Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
Paige Dukes comes from a long line of public servants.Two of her grandparents, her mother and her aunt are retired school teachers, her grandmother and her sister are nurses, her grandfather is a WWII veteran and served on the city council in Monroe, her great uncles all served together in WWI, her brother-in-law is a firefighter, her husband, Lt. Joe Dukes, serves with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office and her oldest son Cole is a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps.
"My family has a legacy of public service that I'm really proud of," said Dukes.
So it is no surprise that Dukes is also in public service as the county clerk and public information officer for Lowndes County.
Originally from Walton, she said, "My dad was in retail and we moved around a lot."
Valdosta was one of the places she and her family lived the longest. She graduated from Lowndes High School in 1990 and worked for several local attorneys before attending school in North Georgia where she worked for probate and magistrate court judges.
Dukes returned to Valdosta and began working for Team Temps in 1995. She began working for the Lowndes County Attorney's Office. From there, she took a job with Human Resources with Lowndes County in 1997.
"While I was there, in 2000, I also became the public information officer for the county," said Dukes.
Dukes was the first PIO that the county ever had.
"Our community was growing very quickly," said Dukes as she explained why the county created the position.
In 2006, Dukes was transferred to the County Clerks Office and at the same time, retained her position as PIO.
"I'm not the only person in the county who wears two hats," said Dukes. "It's something a lot of people do."
While Dukes may only have two titles, she certainly does more than just two jobs. She is the immediate past president of the Georgia County Clerks Association, currently serves as a board of trustee member for the Georgia County Clerks Association, served on the board of managers for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, served on the board of
directors for the Child Advocacy Center of Lowndes County, is an alumni of Leadership Lowndes, served as an honorary commander for the 3rd FTS at Moody Air Force Base, is a certified county clerk by the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, has a certificate in Local Government Management from UGA's Carl Vinson Institute, and is a certified fire fighter.
All of this and more has helped Dukes gain a reputation of being the go-to, know-all person in Lowndes County. If it happened or is going to happen in Lowndes County, you better believe that she knows about it.
Dukes is one of 159 county clerks in Georgia. Appointed by the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners, she is in charge of keeping and maintaining all records including meeting minutes, ordinances, resolutions, and any official action taken by the commissioners.
"I'm also responsible for open meeting laws, open record requests, and drafting proclamations," said Dukes.
Dukes must follow a strict set of guidelines set by the Georgia Secretary of State's office. While a daunting task, Dukes is humbled when she looks back at how past county clerks had to keep records.
Dukes can pull records as far back as 1906 when everything, including meeting minutes, had to be hand written. By 1934, everything was done on the typewriter. Now, Dukes is able to use a computer to keep her records. While she uses a voice recorder, she still uses hand-written notes to help draft meeting minutes.
Dukes' role as county clerk gives her a great advantage in her role as the county's PIO.
"My duties are to respond to media requests, provide citizen education, launch service delivery information, and provide emergency information," said Dukes.
Dukes feels that both of her jobs are of equal importance and complement each other because it gives her an even greater understanding of the county.
"Because I work directly for the county manager, I'm in the position to work with all of our departments," said Dukes.
Any and all information must be funneled through Dukes before it reaches the public.
"The one thing you never want to happen is for bad information to be disseminated," said Dukes.
While it is Dukes' responsibility to keep the community informed, unfortunately, there are instances that test her job, her skills and her strength.
"Seeing the tragedy that our citizens suffered that could have been prevented is hard to see," said Dukes.
When Dukes has to deal with deaths because of careless drivers or residents being burdened by a horrible storm, it tugs at her heart strings because despite her 18 years with Lowndes County, she is only human.
"It's very frustrating to not be able to meet their needs immediately," said Dukes. "Any public servant . . . you want to be able to say yes and say yes right away, and it's not always the case."
Dealing with devastation is hard for Dukes. For example, when a fatality occurs because of a car accident on a county road, the 911 center calls her so that she can answer questions from the media. Because of her level of responsibility to the public, difficult times like that tend to follow her home because when tragedy strikes Lowndes County, Dukes is the one that answers the call.
"My cell phone number is probably one of the most published cell phone numbers in our community," said Dukes.
She often answers calls into the night. She juggles between her county duties while also playing wife to her husband and mother to her three children; Cole, Caine, who attends Georgia Military College, and Cason, who is a sophomore at Lowndes High School.
"It's a partnership at home and at work," said Dukes.
Despite the long hours and late nights, Dukes enjoys her job because she thrives off of the reward of helping and assisting others.
However, there are times where Dukes gets to take off her clerk and PIO hat and wind down. She enjoys photography and if you have noticed all of the pictures hanging throughout the Lowndes County Judicial Complex, they were all taken by Dukes.
"Photography is something I really enjoy," she said.
Though Dukes has certainly earned her free time, she thrives on her work with the county.
"My work is relative to their message," said Dukes. "We have great staff and employees that are on the front lines to serve every day and we are all here to serve.”