Ann Hardman, chief executive officer of three Christian ministries, is the newly elected Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk.
In her first run for office, Hardman unseated long-time incumbent Linda Pierce in a May primary. And on Tuesday, she beat write-in candidate Mike Garner in the general election with 94 percent of the vote.
Hardman is pastor of Faith Worship Center International in Columbus and River of Life Full Gospel Outreach Church in her hometown of Asheville, N.C. She also runs Ann Hardman Ministries, which trains and licenses other pastors, conducts prayer and leadership conferences and plants churches throughout the country. She is author of 10 books.
Hardman sat down with reporter Alva James-Johnson and talked about her background, ministries and plans as the new Superior Court Clerk. Here are excerpts from the interview, with the content and order of the questions edited slightly for length and clarity.
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Q: First, I want to congratulate you on your recent election to office. How does it feel to be the new Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk?
A: I’m very excited about it because it gives me an opportunity to serve the community in a different capacity. As you know, I’ve been serving this community for 24-plus years from a nonprofit organization of ministry and outreach to the community.
Q: Have you always had an interest in politics?
A: Never. ... I don’t want it to sound too religious, but really I had no intentions of running for any kind of politics, even though the church can be very political. But when I heard what was going on in the city, the lawsuits and all that kind of stuff, and then I started to hear about the office and the different things that were going on in there, I really felt like I could offer something. I was praying about that because as long as I’ve done the work in the ministry, I’ve trained probably 120-plus leaders that really have the ministry flowing. All I have to do is come in on a Sunday and preach or teach or do a curriculum. I just felt that this would be a great opportunity for me to share myself and give myself in a different way.
Q: Did someone approach you about running for the position?
A: ... No, my daughter Chasity, she was approached. Someone told her, “You know, there’s an office coming open. Are you interested in it?” At that point Chasity was a school teacher and now she works at Aflac. She has no desire for that kind of work. And so, as she and I were talking, I thought to myself, “Hmm, what about me? I might be able to do that.” She said, “Yeah, you’d probably be more qualified for that, Mom, than me.”
... I almost did it at the last minute. I was like, “Hmm, is it something that I want to do? I think I can do it. But is it something I should be doing?” Then, of course, I did pray about it and when I prayed about it, I got a yes. I saw my name on the ballot.
Q: It’s my understanding that you and Mayor Tomlinson are friends. Is that true?
A: No, ma’am. Mayor Tomlinson and I are probably just as much friends as you and Mayor Tomlinson. I met Mayor Tomlinson, I think, when she first ran. That’s when different politicians come to your church and they want to speak. That’s when I first met her. I think I met with her another time after that because there were some things that I wanted to do on the south side and I wanted her to know me as a pastor, but other than that ...
Q: You beat Linda Pierce in the primary, which seemed at that point like kind of a done deal. Then you had Mike Garner, a long-time Columbus attorney, jump into the race, and he eventually ran as a write-in candidate. Did that raise doubts that you would actually get the position?
A: I had two thoughts. No. 1, we have an attorney that’s been in there 20-some years who knows what she’s doing and she has now shifted because the people by their vote are saying we want something different. Now, we have a guy that I’m sure he’s a good attorney, but he doesn’t know the clerical side. So he comes in knowing the law, and you can’t practice law as a clerk.
I didn’t know how it would come out. I was hoping because they had voted for me before that they would vote for me again. I try not to live in a world where I’m too cocky about anything because things can change in a moment. I was really hoping that I would win.
Q: I saw a lot of people around town with Ann Hardman signs. Are those your church members?
A: I have a lot of friends in this city — a lot of friends that I’ve developed, they might go to your church, they may go to someone else’s church. And so, a lot of people, when they heard that I was running, said: “Hey, I want to get on board.”
Q: How do you plan to maintain the separation of church and state while in office?
A: ... When I’m at work I’m 100 percent Clerk of the Superior Court. When I go home, if I have to do some kind of research as Clerk of the Superior Court, I’ll do that. If I have to write my curriculum (for ministry) on a Saturday night or a Saturday, or whatever, that’s what I’ll do.
I have a counseling staff, so I don’t have to counsel people. If I do, then we can counsel on a Saturday evening. There’s no mixture. I am not a neophyte. I understand the importance of “This is church, and this is state.” I did it before I was a pastor— this was Pratt & Whitney and this was church. ... It’s the same thing.
Q: Tell me about your background and your life growing up in Asheville.
A: Growing up in Asheville was unique. ... It’s sort of like the Beverly Hillbillies. You enjoy the fact of getting to know everybody. It’s a mixture of people. People love each other, it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity. So that was fun. I was a cheerleader growing up. I was one of these fun-loving kids.
... My mom and dad separated and so my grandmother raised me. She gave me old types of ideas of how to live your life. So I guess you could say I was a type of old soul at a young age.
Q: Were your parents involved in your life at all?
A: My dad was because it was my father’s mother that raised me. I got to see my mom and her mother.
Q: What were your aspirations as a child?
A: First, I wanted to be a model. Then I wanted to be an x-ray technician. If you had asked me did I want to be a preacher, I would have said no. When I went to school, though, at Saint Genevieve’s of the Pines, one of the things that (my teacher) told me — she was a 90-some-year-old Catholic lady — and she said to me, “Ann, you’re going to do very well in the area where you work with people,” because I have a genuine love for people. I want to help them succeed in life.
When she said that, of course, I thought about all kinds of things I could do. ... I left out of there going straight into banking in Asheville, N.C., where I worked in public relations. ... When I got married to my husband, we moved, because he worked with Kmart. He was in the management program there, and so we moved and found ourselves here.
Q: What were your impressions of Columbus when you came?
A: Asheville and Columbus are very much alike, but I had a pit stop in Atlanta. Of course, when I moved to Atlanta, I had to get my bearings because we grew up, “Hey! How you doing?” In Atlanta, they’re looking at you like, “Why are you speaking to me?” Then, of course, when we got here it was a little bit more settling because it was more like Asheville.
Q: What year was that?
Q: Tell me about your experience in banking and finance.
A: It’s always been with numbers. (In North Carolina) ... Back in those days I did a lot of banking with collections, collecting loans that were past due. ... I started out working with individual accounts making sure that their checking account balanced. If it did not balance, we had to find it down to the very penny.
I worked with that for years and then we moved to finance where we had to make sure that we appropriated — and it was millions of dollars — from the government into the individual accounts that were in our bank. Then, of course, when people made large deposits, let’s say for their Visa account or MasterCard, we had to make sure that that was appropriated properly. Then when I moved from there, we moved into the customer relations...
When I moved to Pratt & Whitney, we did a lot of keying in information for time cards. I had to pay all the bills for Pratt & Whitney at that time. We had another part of depreciation on materials. ...
Q: So how did you get into ministry?
A: ... My grandmother was a minister, but back in that day women couldn’t minister. So what she mostly did, she took care of the administrative part and always would bring men in to preach. She was one of those real strong ladies, living right, living holy, living righteous. We had to study the Bible.
When I was 16 years old, I knew I was called to do that. Maybe it was because I saw my grandmother do it and she inspired me. ... Then we got married and moved here. My mother developed stomach cancer. That’s when I really felt that the Lord was leading me into a deeper place of ministry. At that time, I was at a Baptist church, and that religion did not smile on female ministers. But my pastor, Rev. Rudolph Allen — very strong man in the community — he allowed me the opportunity to give, back in that day, what we call the trial sermon. Evidently, I did well, because you have a slew of pastors that grade you, based upon the way you present the message. After that, they gave me my license, and that’s when my journey began in ministry.
I do youth rallies. I do women’s conferences or I do women’s days. It just grew into that. I had a group of people that asked me to be their pastor and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! What’s a pastor? I know how to preach. I know how to teach. I know how to do curriculums, but pastor?” It was a whole different ballgame.
Of course they trusted me, and as they brought me in — we became Faith and Worship Center — and the journey began with that. That’s when I started going to school to learn more about pastoring and making sure that when I taught the Word of God that I knew what I was doing, learning the Hebrew, the Greek, and how to properly apply the Word of God.
Q: You have two centers, one in Columbus and one in Asheville. How do you manage that?
A: When we started the church in Asheville, we started at 3 p.m. So at that time I was flying from here. I chartered a plane, and we would leave here, get on a plane, go straight to Asheville, N.C., and we’d preach and teach. Here’s how you do that: you train leaders to take your place. You duplicate yourself. You don’t try to be the catch-all for everything.
Q: What is the membership at each church?
A: In Asheville, we’re probably running close to 200-plus, because what happened was I had a pastor there that wasn’t doing the job. So when I left the church there, we had 500 and I saw a decline. I had to replace him. ... We’re coming back up. Here, you could say we have 1,000 members. But when I look at attendance, we’re running about 500 a Sunday and 200 on Tuesdays, so 700 people a week who actually show up.
Q: About how many people do you employ through your ministry?
A: Before we had to cut back, we had about 25 employees. Now we have about 10 people. The church is really supplied with volunteers, which is a blessing to us because the volunteers really do the work and, of course, those that are employed, they just manage. They do a fantastic job.
Q: When you say you had to cut back, what was the reason for that?
A: In 2010, we all felt the economy. ... That’s when we cut back.
Q: How did that affect your plans for the Impact Center here in Columbus?
A: When we moved on the south side, of course, we had the different types of housing there. So our objective was to reach the underprivileged youth to bring them in after school. ... We wanted to use music as a way of bringing them in, and then do the math, the science, also reading, and then athleticism. We wanted basketball, football, and we wanted to do volleyball. That was the objective of the Impact Center. It was to impact teens and give them a place to come that was safe so that they could enjoy themselves and don’t have to worry about not being taken care of.
... We have great anticipation of doing bumper cars and all of the fun things. Then again, when the economy hit, a lot of our members were from Ft. Benning and they got shipped out. So it changed our financial flow from $2.5 million. ... At that time we were bringing in a good sum. It (went) down to about one-point-something-million, and so we had to postpone some things. ... The objective is still to complete them. It’s just taking us a little bit more time.
Q: All right. So, on top of all of that, you are now going to have to manage the Superior Court Clerk’s office. How are you going to manage juggling all of those responsibilities?
Q: It goes back to management. Every entity has a senior manager that has supervisors that work underneath them and they handle everything. I don’t have to do anything but get my report, which is what a senior general manager should do — get your report, because everybody’s doing their job. Now, if something comes up where it needs to be handled, of course I know how to handle it, because I came up through the ranks. I will use those skills that I’ve obtained over the 20-some years of ministry in the office of Superior Court clerk.
I do know that we have people there that have some 30, some 20, 10 and 15 years of experience. So we’re not going into an office where people don’t know what they’re doing. However, we are going into an office where I think that there needs to be management, where we need to be more consistent with our customer service, where we need to modernize that office from a technological standpoint.
One of the things I looked at when I did my platform was that they still have a (1980’s) mainframe. That needs some upgrading. Those are the types of things that I want to go in and add to what has been done. And I believe that, based upon what has been done, I can go in with my managerial skills. We want to do a SWOT analysis. We want to do a gap analysis where we go in and say, “This is where we want to be in four years. This is where we are, now how can we get there? Those are the types of managerial things that you do, so that you can make sure that the people are operating at their highest capacity.
Also, we want to work together with the mayor. We want to work with City Council. We want to work with the judges there to make sure that we can give them the best assistance that they need to do their jobs better. It’s easy for me because it’s sort of like a CEO of a company and you’ve got these people that are handling their jobs. I don’t have to worry about being on them every day because they know what they’re doing. So, now, when I come into this job, now I’ve got to learn how the system flows and then get in there and see how I can make it flow better.
Q: You told me earlier this week that you will be getting some training as part of this? Tell me about that.
A: Dec. 4, I’ll be down in Saint Simons, Ga., where we have to be there day and night, getting class after class after class. Then, of course, after that, you still have different types of seminars that I’m required to go to. So I’ll make sure that I know the law and the things that I need to learn. You know that office is a clerical office, and I know we’ve heard a lot of talk about you need to be an attorney. But if you go back and read the qualifications and you read, even the way they have it posted, everything is clerical. You do need to know some of the things from a perspective of the law, but it never, ever required you to be an attorney to do that job. Most attorneys have a me to manage their office, an administrator.
Q: What challenges do you expect to face on the job?
A: Morale. When you have a company, and they’ve been under one management for 20-some years, and that person is gone, now I have to go in and convince those employees that I’m not there to hurt them. I’m not there to fire them. I’m there to make them better. That’s going to be the first thing, is to prove myself to them that they can trust me.
Then the second thing is to implement new ideas; because you can say, “We’ve always done it this way.” But even though we’ve always done it this way, doesn’t mean that there’s not a better way. I think that would probably be the two challenges that I would face in the office.
Q: Your predecessor, Linda Pierce, filed a controversial lawsuit having to do with budget issues. What are your views about that lawsuit?
A: When they first asked me about this was in May, and I really was, “I don’t know, because I hadn’t seen it.” I was asked again, and so I said, “Let me go see what’s going on here.” At this point, I would not pursue a lawsuit because, first of all, I don’t get it. Maybe I will get it when I get in there, but I like working things out. And I see the Consolidated Government, I see us as a family.
If I was at Pratt & Whitney, and you were my boss, and I gave you a budget, and you said, “We’re going to have to cut that, we’re going to have to do something,” then my job, at that point, would be to see how I could cut it. If I couldn’t, if I just couldn’t, then I’d come back.
I think the difference is that I want an opportunity to work with those people and I believe we can work it out. That’s my belief. Suing to get that done would not be the way I would approach it.
Q: You mentioned wanting to do some upgrades with technology, etc., and your predecessor has complained that she hasn’t had the funds to adequately do her job. Are you concerned that there might not be enough funds to do some of the innovative things that you want to do in the office?
A: No ma’am, because when I researched a little bit, she tried a lot of different types of technology. ... I’m going in having an idea of exactly the type of technology we need. I was able to go to Harris County, look at the technology that they had and get some understanding. ... So we won’t be trying different things and spending $500,000 here, $300,000 here. It won’t be guesswork. ... Sometimes we learn from another person’s mistake. Not that she’s bad — it’s just that I’m looking at what she did, and I’m saying, “OK, I got how you did that. How can I do that better and not make the same mistake?”
Q: So, you believe you’ll have the funds to do the things that you’re proposing?
A: We’re going to go in and look at the budget. I don’t know. We might have to get into a conversation where I say to them, “We need more than $1.2 million,” and we’ll see what happens.
Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina
Current home: Columbus
Job: Newly elected Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk, and Pastor of Faith Worship Center International in Columbus and River of Life International located in Asheville.
Previous Jobs: Customer service, finance and loan officer, SouthTrust Bank; human resources clerk at Columbus Foundries; financial clerk at Pratt & Whitney.
Education: Associates in secretarial and administrative studies, St. Genevieve of he Pines, Asheville, N.C.; theology studies at Christian Life School of Theology in Columbus; doctorate, Kingdom Truth University, Jacksonville, Fla.; , and honorary doctorates in theology/divinity, St. Thomas Christian College in Jacksonville, and Beacon University in Columbus.
Family: Husband, Norman Hardman; four children and five grandchildren.