BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
After nearly four decades of service to the City of Daytona Beach, Jennifer Thomas will not be prepping for her day at City Hall come Monday morning. This is the last week for the retiring city clerk who has worked for Daytona Beach for 38 years.
“I’ve been really really blessed over the years,” she told the Daytona Times this week.
As the city’s records custodian, Thomas’ office maintains official records, provides support for the city commission regarding agenda preparation and coordination, coordinates municipal elections, and provides notice of public meetings.
The West Palm Beach native has been in that role since 2003.
Thomas sat down with the Times on Tuesday to talk about her years working at the Ridgewood Avenue office. Her bookshelves were removed of handbooks and manuals and a single plant sat on her desk.
From college to the city
She officially began with the city in 1977 after graduating from Bethune-Cookman College (now University) following an internship with Daytona Beach’s Community Development Department.
“It has been something that I probably didn’t dream would end up this way, but it was something that I worked hard for a long time. I finished school in 1977 and they offered me a job as a financial specialist after graduating.”
In that role, Thomas worked to prequalify homeowners for assistance with housing.
“I did the paperwork to justify their assistance and determine how much they would get from the city to repair their homes,’’ she recalled.
Thomas went on to work in several positions within the Community Development Department, including a housing coordinator and deputy director.
Managing city-owned and private property infrastructure improvements were part of her duties. She oversaw a band of employees whose work resulted in necessary sidewalk and paving improvements, including those in minority majority areas such as Fulton and Lane Streets.
“I remember there were a lot of streets unpaved in Daytona Beach at the time. One of the main things I recall is going out on Lane Street and Fulton Street and actually surveying the residents. I had to convince them that change was really coming. ‘This is real, the city is really going to help you,’” she recalled telling residents. … Some of them had doubts of what government would provide them.”
“It gave you a lot of good feelings, gratitude for the people,” she continued. “And we did what we said we were going to do. They are nice, beautiful paved streets now.”
In 2003, Thomas had just completed 25 years with the city when she decided to apply for the clerk’s job.
“It was really, really exciting. One of the first things I had to do was attend the (city commission) meeting. I had the good fortune that the lady who was the deputy clerk came back and was the clerk in the interim before they made the decision of hiring me and I shadowed her for a little while.
“The first meeting that I was supposed to do I was supposed to watch her in action and she was not able to attend my first meeting! I had to actually conduct the meeting without sitting back and watching her, so it was kind of exciting, because I was ready,” she continued.
And as city staff can attest, Thomas really was ready, receiving accolades from then City Manager Rich Quigley, for her on-the-spot performance.
“I’m a planner. I like to have things all in place. I’m not last minute. I’m an early bird, and I’m usually here at 7:15 in the morning or 7:30. I want to come in, get myself settled, I want to be ready for 8 o’clock,” she said. “I always say, ‘if you’re on time, you’re late.’”
“So my first couple of weeks were exciting. I really got a lot of my education in regulations from my time in community development, federally. A lot of the things we had to do were regulatory. Coming here as the clerk, they were more geared toward Florida statues as well as local code and the City Charter.”
Thomas also directly oversees the municipal elections in Daytona Beach. She explained how the city now saves upward of $150,000 for moving elections to be held the same time as state and presidential elections shortly after she became the clerk.
“What it did for our city was two things,” she explained. “It saved us money… and gave us better voter turnout.”
Having those municipal elections run on the presidential and state ballot caused a much larger turnout for local elections.
Thomas said she enjoyed the actual process of elections from start to finish.
“I really like the end of elections,” she stated. “I like the part of getting my calendar in order, informing the candidates, trying to make sure they follow all the rules and regulations, letting them know my office is an open door for them to do the elections correctly and not to get themselves into any type of trouble as it relates to not following the rules.”
Thomas grew up in a large, close family that stressed education.
She was one of 10 children – five sisters and four brothers. She spoke of her Bahamian father’s strong work ethic and how he worked three jobs to take care for his family. Thomas’ mother passed away of multiple sclerosis (MS) when she was 15.
“My father and three older sisters impressed upon me going to college and the value and importance of getting an education,” she remarked. Her father died in 1998.
“As a child, I loved to read. I will read and read again until I know for sure I have it,” she added.
Thomas has been married to her husband, Herbert, for 34 years and they have one son, Herbert Jr. She expressed her excitement over the arrival of her first grandchild, who is expected to arrive this fall.
Thomas will continue her service as a Sunday school teacher at her church, New Heart Christian Center, and will take some time off for vacationing and visiting family in the Bahamas.
‘Very good job’
Daytona Beach Assistant City Manager Betty Goodman reflected on Thomas’ career and job as clerk.
“Jennifer has had a very successful career with the City of Daytona Beach and has done a very good job for the city,” stated Goodman.
“She will really be missed, but we all wish her well as she enters in the next phase of her life. Whatever she decides to do, I’m sure she will enjoy and be very successful at that,” Goodman added.
Daytona Beach Assistant Clerk Letitia LaMagna will take the helm as city clerk starting next week.
“She has been with me seven years,” Thomas shared, adding that she is confident that LaMagna will continue to serve the city clerk’s office in a timely and efficient manner.
“I have really been blessed to have some really good managers who have allowed me to do my job efficiently and allowed me to manage my team,” Thomas concluded. “I’m just really blessed.’’