer for residential historic districts, acting as a liaison was a major role Nelson played. For her 17 years as city clerk, Nelson served as a liaison between departments and between citizens and elected officials.
“When people run for office, they envision what they want to accomplish and what they want to do.” said Nelson. “When they arrive at city hall, there are these parameters and they have to stay in their lane. So, a lot of our days involve helping them.”
Despite maintaining the official city scrapbook, serving as legislative assistant to city council and qualifying electoral candidates, Nelson supports her community in other ways that the AAMCA noticed when reviewing her nomination. In addition to all the responsibilities she juggled as city clerk, Nelson served as a United Way board member, a “big sister” for Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Northeast Alabama and a pianist for her church—a brief highlight of her dedication to Etowah County.
2019 was not the first year Nelson found herself nominated for the award. She was also nominated in 2003, just one year after she was elected city clerk. Though she was aware of her second nomination, Nelson knew the composition of the award selection process (from serving on a previous clerk of the year committee) and was unsure of her chance receiving the award. Regardless, Nelson felt that if her fellow clerks considered her worthy of the nomination, she could not miss the banquet, although her assistant was already attending certification classes at the conference in Gulf Shores. Nelson worked up until Thursday morning, drove to Gulf Shores for the banquet Thursday night, accepted her award and headed back home to work Friday morning.
Nelson shared how receiving this honor made her feel and reflected on her relationship with Elrod, who guided her in the beginning and remained her friend after retirement.
“It makes you feel appreciated and respected by your peers.” Nelson said. “That gave me a lot of satisfaction to know that I was being a good mentor for other clerks as my clerk (Elrod) was a good mentor to me.”
Nelson was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” her senior year of high school and she believes the superlative remains true. Nelson does not measure success in monetary increments or fame, but in the support she receives from her family. She defines success as being fulfilled and contented (but not too contented). She also recognizes success as the courage it takes to realize discontentment and dissatisfaction in life and make the changes necessary to alter circumstances for the better.
“I do consider myself successful,” Nelson said. “Maybe not in terms of being rich or successful, but in having a rich life.”
While her time as city clerk taught Nelson numerous lessons, a few things she learned stuck out in her memory. She learned that it is helpful to maintain a sense of neutrality and to detach herself personally from her position to focus on her job. Nelson emphasized the importance of integrity and honesty as a liaison between the public and the local government, stressing how crucial it is to preserve trust with all those she assisted.
While Nelson continues to serve her community indefinitely, when it comes time for her to leave, she will take with her a lot of memories, friendships and professional relationships with people. Nelson explained that the position of city clerk is a group effort; she does nothing alone and considers herself blessed to have a team of dedicated employees that share her values and work ethic.
“I guess that’s what I think about the most…the personal experiences I’ve had, getting to know people, and really connecting with people.” said Nelson.
Nelson offered some advice to future Gadsden City clerks and listed a few tips on how they might become most likely to succeed.
“Being a good listener, having honesty and integrity, having organizational skills and a good memory or the ability to create good filing systems! Be willing to learn new things. And definitely, when it comes election time, you let those politicians do the politicking. You just do your job.”