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Frances Harrell retires after 50 years of service in Sullivan trustee's office

J. H. Osborne • Jul 2, 2018 at 6:15 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — After more than 100,000 hours on the job, Frances Harrell was kept busy Thursday by a steady stream of well-wishers during two of her last hours as Sullivan County trustee.

Harrell’s retirement, after 50 years in the trustee’s office — starting as a clerk in 1968 — officially began Friday afternoon. A reception in her honor took place Thursday in the Commission Room at the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

That’s on the building’s second floor. At times, the line to congratulate and wish Harrell well in her retirement wound outside the Commission Room and partially down the staircase toward the first floor. That’s where Harrell has worked for five decades, a tenure that has included statewide recognition and accolades for her performance as trustee. In Tennessee, a county trustee is essentially the county’s treasurer, collecting and dispersing and investing millions of dollars per year. Harrell has twice been named “Trustee of the Year” in the state and has served as president of the statewide County Trustees Association.

She also long ago earned, and maintained, the respect of state finance folks in Nashville, Sullivan County Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey — himself once a state auditor — said as the reception got underway. Bailey said he was coming to Sullivan County as an auditor before Harrell became trustee in 1975.

“He used to scare me to death,” Harrell said with a laugh.

“Frances has done a great job,” Bailey said. “I’m very proud to have worked with and known her over the years. And it’s not just myself. The whole comptroller’s office that worked with her over the years felt the same way. In my days as an auditor for the comptroller’s office, Sullivan County was on the map in Nashville because of this lady. There’s not many people you can say that about. When legislation was passed and so forth, she was consulted with.”

Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said the huge turnout for Harrell’s retirement reception showed she will be missed both as a loyal servant of the public and also as a friend to the same as well as current and past members of county government.

Venable said Harrell had for five decades provided exceptional service to the citizenry, and her work ethic, leadership and dedication to the trustee’s office would forever be remembered.

“I’ve loved everyone,” Harrell said. “And I’ve had such a good time. I have made so many friends. It’s been an honor for me to serve Sullivan County.”

Harrell said she clearly remembers the first day she was to report to work for then-Trustee Clyde Groseclose in 1968: it snowed. Groseclose called her, Harrell said, to say he’d pick her up on his way to the office in Blountville so she wouldn’t have to navigate the slick roads.

“He pulled up in his old red farm truck,” Harrell said. “And that’s how I made my entrance to Sullivan County government.”

When Groseclose died in 1975, Harrell was appointed to fill the post until the next election. In 1976, she ran for and won the office to fill out the two years left on Groseclose’s term. She ran again in 1978 and won what would be the first of her 10 four-year terms. When this year’s election cycle rolled around, Harrell announced she would not seek re-election, opting instead to retire. Her current term would have ended August 31, but Harrell chose to retire effective June 30.

Earlier this month, the Sullivan County Commission appointed Susan Arnold Ramsey trustee for the remainder of Harrell’s term — through August 31, in other words. Ramsey is the only candidate for trustee on the county general election ballot, having defeated four other hopefuls in the Republican primary in May. No Democrats or independents sought the office.

Ramsey will be sworn in Monday morning.

A routine part of changing from one trustee to another is oversight from state auditors, who worked to close out Harrell’s books on Friday and who will be on hand Monday to oversee Ramsey’s initial steps. All employees of the office will have to be re-sworn as well, due to the change. Sullivan County trustee offices in Blountville, Bristol and Kingsport are expected to be closed at least part of the day Monday — and it could be all day, as the changes take place.

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