Jackie Beaudry has been the City Clerk for Ann Arbor since 2005. She lives in Ann Arbor with her partner, Derek, who is a city fire fighter. The office of the City Clerk (second floor of City Hall) provides a lot of direct services to the public and behind-the-scenes support to our local government which continues through this pandemic. For example, Jackie and her staff administer our local elections and facilitate our City Council meetings (she is the official City Records custodian). In our conversation, we talked about the logistics of her job right now, how going back and forth from public spaces to home feels so very different during this pandemic, and what keeps her focused during these strange times.
This is part of a series of interviews with Ann Arbor residents, talking about personal experiences adjusting to (and adapting during) the COVID-19 crisis. This interview was conducted remotely via the ZOOM application. I appear in this video as “Mrs. Nelson” - we talked over the ZOOM account that I use primarily with my preschool class. Interviewed May 5, 2020
I’m talking to Jackie Beaudry, who is the City Clerk for Ann Arbor. I want to thank you for talking to me today!
No problem! Thanks for having me!
I'm curious… I've asked everybody the same question: what kind of adjustments, what kind of changes have you had to make in your life since the pandemic?
Well, obviously, work-wise has been the biggest change for me. Our department - as a public facing department - we are open, our front counter (on the second floor) every day, 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. So it just was a whirlwind after the presidential primary, March 10th, that everything shut down.
I would say it took like a good week for me to adjust to the stay home order and, you know, trying to get things connecting with your team and everybody learning ZOOM and Microsoft TEAMS. Probably within a week we were having our weekly staff meetings and getting everybody back together. But that week after the primary, we started making plans for what would it look like: if some people could stay home and some people would stay at work and then it just very quickly was like everyone's staying home.
A lot of people may not think about the clerk’s office as an essential function but elections are - even at the federal level - considered critical infrastructure. We're always still thinking and planning, especially this year, for the August and November election. That was probably for me, it was just… we're a public team and so it's not really conducive to not being at City Hall and not being together. So that was an adjustment, I would say.
What kind of precautions are you taking in your household with the day-to-day activities that you have to go out in public places to do? Every one of us is facing the challenge (or the task) of how are we getting groceries? What are your routines in your house?
Well, it’s interesting because… you probably know, but… I live with a city firefighter. Between the two of us - him more than me, his job didn't change at all in terms of, he goes in every third day for 24 hours - we were not the type of house that it's like “okay we're just hunkered down and no one's leaving.”
Probably in your position you also know that we were dealing with the filing deadline [for local elections] and so that was like - I talked about being a public office - are we there? are we accessible? We had candidates (luckily, I only live like a mile and a half from City Hall), they would contact me there on the phone or email and say “I need to file petitions” and we were trying to make all those arrangements so that the business of elections could keep going.
So between the two of us, we've still been out and about in terms of our work but Derek has done most of the grocery shopping. I thought it was interesting that I went in early April to Plum Market and it was like some people are starting to wear masks, you’re kind of aware of not getting too close to anybody. I didn't go back out (except for going to City Hall), I didn't go anywhere public until maybe like a week ago and everything was one way down the grocery aisle, you must have a mask on. It was really interesting to me to not do any kind of shopping or anything for a month and how much had changed from the beginning of April or late March to the beginning of May.
Derek goes out and he said the same thing: there was this transition from a few people are wearing a mask to - when the governor said “if you're in a public place you need to be wearing a mask” - where if you're not, they're looking at you like why aren’t you doing this, why aren’t you complying?
So your partner, obviously his work is not something that can be done at home and to a certain extent yours can’t either - how has your schedule changed in terms of working from home and being at City Hall, what does that look like?
I’ve talked to other people who… for instance, Mr. Postema, almost all of his work now has transitioned to home. So you, maybe, are a kind of hybrid because you're not a firefighter and you're not… I mean, you have to face the public, like you said.
Right, it's not like… I know John Fournier, the assistant city administrator, said some departments very easily— like HR, finance —could very quickly transition to doing all the things they do remotely.
The filing deadline was really busy for us. I think I told you, it took us like about a week to get going. We have remote staff meetings but we do have three days a week, there's somebody in the office from 9:00 to 4:00, just making sure the mail’s being processed, that we're not getting any when we were doing (checking) signatures for the petitions and then keeping up with voter registration, that type of thing. Just making sure business is moving. It's one person at a time in the office right now.
For me - and you probably, as well, know this (the things we've had to do, to switch from in-person open meetings to ZOOM meetings) - it's one thing when it's a staff meeting, but when it's City Council and making sure the public has access and just learning the tool myself. The most stressful part of the meeting is making sure I call on the right person for reserved time! (laughter) But IT has been wonderful.
Anissa (who’s my primary assistant for City Council), the calls come in to her and two other people on their computers at home at 8:00 a.m. We try to mimic for the public: just call the regular City Clerk number for Council night and someone will answer. Those types of things are - to the extent we can - they’re remote. Physically posting the notices, we still do that, and so there's certain things we do at City Hall.
In fact, just the other day, I had to go in because they had (I think it was) a Greenbelt purchase that just couldn't be done through the electronic docu-sign. So the attorney's office had a set up outside in the parking lot and we each had like a 10-minute time slot. So I didn't see anyone else, as everyone had been on schedule and just signed the document. So I'd say once or twice a week there's inevitably some reason I end up at City Hall.
One thing you asked about, how that changes our life, I will say (that both Derek and I talked about): when I would get home from City Hall now, you feel… I don't want to say dirty, but it's like “okay, these clothes are ruined, they're outside my bubble.” (laughter) He said the same thing, he's like “I don't wear my uniform in.” He's like, I have my set clothes that I wear in and then I change, and then I change back into those to come home. And then you feel like you have to launder that because you were out in public. So that's also why I think he often will stop and do the grocery shopping on his way home from his 24-hour shift.
Well, that sort of leads to another question that I've been asking folks and that is: are you taking any special precautions when you simply go outside? Not even going to a grocery store or going out in a public place but are you taking any precautions when you just are outdoors?
I think I saw your interview with (maybe it was with) Tom Crawford. I thought that was interesting, the conversation about what people are doing outside. We always would go either for a walk or a run and now you really… I think [of] not even being at City Hall, exercise that was in your normal day: I walk in from the structure, you're moving around more, talking to people. If you're a track-your-steps kind of person, when you're just in the same spot looking at a computer all day, you realize how little you move. So we make sure we get out and do our run or even just go for a walk.
I would say most people that I see outside are not wearing a mask. Maybe I would say that's a minority. We don’t, when we're exercising or outside but I guess I was under the impression that the expectation to wear a mask was around other people or inside a building. I know Council took that issue up, that more people (because they're home all day), you see more people out than I previously did [see] as a runner.
So that's another thing that people have talked to me about: losing so many of the outlets that we used to have (outlets that involved public places) and feeling so very cooped up. I think you probably mentioned a couple of them already, but what kind of strategies do you have, to make sure that you aren’t just going crazy looking at the same four walls so much more than you used to?
Right, yeah, you do, you really feel like… it's kind of interesting… I think way back last fall we signed up for this Run for the Trees. It was through the Michigan DNR and it was always meant to be - like they called it ‘virtual’ - you really ran, but it was like just “some time during Earth week go visit a state park.” They sent us t-shirts and the bibs and a medal and everything. It was funny when it arrived, it was during (after) the stay home order and I was so excited that I had something to do! They actually planned this and it wasn't even because of this but then I actually got an email from the DNR saying “don't crowd the state parks! You can still run your 3.1 miles in your own neighborhood!” So we ended up going to Hudson Mills in Dexter and it just really… you think of your mental health. That was a great day and I’m like “wow, this is nice to feel like I did something besides sit at home.”
I think that having some kind of event— whether you go for a walk or ride your bike, something — that it’s important to get out and not just for the exercise but for your mental health. Yeah, we definitely try to keep up with that.
Would you have any advice for people or any thoughts for people who are feeling particularly restricted by these guidelines and frustrated by them? I've asked this question of people even since before the protests in Lansing but now we’re seeing crowds of people who are demonstrating against this quarantine that we're in, who are literally saying “it must stop.” What would you say to people who are feeling that way?
Wow, I don't feel like… I was just telling Derek, I don't feel like… I, in some ways didn't handle it well. I'm kind of a quiet, introverted person so it was funny that all of a sudden, I think I missed being at City Hall, I miss having my team and some camaraderie. We like to go out to eat and you miss that, but I guess you have to learn to adapt, you have your family. We ZOOMed on Easter with my mom and dad [who] are in Ohio, my sister as well. So there’s other ways to still do the things you want to do, you just have to learn to make those accommodations.
Definitely I think that's why you see more and more people outside: you do, for your mental health, have to get some fresh air. We've just learned, things change a little bit. I think they say it’s physical distancing, not social distancing? So whether you're having a ZOOM happy hour or whatever or give somebody a call [and] we certainly, across the way, talk to our neighbors. So you definitely want some interaction with people.
Missing going out to eat…it's like Knights has been awesome (not to put in a plug for them but) - so we have our, like, once-a-week. We did Isalita and they had a great curbside delivery. It’s kind of nice to plan your meals at home, but we’ve also taken advantage of some of the local businesses [that] have had great (whether it’s delivery or) easy pickup.
So is there anything else that you have to say on this topic? I've sort of run out of questions. Is there anything that I didn't ask you?
(laughter) Well, I know you said you weren't going to ask about elections or grill me on what's coming but one of the things… I think it was hard for me at first. Like I said, I felt really disconnected, trying to get up and how do you work remotely?
I had been on a national task force - we concluded our work in January, trying to make recommendations moving into the 2020 elections - and that group, actually, we've gotten back together to talk about the conversation: what does elections look like if there’s social distancing, as people move to more vote-by-mail (Michigan’s no reason absentee). We have some of the steps in place for more and more people to vote earlier at home. That actually was a good outlet for me, as well as getting back together with that group. We used to actually meet around the country and now we meet on ZOOM.
So it's nice to have those conversations and then I meet every other week on ZOOM with a professor at the University. She and I are always keeping up on what the elections will look like for students and what their plans are. Actually getting back, talking elections, was for me something that I feel good about, so that was - to start back up in those conversations right away - is an outlet for me, something that you feel like you're doing something and you try to make a difference.
Well, I know I feel reassured that specifically you (and your office) are contemplating all these issues. I think about an agenda that we had at Council not too very long ago, where we were talking about funding for equipment for you to high-speed count ballots. I think about that, I think “gosh, there would be a lot more ballots if it's all mail-in voting!”
Right. I was just on a webinar this morning about how states like Colorado, it's not just an overnight flip-the-switch to vote by mail but then some states are in that mindset of like “well it is, kind of,” now what do we do? You know we want to quickly make this switch but that's what the challenge is: you have to plan for if the students are back (they’re likely to vote in person) but you're also planning for how many more people who used to vote in person will say “no, I'd like to take advantage of voting at home or vote by mail.” So we're sort of in this
planning stage of we have to assume both, to be prepared.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me! People might not know that you and I actually live maybe four blocks away from each other and I live similarly close to Mr. Postema, so some of these conversations have felt really funny because we really aren't that far away from each other!
I didn't realize you were that close to me.
Well, I think, pretty close. I mean, I know where you live because we walked by you when we were on our way on a walk (my husband and I), but yeah, we're pretty close.
So I was curious about… do you wear a mask if you go for a walk?
I actually do.
Yeah, my husband and I do and I encourage my kids to do the same and we're very much in the minority. We’re like the only, we’re the only people. When I go for a bike ride I'm wearing a mask. I'm not as consistent as other people about, like, going for a walk every day. It's embarrassing but I have days where I don't actually leave my house. I probably should be making more of an effort, just to be balanced in my life. But yeah, I’ve been wearing a mask. I have fabric, we sew. My husband sewed a couple masks, I’ve sewn some masks.
If you need a mask, I can sew you one!
We don't wear the masks (especially when we run) but - I didn’t tell you - we probably do it first, but I think everybody has [done it]: you used to think it would be rude, but if we see somebody approaching, we just cross the street.
Oh yeah, I think that's legit. As a strategy, that is 100% legit. I feel like when I'm wearing a mask, I maybe take a few less steps out of the way. Maybe I get strictly six feet away instead of ten feet away or whatever? I don't have to be quite as careful?
Yeah, I would say. And we've had people either wave or say “thank you!” And if that's not possible, both people sort of part and you're off the sidewalk, [that] kind of thing. But yeah, for the most part it's like, well, I will not make you make that interaction or make you decide to move, so we'll just “okay, we’ll cross here” and continue on our way.
Well, maybe we will see each other around the neighborhood!
Thank you for talking to me!
Yeah, this was nice! Thank you, have a good day!