Concierge to Beverly, Massachusetts
By Nicole Cisneros McKeen
Georgia Bills ’74 had no intention of being in politics. She majored in music education at IC and was a music teacher. But a letter from the U.S. Army Reserve Office and an ill-timed resignation gave Bills the opportunity to serve as acting state representative while Jerry Parisella, the elected state representative, was deployed to Iraq for 11 months. Parisella left the United States with the 804th Medical Brigade Unit National Guard just three weeks after he was elected, in December 2010. And the longtime legislative aide that was supposed to maintain constituent services while Parisella was deployed had resigned just as the representative was about to leave for the Middle East.
Parisella was counting on the aide to run his office, to act as his ears in legislative matters, to be his stand-in as the state-elected problem-solver for his Beverly, Massachusetts, constituents while he was at war. Parisella scrambled to find a replacement he could at least meet before he boarded the plane for Iraq, and he needed someone who knew the ropes and was comfortable speaking to groups of people. A few avid fans of Bills let him know they thought she was the perfect choice to slide into the legislative aide vacancy.
After all, Bills had volunteered for Parisella’s campaign. She had also successfully managed her husband’s campaign for city council—and he was now serving his third elected term. She also served for many years as an administrator in a local independent school. It was as if Bills’s grand entrance into the Massachusetts State House had been ripped from a Lifetime movie script. The 36-year veteran music teacher says it was a domino effect of incredible circumstances that allows her business card to now read “Georgia Bills, Aide for State Representative Jerry Parisella.”
Bills started with a one-week marathon training session, where she mind-melded with the outgoing legislative aide and absorbed the wisdom drawn from seven years of Massachusetts statehouse bureaucracy. And then seven days later, with a promise from the outgoing aide that she could call any time, Bills was in office. But perhaps more incredible than becoming a de facto state representative faster than most people read a book is that Bills was good—she was really good. She used her innate savvy to navigate her own uncharted way as a state representative.
“I had brought students to this building many, many times to perform,” Bills says of the statehouse. “I always thought it was a very interesting place. But this—this is where the big decisions get made! I mean, it might take seven, eight, nine years of hard work, but important decisions are made.”
To recollect her 15 months of legislative life so far, Bills settles at an old, round veneer-topped table in the balcony area of the Massachusetts State Library.
“People know that their voices are going to be heard through their state representative. I take this very seriously. Every [group of] 40,000 people has a state rep assigned to their chunk of the state. There’s no written description for this job, so it’s yours to decide how you’re going to do it. I think of myself as the concierge to Beverly.”
Taking care of the Beverly constituents entails answering questions about unemployment benefits, social security troubles, entrance to state colleges, Department of Transportation issues, and even trying to sort out whether a constituent’s concern is municipal, state, or federal. Some problems are whacky, like the time Bills worked to get a dead squirrel removed from a Beverly Housing Authority resident’s home.
Within the first few weeks on the job, Bills says she met with most of the agency directors in Beverly. As she says, “It’s all about relationships.” It was because of Bills’s relationship with the director of the Beverly Housing Authority that she was able to facilitate a faster fix to the resident’s home.
Read more about IC alumni who work behind the scenes in the world of politics at these links:
Les Bernal ’91 is executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling.
Tammy Mayberry ’97 is a a lobbyist for the City of Chicago in Washington, D.C.
Dan Lamb ’86 has served as a top adviser to U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey since 1997.
Rob Bluey ’01 is the director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation
John Balduzzi ’01 is the president of The Balduzzi Group, a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Rob Flaherty ’13 served as campaign communications director for Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick.
Sam Adams ’11 interned in Senator Olympia Snowe's office.