The First To Arrive… The Last To Leave

Author, Lila Zuck

In 1970, Janet Davis Cason was appointed second Naples City Clerk.

Marjorie Chickering, Janet Cason, and Robert J. Bender, Naples Civil Defense Director, 1965.

There was one computer in her office where, similar to Elsie Lehman before her for 26 years, she was still the only full-time employee.

Before opening City Hall, it was Janet’s job at 5:30 am every morning to empty the coin boxes of the city’s less than 50 parking meters. City Hall closed at noon at the time, and only the City Clerk’s office and the Water Department, both located in the 1951 33.5′ x 40′ addition to City Hall, remained open. It was her job to lock up at the end of the day.

Prior to joining the City of Naples, Janet worked for NASA’s Procurement Contracts Department as the first IBM operator in 1964.

In 1975, she was one of eight Florida City Clerks who assisted in the planning and preparation of the first Florida Association of City Clerks Manual. The manual, revised since then, addressed the varied duties and responsibilities of city clerks, throughout the State of Florida. The first manual won the Award of Excellence in 1979, for an outstanding publication by a state municipal clerks association from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.

Among the many awards Janet Cason received over the years was the prestigious Quill Award in 1992, an International Institute of Municipal Clerks award for exemplary service and improvement of the profession of municipal clerk.

In 1986, the Naples City Clerk’s office was the first in the world to introduce the practice of typing City Council minutes directly onto a computer located in council chambers, cutting minute preparation time in half. The idea was the brainchild of Tara Norman, Administrative Assistant to Naples City Manager Franklin Jones at the time. The first employee of the Clerk’s office to type council minutes into the computer while Naples City Council was in session was Deputy City Clerk Jodie O’ Driscoll.

As explained by Naples City Clerk Janet Cason and Tara Norman, in the February 1987, Vol. 4, No. 6 issue of Government Microcomputer Letter, “The preparation of City Council meeting minutes by the staff at the City Clerk’s office in Naples, Florida has always been less than a joy. We had settled into a routine of grinding out minutes of one meeting in time to have them reviewed and approved at the following meeting two weeks later. As our City Council began to meet more frequently in formal and informal sessions, the members needed to review sooner at least a draft of the minutes.

“The benchmark always used is approximately three hours of minute preparation time to one hour of meeting time. The frequent council meetings multiplied minute preparation into a sizeable workload. Something had to be done to speed up the process.

“The computer application is actually a cross between court reporter (machine) shorthand and note taking by hand. The advantage of this method is that more than one person can work on different sections of the minutes simultaneously.

“The actual operation involves formatting a document with page numbers corresponding to the agenda item numbers. Each page contains the text of the item as it appears on the agenda, and as the meeting progresses, the operator merely uses the “go to” function to reach the next agenda item which corresponds to the page number. This also makes it easy to find items when the council takes them out of order.”

After the new word processing program was designed and successfully implemented in Naples, the city was praised in the International Institute of Municipal Clerks’ February 1987 News Digest, and in the newsletter of the Florida Association of City Clerks, for its novel and progressive form of record keeping. Numerous inquiries from clerks worldwide interested in implementing the technology, came into the Naples City Clerk’s office, and by 1994 the technology had been adopted by 75% of city clerks.

“But Cason and Norman did not stop with the computers”, it was reported in the January 23, 1987 issue of the Naples Daily News. “They also have brought video into the council. The clerk’s office now videotapes all the council meetings. Cason said the intent is to use videotapes as the primary record of the meeting instead of the audio cassette tapes.”

By the time Naples City Clerk Janet Cason retired in 1994, the City had approximately 745 parking meters. As the number of meters increased, the tedious task was later outsourced to a private firm.

The City Clerk was and still is the liaison between the residents, the visitors and the City. In 1993, Janet Cason smiled when she received letters addressed “Janet, City Hall, Naples, Florida” and laughed each time she recalled the story of a winter resident who phoned her the day before Thanksgiving inquiring how to stuff a southern turkey.