Dickerson makes things smooth at commission

By ED HOWELL
Posted 8/9/18

Employees at the Walker County Commission were surprised a few weeks ago when Robbie Dickerson's computer died. It wasn't the fact the computer died. It was the fact Dickerson got upset about …

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Dickerson makes things smooth at commission

Posted

Employees at the Walker County Commission were surprised a few weeks ago when Robbie Dickerson's computer died. 

It wasn't the fact the computer died. It was the fact Dickerson got upset about the computer dying, losing a number of items, such as spreadsheets and information she uses on the annual toy drive she runs. 

The new county administrator for Walker County never seems to get upset. "I don't like chaos," she said. "It is easier to keep it down and keep it calm as much as you can."  She has brought a cheerful, professional air to the office that is popular, and admits little disturbs her.

Except when her computer died.

"It takes a lot to ruffle me," she said, laughing at the memory. "I was doing just fine until my computer crashed. And then I can't put my hands on what I need." 

But she has recovered. She just makes sure the computer is backed up. 

Dickerson took over as interim county administrator in January when Cheryl Ganey resigned to become the county administrator in Dale County. Recently, Walker County Commission Chairman Jerry Bishop's nomination for her as the permanent county administrator was approved by the Walker County Civil Service Board. Without fanfare, she dropped the interim title in recent weeks from emails. 

That move has pleased both Bishop and Dickerson, as they appear to read each other well as both of them have had business background. Bishop described it as being like family. 

"We're tickled to death we had someone in the organization to fill in and do this job. We felt like she could. She's done a great job," Bishop said. "We hadn't missed a lick.

"She knows the job. She knows her figures. She knows the system. She also knows people. She's able to work with people and get her point across." 

Dickerson, 57, was born in Jasper, the daughter of the late Leo and Bobbie Nell Moon Kimbrell. She graduated from Walker High School in 1978. 

After two years of study at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, job conditions in in 1980 were tough, leading her to try in Birmingham. 

"I looked for a half a day and found a job. It was amazing. I went to work for Meryl Lynch," she said, noting in six months she was in the manager's training program. "In Birmingham I did all our key accounts, which was their largest accounts," each worth millions of dollars. 

"And I worked on market errors, which was interesting. For instance, we had a lot of new brokers and they made a lot of mistakes," she said. "All they had to do was put the wrong symbol on a ticket and they would buy the wrong company." 

After a couple of years, she transferred to Atlanta, where she continued with accounting and market error duties, staying several years for the company. She then went to Paine Webber in Atlanta, doing the same type duties and training to be an officer manager.

She got married in 1986 and moved to New Albany, Mississippi, near Tupelo. (She would be divorced in 2000.)  She stayed busy, running an antique shop for a few years and also working as a pricing coordinator for Jitney Jungle Stores. 

In a major turning point, Dickerson would become a marketing manager for the privately-owned Savings Oil Co. (known for its Dodge's convenience stores, in Tupelo from 2000 to 2006. Dickerson said it keeps a lower profile, but is one of the larger chains in the nation, with stores in 10 states.

She said she still thinks of lessons learned from the Dodge family each day. While the county's financial situation is currently a challenge, Dickerson noted she enjoys finding savings.

"It is what I was trained for so well, going back to my Tupelo days with" Bobby and Henry Dodge, with their educations going as high as Harvard Business School, she said. As a result, her mentoring was excellent. She noted Henry Dodge said his biggest saying was, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got. Think out of the box." 

"Government was new to me, and it can be frustrating until you learn the difference, but you still have the business model you can follow. Savings is savings," she said. Under the Dodges, "not only did we look for every dime we could get off of a case or a piece of something we were buying, on the flip side we looked to see if we could raise the retail price" if they could still be lower from other savings, driving margin and volume on the market. (She added the company didn't care about gasoline profits as they "were irrelevant to us.") 

Her experience with the Dodges was wide ranging, from negotiating contracts with suppliers; coordinating contests; being responsible for sales and profit reports; hiring, training and managing personnel; being a liaison between vendors and more than 60 stores; working in promotions, determining and carrying out pricing strategy, among many duties. She did a lot of traveling, dealing with companies such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Miller and Anheuser-Busch. 

The owner of the Miller distributor, the largest in the state, once negotiated with her, after she also met other officials in the company. "Wow. I've never given up so much and enjoyed it. I can't wait for you to come back again," she quoted the owner as saying. "I said, 'I'll take that as a compliment.'" 

In 2006, she moved in Wilmington, North Carolina, to be a manager of a Dodge's there. "I loved the area, but I took the worst store we had and we spent six months in renovation," she said. In the end, she achieved successful sales growth averaging 12 to 25 percent each week. 

From 2009 to 2013, she became a food service specialist for the 225 stores in the Southeast region for Village Pantry Stores (VPS), still based in Wilmington, traveling in several states. By now, her daughter and two grandsons also lived with her. 

However, due to changes in the company, she quit and she  moved back to Walker County after the death of her mother. She bought her mother's home from her brother, but still had no job. 

"A friend of mine called and said, 'Hey, someone called and said they were looking for someone to work with the Board of Registrars. Would you be interested? It is just part-time." It turned out to be a seat on the board. 

"I did know a lot of people" but had lost contact with them. She didn't know District 1 Walker County Commissioner Keith Davis and Walker County Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Ensor when they interviewed her. She got a letter of appointment from Secretary of State Jim Bennett the next day. 

She was only on the board for a year, although she had one election to learn a great deal about the election process — and meet officials in the commission office. Ganey asked her to come work with her, and Dickerson gave up the registrar's position to come to the commission office in September 2014.  

After eventually became revenue auditor. "I worked a lot on business licenses and whatever needed to be worked on," she said, including projects Ganey and the commissioners requested. 

She also became involved in the Holiday Toy Drive conducted out of that office, which will occur for the fourth time this Christmas.  The first year 4,000 toys were donated. In 2016, a total of 151 families were served with 602 bags of toys, with each bag having three items, excluding books and some other select items. 

Once Ganey left, Dickerson pitched in to fill in as an interim, but by the time interviews began, she had become comfortable with the position and asked for it permanently.

"I've never shied away from any challenges," she said with a laugh. "I've got a long list of vendors that will tell you that." 

As for the new position, Dickerson said everyone in the office has been wonderful in the transition, noting she works with a staff of seven. 

"The team here is fantastic," she said. "Everybody just pulled together and did whatever needed to be done to make sure the county continued and everything went as it should be.

She also noted she has learned much from Bishop, who is in and out all day and is reachable. 

"He's helped me to get back on my toes like I used to be. I kind of got a little laid back after moving back home," she said, noting she is a multi-tasker by nature. 

She said the staff handles accounts receivables that come in to the county through accounts receivable, as well going out as accounts payables for requisitions and purchase orders. Payroll, human resources and employee safety (which helps with insurance premiums) are also dealt with in the office. 

She said the budget is a major role, noting part-time staff member, Randy Dodd, a 31-year employee of the state Department of Examiners of Public Accounts before he retired in March, has helped to get the office up to date in financial records since joining the staff in April. 

With the Fiscal 2019 budgets expected to be discussed publicly soon, she noted there is "no other way to say it" but that the county's budget is tight. "Even if you are watching everything, costs always go up — always," Dickerson said.

At the same time, she said Bishop and Davis, who is known for his input on the budget, have been helpful. "Three sets of eyes can be better than one set of eyes," she said. "I have no problems with that." 

Public relations with the public also doesn't bother her, noting she once had 2,000 people coming through her store every day. "You either get fussed at or they love you," Dickerson said. "We have days we get a little frustrated, but the citizens are frustrated, so we just take the calls and do what we can and get the message to where it needs to go." 

In the future, she said there are things she would like to improve "but it would take money," she said with a laugh. Meanwhile, she said officials are working on "the flow of things, to minimize frustrations for our fellow employees" in that and other county offices. The organization emphasis has meant going through files to better organize them, which has also included help from Dodd. 

"We also have an accountant who comes in every other week," she said. "She is working on our financials. That has worked out very well to get us where we need to be." 

The office is continuing to work with AT&T on fiber optic problems with the new phone system that will allow calls to be transferred between county offices in different buildings, which will pay for itself through savings. 

"It is already installed with the Sheriff's Office, but we need it from probate to the courthouse to us," she said. 

Dickerson still lives with her daughter, Brittany Dickerson, and her two grandson, Elijah Brunson, 11, and Nat Dickerson, 5, just outside the Jasper City Limits. She noted her brother and sister-in-law, Burtice and Brenda Kimbrell, live next door. 

Anyone who needs to contact Dickerson, they can call 205-384-7230 or email her at r.dickerson@walkercountyal.us.