Chrysanthemum Grigg, a tax information technician, helps Laurie Fujiyama of Honolulu at the Princess Ruth Keelikolani Building in Downtown. Her supervisor, Annette Yamanuha, says Grigg simply "has a way with people."

May I help you?

Chrysanthemum Grigg helps taxpayers
navigate the intricacies of the state
tax bureaucracy

Chrysanthemum "Chrys" Grigg treats taxpayers the way she would like to be treated: calmly and with respect. And apparently many of those taxpayers have noticed. Russell Pang, chief of media relations for the governor's office, wrote that, "Of all the people in her office (the Taxpayer Services Branch), Ms. Grigg has received the highest number of compliments from the public for her professionalism, enthusiasm and friendliness." Grigg appreciates the accolades, but is quick to credit her colleagues as well.

Who: Chrysanthemum Grigg

Title: Tax information technician, state Department of Taxation

Job: Helps state taxpayers with questions or problems they might be having with their filings or other tax matters.

Before joining the Tax Department, Grigg had jobs with the Outdoor Circle, Marriott Hotels and Martin & MacArthur. She also worked for 12 years as a firefighter and paramedic in California, where she lived for 30 years with her now ex-husband, with whom she also had a flooring and insulation business. Upon her return in 1995, she attended Kapiolani and Honolulu community colleges and was certified as an administrative assistant by the state Employment Training Center. Grigg, 55, has five daughters and seven grandchildren. She lives with her fiance, Gary Piper, and her Maltese dog, Cole, in Downtown Honolulu, about a 15-minute walk from work.

Question: When I was living in Florida for a few years, many years ago, they had some supervisors in the state tax department there with last names like Swindle and Lawless.

Answer: Oh my. That's like that law firm Dewey Cheatem & Howe.

Q: Yeah, like that. (Laughter) Do any of your supervisors have last names like that?

A: No, no, no. We have really fantastic supervisors here.

Q: I'm sure you do. But what kinds of names do they actually have?

A: Well, there's John Pacheco, Juanita Jacobs, Amy Bautista and Alan Rego. Juanita Jacobs is my immediate supervisor.

Everyone here at the tax office is so fantastic. We all work as a team, and everyone is more than willing to help each other. It's just like a family, and I really like that about it. Also, our branch chief, Annette Yamanuha, she's just fantastic. She's always going to bat for us.

Q: How long have you been working in the Tax Department?

A: I've been here since September 2003. I came in as an emergency temp, then got hired on Nov. 22, 2004.

Q: When did you get into your position now?

A: That was November. When we started downstairs here, after we went through class, then we were put into our positions. Our teacher, John Pacheco, kind of knew what our strengths were. That's why I went to the counter -- I really like working with people.

Q: How many people do you work with?

A: There's 25 people in our section (the Taxpayer Services Branch). We handle customer service.

Q: What's your typical day like? Like what time do you start?

A: Basically we start at 7:45. We leave at 4:30. Right now I'm on correspondence, which means answering the mail that people write in with tax questions. Otherwise we're helping with the telephones or at the counter helping customers at the counter. So there's a variety of things that we do here.

Q: Is there a time of the year that is busier than usual?

A: Well, actually, it would be about this time of year, up until the end of April (the deadline for filing state income taxes is April 20), but since last year, before Christmas, I believe, we've just been swamped.

Q: Why?

A: I don't know why. I think part of is that we changed our system.

Q: What system, your computers?

A: Yes, it was an upgrade. It's great. You just look into one screen and basically all the information you need is there.

Chrysanthemum Grigg shared a laugh at her desk with her colleagues from the Taxpayer Services Branch in the Princess Ruth Keelikolani Building in Downtown Honolulu. From left were Glory Lamug, Juanita Jacob, Amy Bautista, Rose Salvacion, Alan Rego, Agnes Saranillio and Valerie Silva-Newcomb.

Q: What's the most typical complaint that people have when they come down to the tax office?

A: Oh, gosh. There's a multitude. I don't really want to call it a complaint, when they have a bit of a problem. It can be about the general excise, or withholding, or their own individual account. It just varies.

Q: What's your strategy when dealing with a taxpayer who is upset about something?

A: My strategy usually is, if they're very upset, and if they're yelling at me, I just think it's misguided anger, so normally you let a person get that out, then you just talk to them in a civil manner to help them out.

Basically my philosophy is to treat a customer the way I want to be treated, and that basically is how I handle the situation.

Q: Do you remember the worst incident you've ever had in working with a frustrated taxpayer?

A: Yes, I do. There's quite a few, but a taxpayer came in and she couldn't understand why she wasn't given any notice about EFT (electronic funds transfer) filing for her withholding, because after a certain amount, if your gross is over $100,000 a year, we follow the federal guidelines.

So she was very upset. She was pounding the counter and screaming and yelling. When people do that, I just let them go because I see it as misguided anger. Eventually she calmed down and I explained it to her. She still wasn't a very happy camper, but at least she understood.

Q: What was the problem specifically?

A: Because she didn't file the EFT filing, she was penalized. But we took care of that. We went ahead and waived that.

Q: That was nice. You have some discretion?

A: The thing is, she wasn't aware she had to (file by EFT). We also looked at her history, so there are some instances, depending on the circumstances, where we'll go ahead and waive it. We're human beings.

Q: What's your favorite part of the job?

A: Just working with the customers. Solving their problems.

Q: How did you get the name Chrysanthemum?

A: My grandfather named me that because I'm half Chinese, and he was old tradition. So I was born in the month of November, and November is the month of chrysanthemums. He believed in symbolism. He came from the old country, China. Funny thing is, he was a fireman.

Q: Here in Hawaii?

A: Yeah. The fire station here on Beretania? That's where he was.

Q: You're half Chinese. What's the rest of you?

A: The rest is Hawaiian poi dog -- Hawaiian Portuguese, Spanish, Russian.

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