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Keeping Missourians informed on governor's work

Keeping Missourians informed on governor's work

Kelli Jones embraces fast pace of governor's office

January 14th, 2019 by Bob Watson in Local News

Kelli Jones, press secretary for the governor's office, works in the Missouri State Capitol.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

Kelli Jones' taught college-level English and communications for almost two decades total, and her own education included a bachelor's degree in communications and marketing, as well as a master's degree in communications management.

So, being the governor's spokeswoman really "is what I set out to do," she said. "Not necessarily to teach, honestly, but to use all those skills that I felt like I was pretty strong in and had been educated in.

"This kind of stuff is, kind of, my wheelhouse. I love the pace. I love the action."

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This week, she'll be helping with Gov. Mike Parson's first State of the State address.

"We've got the address just about where we want it," she told the News Tribune Friday — without offering any specifics of what Parson will say. "It's been vetted by the chief of staff and the director of communications and, obviously, the governor. I taught public speaking for years, (so) I've tried to utilize that skill to help the governor prepare for the State of the State."

The planning has included moving the speech to 3 p.m. from the time in the evening when it's been held since Matt Blunt was governor more than a decade ago.

And, Jones noted, of course there's speech-related work to be done both immediately after the speech as well as the days afterward.

When she left her teaching post at Linn-based State Technical College of Missouri, where she also served as chair of the Communication and Social Service Department for seven years, just over a year ago, Jones was hired to work for then-Lt. Gov. Mike Parson and didn't know she was applying to work in the governor's office.

"I really was not, full-blown looking to make a move," she said. "I just happened to notice this opening, applied — and they had been looking for quite some time. It took a lot of soul-searching, because it was going to be a little bit different change-of-lifestyle."

But she took the job.

Five months later, the lieutenant governor's office faced a major — and immediate — change when then-Gov. Eric Greitens announced on May 29 he was resigning his office on June 1, just three days later.

"It has been an interesting ride," Jones said of the last seven-plus months, noting that, in many ways, her job with the lieutenant governor's office is worlds apart from her current job — even though they look to be the same.

"It's the same skill-set," she told the News Tribune. "It's the same type of work.

"It is just a much more massive amount of work."

And the pace is more urgent.

"You're really never closed — number one, when you're the governor of the state," she explained. "And when you work for him, you're really never closed (either).

"And I'm OK with that — and I enjoy it."

Since Parson became governor, Jones said, "We've had the drought, which was a major thing we had to tackle.

"We had the Branson Duck-boat incident," where 17 people drowned when an amphibious boat capsized during a thunderstorm on Table Rock Lake.

And, she added, "Just the transition, itself."

When a new governor is elected, state law creates a transition process where the incoming governor is given time to assemble a new administration and, sometimes, get advice from the outgoing one.

Parson had three days.

"We didn't get any assistance" from the Greitens team, Jones recalled. "As I look back, it was a whirlwind.

"We were working from 6 a.m. until 11 or 12 o'clock at night, just trying to get the team ready and make the move."

Parson became governor at 5 p.m. on a Friday, giving the Office of Administration and others a weekend to finish changing email addresses and getting computers reconnected.

"They were wonderful in helping with the transition," Jones said. "Gov. Parson works very well with people.

"And he's not afraid to seek advice, if he needs it."

Jones said she looks forward to going to work each day and "couldn't ask for a better person to work for" than Parson.

"I honestly cannot tell you of a day when I didn't want to get up and go to work," she said. "You spend a lot of time in your life working. And if you can go to work and enjoy what you do, then you're ahead of the game."

Jones' work isn't the only busy place in her life.

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Raised in Marceline in North-Central Missouri, she was a cross country and track (indoor and outdoor) athlete for Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State), Springfield.

After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in six years, she spent part of the summer of 1993 back home in Marceline before taking a school yearbook sales job in Chicago — and she met Jim Jones, Marceline High School's math teacher and football coach.

They were married two years later, and less than 1 years after that, they were the parents of twin daughters (now 23 and about to graduate from MSU with master's degrees).

Two other girls joined the family in the next couple of years, and, in 1999, they moved to Mid-Missouri when Jim Jones become Blair Oaks High School's principal.

Three years later, he became the district's superintendent.

Just months into her new, governor's office job, Kelli Jones found herself running from the Capitol to a state championship game in Columbia — then back to Jefferson City for an evening event at the Governor's Mansion.

"It's the last semester for our children at (Blair Oaks) High School," she noted. "So far, I have not missed a softball game — and they went to the Final Four.

"And I think I've only missed one basketball game (so far). But it is manageable."

Official travel also has been a part of the job.

"I've lived in Missouri my entire life, (and) I have learned so much about our state" since she's been traveling around the state with Parson, Jones said. "I've always known it's a beautiful state.

"(But) I have learned a ton of just how the state works."