Deadwood finance officer retires following more than two decades of service

October 12, 2018

DEADWOOD — She’s the go-to gal for all matters involving city money and Friday, following 20 years of service to the citizens of Deadwood, Mary Jo Nelson will open her last spread sheet in the role of city finance officer.

“I was hired before construction was complete on the Broadway Parking Garage and was still around when we made the last payment,” Nelson said. “That was a cooperative effort, for sure.”

Respected by her peers as knowledgeable, fair, and by-the-book, Nelson chose to put family first in deciding to retire.

“Our grandchildren are eight hours away, and I want to spend more time with them while they are young,” Nelson said. “My husband and I would also like to do more traveling, especially in the winter, and that’s tough with a fulltime job.”

Mayor Chuck Turbiville declared Friday Mary Jo Nelson day in Deadwood and said Nelson’s dedication to the city of Deadwood and its citizens has been delivered with the utmost integrity and honesty, which has helped shape the city into what it is today.

“Her knowledge and insistence to do the right thing has skillfully guided the city commission and fellow department heads to lead with good government practices and procedures, even when met with resistance,” Turbiville said. “She has continually emerged as the right person having the right answer, always having the best interest of the citizens of Deadwood in mind. The city of Deadwood and the residents are going to miss Mary Jo after having depended on her for 20 years and after 20 years of keeping the city in line and on the straight and narrow. Mary Jo is the symbol of the type of person that anyone would be pleased to have had them work for them and I wish her the very best in the future.”

Although Nelson has the finance office running like clock-work, she struggled to name the system, policy, or accomplishment she implemented over the years that she is most proud of.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything special, but tried to come in with a good attitude and do my best every day,” she said.

City commissioner Gary Todd recognized Nelson’s dedication and for years, appreciated her approach.

“I’ve sat on the commission for quite some time and Mary Jo’s always been our go-to person. She always has the information we need to make good decisions and one of the main things that helped me so much was her just keeping us in line, making sure we were following all the rules and doing everything legally and on par with all the regulations,” said commissioner Gary Todd. “She’s going to be missed by the whole city of Deadwood and especially me. I wish her good luck in her retirement and we’re going to miss her.”

In naming the most challenging part of being a finance officer, she replied, “Pick a day!”

That said, portions of the retirement process will be difficult to adjust to.

“I will miss the day-to-day interaction with some of the best people I know,” Nelson said. “After 20 years, you get to know your co-workers pretty well, and I will miss being part of their lives.”

Anyone who has ever been through the budget process with Nelson knows she is an absolute natural with numbers and can answer any question regarding the budgetary figures, both backward and forward. So it stands to reason, she names this as her favorite part of the job.

“It probably sounds strange to most, but I really enjoyed the budget process,” Nelson said. “You get to look back and see where the city has been financially and also look ahead to make plans for the future. It’s also one of the few times the department heads and elected officials can get together in the same room and bounce ideas off each other.”

Nelson said her passion for financials, numbers, spreadsheets, and such started at a young age.

“I think much of it comes from growing up watching my dad work,” she explained. “He was a small-town banker who had jobs on the side: income taxes for ranchers and inventory for a couple of local businesses using these big 12 column ledger books. I liked to go to the bank with him on Saturdays and play with the adding machines-that’s what they called them back then!”

So, any advice for her successor, who, numerically speaking, will have some big shoes to fill?

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Nelson said. “One of the advantages of working for a public entity is the amount of resources available. Finance Officers across the state are a great group of people and we’ve all been new at the job at some point. I made lots of phone calls when I was hired.”

Asked if there is an operational aspect of her department she hopes continues upon her departure, Nelson advocated for change that brings improvement.

“Nothing stays the same, and hope the next person can person can improve on all the things I wasn’t able to accomplish,” she said. “I still have a list of things to do in my head.”

Nelson was chosen finance officer of the year in 2008, due to her ability to work with small staff and oversee a multi-million-dollar budget, not typical of a city that has a population of only 1,264.

Her co-workers said it is amazing how much Mary Jo loves the art of finance and joked, it is hard to believe that spreadsheets could make someone so happy.

“Mary Jo’s office has been the cornerstone of the city,” Turbiville said. “She has acted as a sounding board for department heads, mayors, commissioners, employees and citizens alike. I Charles Turbiville, mayor of the city of Deadwood, by virtue of the authority vested in me by our community, hereby proclaim October 12, 2018, as Mary Jo Nelson Day and urge all citizens to join me in saluting Mary Jo’s professionalism, service, and friendship to us all, and thank her for all the memories, and years of service she has given us.”

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