For Dan Ray, public service as Rockdale County’s Tax Commissioner for the last 20 years has not been just a job but a higher calling.
“When the calling to be a Tax Commissioner came along, it was amazing that once I got here, it was a perfect fit for me,” he said. For the first part of his career, Ray had worked his way up the ladder at a wire and fiber plant, preparing to eventually become plant manager.
But, as Ray put it, “the Good Lord closed that door and opened up another one.”
Ray had already cut his teeth in public service by serving on the Variance Board and then six years on the Planning Commission. At the urging of community leaders and legislators, he ran against incumbent Ray Singleton in 1992 and won.
Ray’s background at the wire plant, a high volume, low margin operation, served him well. “It requires a good quality product and good customer service. Those are the skills you have to have being here in this office.”
He carried that focus on customer service and efficiency directly into the Tax Commissioner’s office.
“I remember the first day on the job and the first meeting I had that morning and I told them 'You know, from now on out, everybody that walks in that door is our customer, and they need to be thought of that way… I don't care if they are black, white, rich or poor, they all have to be treated that way, they're the customer. The second thing is that we have to do everything by the book. We will help everybody as much as we can within the parameters of the law. The third thing is to keep my butt out of trouble. You do have permission if I start running my mouth, and saying things that are not correct, to correct me so that I’m not telling somebody the wrong thing, and I expect you to do that.”
“I viewed myself as an enabler to make sure the front line people had all the resources and all the training they needed to get the job done.”
Ray also oversaw the transition from a paper-based office to a computer based office and helped lead the advent of using computerized records.
“When I came into office that first week, stacked on every counter all the way around the office were county copies from the tax bills… I said what do you do with all this paperwork? ‘Well in the summertime we sit and file it away.’” He learned all the same information was in computer files and could be printed if needed.
“Our property tax people went through paper withdrawal because I went and got 55 county tracts and just threw all that stuff away. I said I bet you money I can find it faster in the computer than you can find it in the files.”
The focus on increasing efficiency allowed Ray’s office to handle ever increasing volumes as Rockdale’s population boomed and the additional responsibilities assigned from the legislature without having to hire more people.
“I wanted to make my people more efficient and more effective,” he said. “For us to work smarter and not harder.”
Ray gets up every morning looking forward to coming to work. He said he enjoys helping people and catching crooks who try to pass a counterfeit title or license through.
One of the most notable cases he recalled was of singing twin brothers who were contestants on American Idol and who were also working at a Mercedes dealership and had stolen the identity of one of their customers and used it to buy another car.
“The next thing you know I'm watching American Idol, and one (brother) had been cut, but the brother came on and was like so-and-so and so-and-so has been dismissed from the show. They didn't say why, but I’m here knowing they'd been extradited and been arrested and they were in Rockdale jail waiting on charges of theft by conversion and fraud.”
He also enjoys the job despite the complaints and bellyaching he might hear. One of the first complaints he heard as Tax Commissioner was from a woman wanting to know why she had to pay so much tax on her RV. And one of the last complaints he handled 20 years later was of a woman wanting to know why she had to pay so much property tax on her RV.
Ray collected a host of accolades during his years as Tax Commissioner, including Georgia Tax Commissioner of the Year and the Jaycees Outstanding Public Servant of the Year.
Ray, a 1973 alum of Rockdale County High School, father of two and now a grandfather of two, said he would take some time to assess his options after losing his bid for re-election to Democratic challenger RJ Hadley.
He said he hoped he would be remembered as a “positive reflection on Rockdale County. So they could say we’ve got one of the best tax commissioners in the state of Georgia and we’re proud of what he does.”