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.