‘Complaint department’ chief retiring

Complaint signs aren’t posted in the Tulsa County Clerk’s office, but people know where to find it — or they are directed to its location, especially if they want to talk to Janice Jenkins.
Jenkins, who has been head of the complaint department for a quarter century, is retiring at the end of October, one month short of the 25th anniversary of the exact day — Dec. 1, 1984 — that she started working for the county.
A party for the retiring supervisor is set from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 30 in the Jury Room in the basement of the Tulsa County Courthouse.
It has been a job that she enjoyed as she helped people work through their protest. That’s why her business card gives her title as ‘‘Supervisor – Protest Department.’’
Jenkins had been working in the abstract industry and had risen as far as she could in her job before going to work for the county.
Earlier she had told County Clerk Joan Hastings that if she needed help that she was available.
That call came in late 1984 and Jenkins filled out the application and took the required tests.
After being hired, Hastings told the new employee ‘‘to learn everything as fast as she could because the person in that position would retire soon.’’
Learning also meant getting acquainted with the responsibilities of the Equalization Board, the Excise Board and the Tax Roll Correction Board.
The Excise Board oversees and approves budgets for the county, cities and towns and schools. The Equalization Board ensures that taxes are fairly applied and the Tax Role Correction Board makes adjustments if mistakes are made on the bill.
That Corrections Board can make changes only for 17 reasons, Jenks explained. That would be removal of a tax exempt status or homestead exemption, for example. These can only be removed from the tax bill if board action is taken.
All was quiet during the first two years on the job as far as complaints generally were concerned.
It was the third year — 1987 — the lid came off when Assessor Cheryl Clay reevaluated all property in the county at one time.
‘‘We had more than 25,000 complaints that year,’’ Jenkins said. Property owners were hit with increases and were not prepared for the higher costs. The load was so great that 10 or 15 full-time people were employed and personnel from other areas in the clerk’s office came in to help on nights and weekends.
Everything was done by hand or on typewriters and it is a wonder that some records could be read, she said.
When property values were increased in 1987 there really was no documentation supporting those raises. The only way a person could get their taxes lowered was to have their property surveyed or go to court.
Some industry did go to court to challenge the new valuations and some adjustments were made, Jenkins said. But most were either were adjusted or left standing by the excise board and the matter ended when the protester left the room.
Now one quarter of the property in Tulsa County is evaluated annually so the cycle repeats itself every four years, Jenkins said. People from the assessor’s office are required by law to visually inspect each property.
Computers also have made record keeping easier.
Main frame computer technology was used in the early 1990s. Before that the office had the old green screen CRTs, better than typewriters and it was somewhat easier to call up some information.
Three typewriters still are used in the office, but they eventually will be phased out as all data is computerized.
‘‘My grandson didn’t know what a typewriter was,’’ she said, ‘‘and that was the way I felt when computers were first introduced.
Computers were a whole new world for Jenkins, but she quickly adjusted to the change and doesn’t think the clerk’s office could function without them today.
When people protest their property taxes they come in wanting to pay on less valuation. But the price goes up when asked about the selling price they would expect if the property was put on the market.
Senior citizens are the most hard-pressed by the rising property taxes.
These individuals are on fixed incomes and often are widows or widowers.
‘‘That group is known as LOL — Little Old Ladies,’’ she said. Everything possible is done to help them within the law to get their taxes lowered.
The assessor also is very aware of these individuals and does what he can to ease their burden.
Jenkins often found herself working with angry people when they come to her office.
‘‘They are mad and are saying things,’’ she said. ‘‘It is my job to calm them down and try to come up with a solution that is best for everyone.’’
Dealing with upset clients also demands patience and being careful about what is said.
The county clerk, assessor and treasurer’s offices work together to come with positive solutions for people who come here, she added. The goal is always to give a good impression when dealing with the public.
‘‘We represent our bosses who must stand for election and we want them to look good,’’ Jenkins said. ‘‘During my tenure, both Earlene Wilson and Joan Hastings were great bosses.’’
Retirement will find her living near her family in Hitchita, a community near Checotah — ‘‘Carrie Underwood Country.’’
Since her oldest grandson, 14, plays football and the games are at 4 p.m., she will have an opportunity to attend. She also will see her younger grandson, 8, grow up.
Yet, she wistfully admitted that she would miss the Tulsa County family that she has worked with for so long.

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