Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

November 29, 2012

The 'Dean Of City Secretaries' wishes to turn over reins to a successor

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

RUSK — She spent roughly 30 years on the job serving a total of 13 city managers, seven mayors, and numerous city council members. Now, City Secretary Frances Leslie Wendeborn, nicknamed “The Dean of City Secretaries,” wants to retire.

Replacing this 64-year-old city veteran is not going to be an easy task for Rusk City Council members, who consider her nothing less than a institution.

At a special meeting held today,  Rusk Council members will discuss and consider taking action on the formal Letter of Retirement Wendeborn recently submitted to them. If accepted, the retirement goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

Rusk Mayor Angela Raiborn said it's going to be a tough meeting to attend. Wendeborn, she said, is much, much more than your standard city servant — she's a city secretary  par excellence.

"She's a city staple —  so dedicated to her job and with such a wealth of knowledge," the mayor said. “We're going to miss her so much.”

Wendeborn was, after all, working for the city when the first computer system was installed.

Over the years, she has made it her business to keep track of all evolving laws, ordinances and important information. She has accumulated an immense amount of knowledge learning the ins and outs of electronically-filed documents and also working as the city's open records officer, certified notary public, and records management officer.

Reflecting on her past 30 years with the city is an emotional task for Wendeborn. She has, after all, spent roughly half her life working here. Her voice trembled Wednesday as she read her very basically-phrased letter of retirement aloud to a reporter.

Wendeborn said recent changes to state election law — and the guarantee those laws will continue to change and evolve — are what brought her to the conclusion it's time to move on. Many of her colleagues in similar state positions feel the same way, she said.

"I thought, 'maybe it's time to bring in someone younger with new ideas,'" she said. "These election laws have made a lot of us think hard about if we want to stay on or not. ... I love what I do. But that part of it, I don't. But this was still a very hard decision to make."

However, the mayor pointed out, Wendeborn has always been a whiz at keeping track of evolving laws in the past.

"She has always taken it on herself to get the training she needs to stay on top of any changes," Raiborn said. "She really is the person who has been taking care of things for the city."

Wendeborn said she has offered to work for the city part-time until they hire her replacement. Any decision in that regard will be made by the council.

The mayor said she is excited for Wendeborn and the adventure ahead of her, but at the same time feels like the city is losing something — someone — crucial in the process.

"It is kind of bittersweet," the mayor said. "But this is something she has been planning on and thinking about a few months. Her husband is about 10 years older than her and they are both ready to stay home and enjoy retirement. I really can't blame her for that."

Wendeborn started working for the city of Rusk, part-time, back in 1982. At the time the city was converting to a computer system and she started helping with the water department. In 1985, she became a  full-time employee and was assigned the responsibility of the utility billing. Around 1992, she became departmental secretary, helping both the city manager and city secretary.

In 1994, she became full-time city secretary — a position she has held ever since. Part of her current duties also include secretary work for the city's Economic Development Corporation.

"Working in all those different positions, I learned a lot about the city and its activities," Wendeborn said. "Of the 13 city managers, I worked for one of them — the one who's there right now — twice."

That city manager, Mike Murray, has worked with Wendeborn altogether for roughly a decade. He said she quickly mastered the basic tasks required of a city secretary: managing elections, managing records, managing meeting minutes and agendas and generally working to help the city council.

Additionally, Murray said, Wendeborn is a mentor to numerous East Texas city secretaries who often call her  to draw upon her vast expertise.

"She's kind of 'The Dean Of City Secretaries'" Murray said. "She's top notch. The city secretaries have a professional group that gets together every couple of months and they're always asking her advice. She's not just a loss to the city but to the entire region."

Wendeborn has been married to her husband Jim for 34 years. She worked for Sears before she was employed by the city.

Mayor Raiborn said she can't remember a time when she or the council wasn't leaning on Wendeborn for her vast institutional knowledge.

"She knows where everything is!" the mayor said with a laugh. "Every time I need to pull an old ordinance or regulation we have passed she can have it for just like that. It's amazing how resourceful she is. Always on top of everything and keeping us in line."

The mayor said she expects the council to discuss how they want to go about replacing her — after the fact that she's leaving has completely sunk in.

"I suspect they will vote to accept her retirement letter and begin talking about what they want to do — whether they want to find someone from within or just leave it open for applications," the mayor said.

Wendeborn's advice to any successor: Work hard. Learn all you can. Be helpful. And stay neutral no matter what.

"The city secretary has no vote," Wendeborn said. "All the city secretary can do is point out what the law says. It's very important in this position to stay as neutral as you can because you never know who your next boss may be."