Thursday, January 5, 2017

Retirement Is ‘Bittersweet,’ Graham Says

Kelly Miller, standing, appointed county assessor, and retiring Assessor Donna Graham, go over assessments as Graham prepares for retirement on Jan. 31.

It’s a bittersweet time for Donna Graham, Sequoyah County assessor. Graham, who has been employed in several capacities with Sequoyah County government for over 20 years, will retire from her assessor post on Jan. 31.

Graham said of her post and office, “It’s like home after 20 some years. It’s bittersweet in a way. You get up every morning and get to come to a job you love. Not many people get to do that.”

But, Graham said she recently turned age 66 and it was “time” to retire. Sequoyah County Commissioners appointed Kelly Miller, an employee in the assessor’s office, to fill the assessor’s post.

Graham was appointed in August 2005 to replace assessor Jack O’Neal.

“I was so happy,” Graham recalled. “I love, love, love the people. I enjoy the people. And I will miss my girls.”

Graham has nine female employees in her office.

Being a county assessor and employee isn’t easy, Graham said.

“You have to pass seven classes to keep your job,” she explained. “You don’t just take seven classes, you have to pass seven classes.”

Assessors and their employees have to be educated about the complicated laws and rules associated with owning Oklahoma property. This information must be passed on to the public, especially those who come to the assessor’s office perhaps angry with their latest property assessment.

“It’s education,” Graham said. “We have a few irate customers. They come in upset, but if you explain it to them, they will leave OK with it. It’s just working with the public.”

Graham began working in county government in the treasurer’s office. She then moved into the assessor’s office and was appointed county assessor in August 2005.

Upon her appointment, she got bad news.

“When I started, the state said this office is out of compliance and had been for several years,” Graham recalled.

Graham said there were problems with appraisals, with codings in the computer system, and others. She said she and her employees have worked hard to bring the county into compliance, but it wasn’t easy.

“There are 34,000 land parcels in this county,” she said. “Four years ago when I got my certified letter (that the county was in compliance) I hooted and hollered. That was on my bucket list.

“And Sequoyah Fuels. That was on my bucket list too,” Graham said.

Sequoyah Fuels at Gore and the county had been at odds and in court for years over Sequoyah Fuels assessment. That 19-year-old disagreement was settled in 2014.

“Those are the two things I wanted to see get done,” Graham said.

Graham said her family has had to “eat, sleep and breathe” county assessment issues with her. Graham and her husband, Dwight, will celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary in February. They have two sons, K.D., and his wife, Michele, and Destry and his girlfriend, Ashley, and two grandsons, Jacob, 19, and Garrett, 14. Graham said she plans to spend a lot more time with family when she is retired.

Immediately after retirement, Graham said she will “rest for a while,” then continue with the Cowboys Regional Rodeo Association, for which she keeps track of points. Son Destry competes in team roping and steer wrestling. She also hopes to do some furniture refinishing.

Graham said she hasn’t thought too much about what she will do in retirement.

“I’ll probably bake too much,” Graham said with a grin, explaining that when family visits they usually head for the kitchen to see what is to eat.

Graham said she knows she will miss the people, and will miss her “girls,” that is her employees.

But she added she has not missed the knowledge she gained with her last birthday.

“We have got to move on,” she concluded.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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