Melissa Jeter Pays the County Bills – In Good Times and Bad

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – It takes a lot to run a county as big and diverse as Houston County. Everything from tools for the sheriff to heavy machinery to repair roads. All of that stuff must be voted on, bid on and then paid for. 

Melissa Jeter works as Houston County Auditor. Her job is to make sure all those things are procured correctly and quickly – and paid for in a transparent way. Jeter says sometimes being unpopular can come with the job. 

“Sometimes you can’t always be a ‘good guy,’ because you have to hold people to the policies, to the laws and to the budgets,” Jeter said. 

Jeter grew up Madisonville before attending Sam Houston State. She worked as Madison County Auditor for 10 years starting in 1998. When the auditor in Houston County retired, she applied for the job. She said it wasn’t a concrete decision – she was just ready for a challenge. 

“It was just such an opportunity: a bigger county, a bigger budget – and there is a difference between being in your home county and going to county where you don’t live,” Jeter explained. “It’s not always easy – coming to Houston County was a fresh start. God was all over it.”

With her kids grown and her mind made up, Jeter starting working in Houston County in April 2008. The job is harder than it may seem at first – it’s more than just balancing the books and paying bills. 

“There are really three things: my main job is to ensure invoices and purchases adhere to the budget and are legal,” Jeter said. “I also ensure that the general ledger is properly presented to the public. The taxes and expenses must be correctly shown. And commissioners court only meet twice a month – I cannot even prepare a check until they approve the expense.”

“We have the special authority to go and review any record at any time for any elected official. Accounting is one side of it, but understanding every single elected official’s job – is also part of my job,” Jeter said. “I am able to help a lot of the officials. It’s not like a corporation – here every single office does something different.”

Jeter works in a well-equipped office in the county annex building in downtown Crockett. Her team work, laugh and hum songs from the radio all in one smooth wave. They seem to just ‘get’ each other and the atmosphere is calm and professional – but personal at the same time. They love their jobs, and each other. 

She has been doing the job for 25 years, through normal struggles, droughts, recessions, all of the normal give and take of life. 

Until this summer. 

“On July 28, I got a phone call that my daughter had chest pains and had passed out. My son-in-law was doing CPR and the ambulance was on the way. My husband and I headed out to Madisonville,” Jeter said. “I would get updates from family members on the drive. About halfway there my son-in-law said the paramedics did everything they could. There was just nothing more they could do. That was my first-born. She was 27.”

The devastating loss of her daughter is still under medical review. Blood tests take time and it is still not clear what caused such a young lady to lose her life so abruptly. Jeter still cannot believe the response from fiends and co-workers in Houston County. 

“From that day, my phone blew up,” Jeter said. “Calls, text messages – my people here…’Melissa, what do you need? Do not come here, we will handle everything.’ It was payroll, it was the end of the month – it was budget time.”

Asked how she was able to get through such a tragedy and keep the county business going, Jeter said she was inspired by her daughter. 

“I will tell you. It goes back to my daughter,” Jeter said. “She was always so proud of me, doing this job. She told me that, not long ago.”

Having seen Houston County Judge Jim Lovell and other commissioners tear up in court when thanking Jeter for her service, this reporter admittedly went through the same when hearing Jeter tell her story. She is strong and professional – even in the face of such a tragedy. Her faith was key in working through the loss of her daughter – with a big helping hand from the ‘family’ she works with in Houston County. 

“When I first came here I thought, ‘This is a different world! People here care!’” Jeter said. “I think that’s why I fit here. We are so blessed – with the employees, with the officials – everybody here cares.”

Informed in the last commissioners court that she was eligible for retirement she laughed and said, “Hurrah! Finally!”

Asked in the quiet of her own office if she was really ready to hang up her calculators, Jeter didn’t hesitate. 

“No,” Jeter concluded. “I could retire after 25 years on the job. I love my job. I love this county. I love doing this position. I am honored to do this. There have only been 4 auditors in this county going back to the 1960’s. That’s how much we love this job.”

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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