Valdosta Daily Times

June 12, 2013

Deputy Clerk juggles accounts, clients

Crittenden uses empathy to improve morale

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Barbara Crittenden, Chief Deputy Clerk for the Clerk of the Lowndes County Superior Court, is more than just an accountant or a bookkeeper; she is a woman with a flair for empathy.

Crittenden is confronted daily with people who come into court to pay their fines and legal fees, who aren't always in the best of moods, but over the years, she has learned to take the time to hear these individuals out and offer the best explanation she can.

"I let them get it all out in the open," Crittenden said. "I try to calm them down. I tell them that I'm here doing the job, and that I'm here to work with you and work for you. I tell them that I'm sorry for whatever happened, and that it's not my fault but that we can work through it."

As Chief Deputy Clerk, Crittenden is responsible for more than 3,000 accounts for the State and Superior courts including child support, probationary fines, real estate and other payments. And many times, sometimes several times a day, Crittenden must use tact to defuse what could escalate into a great argument over court-ordered payments from individuals who must pay or suffer legal consequences.

"Believe it or not, I have people who do come in and when they get through yelling at me, they cry, and I feel sorry for them," Crittenden said. "They're upset because they feel they've paid enough money already. I get a little bit of it all, and I try to sympathize if I can, and if not, I tell them I understand. I may not have been in that situation, but I do understand."

Crittenden began with the Clerk's office in 1989, and held several positions until she took over for her supervisor when she retired. Bookkeeping and account management is something Crittenden understands deeply coming from a career as a CPA and a former banker.

Even though she has the same basic responsibilities as a banker, Crittenden enjoys working for the court system a little more, she said, because working with the lawyers, judges and within the parameters of the law makes the job unique and interesting.

"It's the people," Crittenden said. "It's the type of people that we deal with. With banks, you have just regular customers come in and make deposits."

Most of her clients are men and women who come in to make payments on child support accounts, who are often "very nice," according to Crittenden.

"One guy just told me that even though he's paying a large sum of money and that irritates him, he enjoys coming in to see me," Crittenden said. "They see I have a smile on my face, and we have pleasant conversations."

Under Superior Court Clerk Beth Greene, Crittenden's secondary responsibilities include filling in for Greene when she is indisposed, and "making sure everything is taken care of" throughout the day. Crittenden works with 18 other women in the office, and manages them to make sure the office runs smoothly.

"It's not really a big thing that you do," Crittenden said about her management responsibilities. "You're just there in case something happens."

Crittenden has worked for the Superior Court for 24 years, and plans to continue for at least the next four years. During the next election cycle, she may make other plans, she said.