Putting His Heart and Soul Into Making His County and the Delta a Better Place
By Becky Gillette • Photography by Holly Tharp
Will Hooker considers it a highlight of his career to be elected Bolivar County Tax Assessor and Collector. Before that, in 2008 he traded a high-level job in the private sector to become Bolivar County Administrator responsible for coordinating county government activities under the guidance of the Board of Supervisors.
Normally someone would have been hired to replace Hooker as County Administrator after he began his term as Tax Assessor and Collector in January 2020. But, due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been doing double duty filling both jobs until the county can find a replacement.
“Until recently, the highest point in my career was to be a local kid born and raised in the county to have the opportunity to be in a leadership role with the county to try to improve the quality of life for the citizens,” says Hooker. “Becoming elected was a new highlight for me. The way I was supported by so many people really touched me. Leadership is all about service. That is the motto I live by.”
One of the jobs he first tackled as Tax Assessor\Collector was to provide more online services to improve efficiency and help protect both employees of the office and the public.
“The pandemic is real, a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Hooker. “I’m really looking forward to when we can get past it. It has changed the way we are living our lives. Before the pandemic, there were often long lines at the office certain times of the month. One of my campaign promises was to try my best to get the office online in an effort to get citizens out of line. October 1 we were able to do that by providing services online. We also made changes in how the tax notices are made. A lot of people didn’t understand tax notices. They needed to be clearer.
“Tax notices that were previously sent on postcards are now mailed in a closed envelope for confidentiality. Different types of taxes are now color coded to make it easier to understand and more transparent. Real property such is a dark blue, business personal property is now orange, and manufacturing\mobile homes are green. The receipts in the office have been upgraded to being laser printed for better clarity and transparency so citizens know exactly where every dollar of their tax money is going.”
The new services are not just for checking on and paying taxes, but doing research and looking at GIS maps. Now someone can sit at home with their computer and bring up land maps that they used to have to visit the courthouse to see.
“A lot of our real estate brokers and lawyers need that, but it is also for our everyday citizens,” says Hooker.
Two other parts of his commitment for technology innovation include communicating through social media such as Facebook and YouTube to let citizens know what is going on. It works through the county website.
The pandemic has been particularly devastating to the Mississippi Delta. Hooker says it has been stressful financially, emotionally and mentally including for people who work at the courthouse.
“We are classified as essential workers,” says Hooker. “In addition to trying to be creative providing online services, we do have restrictions in the courthouse like requiring masks and limiting the number of people in the building at one time for the safety of staff and citizens, as well.”
He has seen COVID-19 infections impact people in very different ways.
“I’ve had family members get it and who have had shortness of breath, but have been blessed to be able recover,” says Hooker. “Then, I have had classmates who have died who were my same age. I’ve lost neighbors. It makes it real for you. We are praying we can continue to be safe at the county offices. The Board of Supervisors is taking directions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state government doing our best to make sure we have the safest possible environment for our citizens who come in to the offices and our employees.”
Hooker graduated from East Side High School in 1988, and worked full-time at Baxter Healthcare while attending Delta State University (DSU).
“Both my parents retired as factory workers for Baxter after twenty-five years,” says Hooker. “Baxter had an employee assistance program to further education by reimbursing tuition costs. We are blessed to have Delta State here in Cleveland, so I was able to work the night shift at Baxter and pursue my chemistry degree during the day with Baxter paying for it. After obtaining my degree in chemistry in 1994, I worked for four years in the Baxter chemistry lab, and then went into various management positions including the position of manufacturing superintendent.”
Hooker and his wife, Nichole, were busy raising four boys—Jay, Rommell, William and Kylan—so his dreams to pursue a master’s higher degree in business administration were shelved for a while. He obtained that from DSU in 2004.
The people who have had the most influence on him are his parents, Willie and Dorothy Hooker.
“They never missed a day of work,” says Hooker. “They set a perfect example of work ethics. They raised me and my brother to love one another, care for others, tell the truth, work hard, say please and thank you, play by the rules, and look folks in the eye when you talk with them. My mom and dad taught me the value of loving and serving others. A lot of people ask me why am I driven and why do I try to go beyond. It is a call to service I inherited from my parents. The people in Bolivar County put trust in me to serve them well. I’m honored for opportunity to continue to serve Bolivar County.”
In addition to his two jobs for the county, Hooker serves on government and non- profit boards. He is on the board of the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi Foundation. Becky Nowell, who is president of that board, hired Hooker as a chemist for Baxter after he graduated from college.
“We worked together a number of years and became good friends,” says Nowell. “I have a lot of respect for Will and all he has done. He has great people skills. He knows how to work with people and bring them together. He is a great leader for our county.”
Hooker also serves on the board of directors of the South Delta Planning and Development District (SDPDD), which oversees about $125 million in state and federal grants each year for critical needs like workforce development, loan programs for businesses, and the Medicaid Waiver program that gives the elderly to obtain medical care and other services to support them staying in their homes as long as possible before entering a nursing home.
Tommy Goodwin, SDPDD executive director, says it helps that Hooker worked in the private sector before he came to the county.
“So, Will knows how to walk on both sides of the street,” says Goodwin. “Bolivar County is fortunate to have Will there. He believes in what he does and he puts his heart and soul in it just like he does here at South Delta. He knows how to get along. He isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes, and isn’t afraid to ask questions.”
Even at the best of times, some people might argue that the private sector has better pay and fewer controversies than public offices. But Hooker said Bolivar is his home and he is committed to making sure it continues to prosper and be a great place to live and to raise a family.
“It takes leaders in the community if you want your community to thrive,” he says. “You can’t just stand on the side lines. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and get involved. What can I do to make things better? It takes people who love the community who are part of the community to make sure we are moving in the right direction. Bolivar County has done a lot for me and I think we have a great county. I want to make sure we leave it even better for the next generation.”
With holding two full-time jobs at once, right now there isn’t a lot of time for recreation. But, his weekends are dedicated to family time, and he also enjoys travel. He and his wife are getting ready to be empty nesters as their youngest son just graduated from Cleveland Central High School.