COLUMBIA — Sonja Boone walks into the Public Administrator offices at the Boone County Courthouse at 6:30 a.m. She turns on the computers and prints off checks for the department’s clients — currently over 430 people — to pay their bills and distribute personal spending allowances.
Then she sits down behind an L-shaped wooden desk and begins filling out paperwork until 8 a.m. That's when the phones start to ring. Until she leaves at 4 p.m., Boone talks to attorneys, hospital staff, community agencies and housing managers about her clients.
As the chief deputy public administrator, Boone helps wards of the court who are unable to manage their finances, health care and other life decisions. The majority have a mental illness, but others are minors without guardians.
The Public Administrator's office also oversees estates when there is no will, no apparent heir or if family members are unable to agree who should be the primary person to handle the estate.
Boone, 57, says her 27 years of hands-on experience in the office makes her the perfect person for the elected public administrator position, vacated by Cathy Richards, who is running for state representative in the 46th District.
Boone is running as a Democrat against Chimene Schwach with no Republican opponents, so the winner of the primary will fill the office.
"As long as I've been in this office, I have actually done every aspect of the public administrator job," Boone said.
Boone said she has seen the office grow from one employee — herself as administrative assistant — to now more than four employees, and she said she has trained them all — even some of the five public administrators she has worked for.
"Sonja explained to me everything the office did and how it operated," said Connie Hendren, the public administrator from 1993 to 2008. "She knows everything."
During her first week, Hendren said Boone told her one of the wards had not picked up the allowance for groceries.
"Sonja already knew the history of this client, and she said that's a really bad sign," Hendren said. "She told me that usually that means that this client wasn't doing well or not taking their medication. Something had gone wrong. And with Sonja’s assistance, I hospitalized my first client."
Hendren also talked about how Boone knows which housing facility is the best for a particular ward.
"Knowing the clients is so beneficial," Hendren said.
Deputy public administrator Nancy Bohannon said she's worked with Boone for seven years and called her the "go-to person" when she's stuck on a problem.
"It's amazing that she will remember things that happened to a ward 10 years ago — even wards not on her caseload," Bohannon said.
Being compassionate and nurturing are two important characteristics of a public administrator, Boone said.
"It's always been my thing to help someone," she said. "The clients have to be able to build a relationship with you and know you are there to take care of them, regardless of whatever happened in the past. We're going to be the constant in their life."
When she works with wards who challenge her decisions, Boone tells them she's not there to tell them what to do. She helps them make decisions in their best interest.
Boone recalled a ward about her mother's age who wouldn't listen to advice about her medication, her illness or her symptoms.
To help the ward understand Boone was on her side, she explained her role this way: "I'm here to support you. I'm here to help you get back to the point where you can continue to live your life as you should."
Boone also is the guardian for two of her grandchildren — Alise, 9, and Cameron, 14. Her older daughter was unable to properly care for them because of mental health issues, she said.
Alise has a learning disability and Cameron has ADHD, so Boone said she is an advocate for them with Columbia Public Schools, making sure the receive additional assistance in testing, reading and math.
Boone has two other grown children. Her son lives in Washington state and has two sons. Her other daughter, who had a stroke when she was 12, lives in Independence, Missouri.
Boone grew up in Fayette as the fourth of eight children. She graduated from Fayette High School and took classes at University of Central Missouri and Columbia College.
She worked for one year at a bank in Kansas City, then nearly nine years at Boone County National Bank, now Central Bank of Boone County. She first worked as a teller, then was promoted to the trust department.
Boone credits her family as the reason she’s in public service. Over the years, her mother was a nurse, taught at day care center and worked at Central Missouri Community Action Center in Columbia. One of Boone's sisters and several nieces work as social workers.
She has another sister who is an assistant principal at a school in Savannah, Georgia. A third sister works with individuals who have mental disabilities to help them find and keep jobs.
"I have to give credit to our mother for the type of individuals that we are because I know that's where it comes from," Boone said.
If Boone is elected, she said she would make changes to the Public Administrator's office, such as setting up debit cards for wards to better track how they spend their money.
"We have wards that have a long history of substance abuse and alcohol abuse," Boone said. "The debit cards would make sure they're not using those funds for that purpose so that they don't relapse."
Boone also acknowledged that the office is stretched to its limit with over 430 clients and just one public administrator and three deputy public administrators to take care of them.
Over the long term, she said she would like to add an employee and expand the office space. To do this, she said, she’ll need a better relationship with the county commissioners.
"My 27 years in that office has always been hands-on," Boone said. "I've learned from the five public administrators, the social workers, the community support agencies and the psychiatric hospitals that I work with."
"I love what I do. Each ward is different, and I do the same thing for my wards as I do for my family. My job never stops."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.