The state Board of Cosmetology recently hired a new executive director who is working to clear up a backlog of licensing problems.

Technology workers have also finished the agency’s conversion to a new computer system to handle licensing applications for people who earn a living helping others look good.

The Board of Cosmetology regulates salons and the people who work there – cosmetologists, whose jobs include cutting and doing chemical processes to hair; manicurists, who do nails; estheticians, who do facials and other skin care; and wigologists, who, as the name suggests, specialize in wig care. The agency also regulates people who teach those skills and schools that provide the courses.

Several legislators say they have been inundated with complaints about slow licensing and horrid customer service from the Board of Cosmetology under two previous executive directors.

“We’ve had problems with them the past several years,” said Republican Sen. Dean Kirby of Pearl, who has oversight of the agency as chairman of the Public Health Committee.

Beauty industry professionals have complained that their applications for new licenses, license renewals or license transfers from other states into Mississippi have sunken into a bureaucratic morass at the Board of Cosmetology.

Lawmakers say many of their constituents’ calls and emails have been ignored by the agency – and calls from even some top lawmakers who are in charge of the state budget were not returned under previous directors.

Republican Sen. Michael Watson of Pascagoula said that starting early this year, he received several complaints from people who were unable to get their licenses, despite passing exams and submitting the proper paperwork. Watson said his calls were often not returned before the most recent director left in May.

“I’m nobody special,” Watson said. “But, when I’m trying to help a Mississippian, I expect you to respond because that’s your job.”

Sharon Clark became the new executive director July 10 after a nearly 30-year career working in finance, marketing and licensing in the private sector and for other state government agencies. She told The Associated Press that with the new computer system now running at the Board of Cosmetology, she and others on staff are steadily working to clear a long list of license applications that have been in limbo.

Some cosmetologists have been working under temporary licenses while the problems are being resolved. Clark said her goal is for the agency to clear the licensing backlog by mid-August.

“We want things to stay on a positive note,” Clark said. “Whatever has happened in the past – I can’t change that.”

One Mississippian affected by the red tape is 20-year-old Anna Claire Yount of Pascagoula, who completed coursework in May 2016 to become an esthetician. She said she passed her state exams in September and was initially told to expect her license from the Board of Cosmetology in six to eight weeks. That time passed with no sign of her license.

Unable to work in her field, Yount earned money by babysitting. She said the man who was then the Board of Cosmetology’s executive director returned one of her calls and told her that he “would not accept responsibility for all of the craziness” in the licensing delays.

Yount said after several months, she received a temporary license that enabled her to find a salon job. When Clark became the new board director, Yount contacted her for help.

“She emailed me on the 13th with my license,” Yount said. “She’s been extremely helpful.”