Friday, October 16, 2015

About the Clerk's race

The Goochland Republican Committee and Tea Party—the two groups are very cross-pollinated—have joined forces with the anti-sheriff contingent to defeat the incumbent Clerk of Court because she is married to the sheriff. The "RepubliTeas" are quite willing to trade decades of experience, attention to detail, and spotless audits, for someone with no relevant work experience.

The incumbent Clerk, the Hon. Dale Agnew, who was sworn in as Clerk last December to complete the remainder of the term of the Hon Lee G. Turner, has served a 32 year apprenticeship, becoming familiar with each of the 800 sections of the Code of Virginia that govern the duties of the Clerk’s office.

She is being challenged by Keith Flannagan, a founder of the Goochland Tea Party who keeps bees, is a master gardener and naturalist, and has worked hard on various rural preservation groups.

The "RepubliTeas" are trying to capitalize on expected low voter turnout and “little town hate” to defeat a competent and experienced Clerk. In spite of their best efforts, they can find no evidence of error or complaint. Indeed, Dale Agnew is responsible for decades of clean audits of all financial duties of the Clerk’s office, so the RepubliTeas resort to vague allegations so ugly they are almost laughable.

Duties of the Clerk of Court require meticulous attention to detail to ensure accurate recordation of a wide range of public documents from deeds to marriage licenses.

Flannagan contends he has this skill. However, while touting service on the Goochland Electoral Board on his website, he referred to his predecessor as Herb “Griffin”. The surname of the gentleman in question, who Flannagan has known for years, is “Griffith”.

His campaign has ginned up numbers contending that Dale Agnew is mismanaging the clerk’s office by having too many employees, citing the same office in Powhatan as reference.

GOMM took a field trip south of the James and met with the Hon. Theresa Hash Dobbins, Powhatan’s incumbent Clerk. She graciously spared a few minutes to help set the record straight.

Her staff, said Dobbins, consists of five full time employees and one part time worker. She said that she needs two additional employees, which the Powhatan supervisors declined to fund.

Flannagan cites, as evidence of mismanagement, State Compensation Board staffing formulas, which are designed to reduce the amount of state money that flows to jurisdictions to fund Constitutional Offices, forcing localities to pick up the slack.

Dobbins pointed out that Comp Board starting salaries are roughly equivalent to that of fast food workers. To hire competent employees capable of providing adequate service to the citizens, local supplements are needed, she said.

A significant difference between the Goochland and Powhatan Clerk’s office that has an impact on staffing, is physical layout.

In Powhatan, the county records room, where vital documents including deeds, wills, and plats are kept, is accessed via a single hallway that passes in front of the service desk and can be monitored by staffers performing other tasks.

In Goochland, the Clerk’s Office is on two levels, with the records room on the ground floor near a parking lot. While it is monitored by cameras, a staffer must be in or near the record room during office hours to ensure that documents are not removed or damaged. Currently, staffers performing other duties on the lower level are available to assist those seeking access to the records room.

In Goochland, as in Powhatan, deputy clerks specialize in different areas, but the entire staff is cross trained, so everyone, including the Clerk, can pitch in to help people when thing get busy.

Dobbins explained that a knowledgeable and experienced Clerk is needed to ensure that the duties of the office, as decreed by the Code of Virginia, are properly carried out. She said that the Clerk cannot forward the agenda of any particular group.

Flannagan seems to believe that the Clerk’s function is to simply “manage” the staff as though it were a fast food franchise.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As Dobbins, the Powhatan Clerk, told GOMM, the Clerk is a working administrator who must be very familiar with each of her duties as specified by the Code of Virginia. She said that the Clerk is accountable for all errors committed by the staff.

The Clerk is the probate judge for the county; issues marriage licenses; certifies people to perform marriages; issues concealed carry permits; and records deeds, to enumerate a few of her responsibilities.

Circuit Court is not a party room. It is a serious place where serious business is conducted.

Flannagan said that if elected he “would make sure that everyone gets a fair shake in court,” which further illustrates his ignorance of the Clerk’s responsibilities.

The Circuit Court Judge, not the Clerk, rules the courtroom and has final say on everything, down to thermostat settings. The Clerk is responsible for administration of court records, preparation of orders on the instruction of the judge, and swearing in jurors.

Digitization of Goochland’s records is an ongoing process, funded by grant money. It is expensive, cumbersome, and time consuming. One does not wave a magic wand at the records room and chant “digitize thyself” to get the job done, as Flannagan seems to believe.

Flannagan compares his inexperience to that of the supervisors who took office four years ago.

That’s comparing apples to antelopes. The supervisors operate as a board of directors that sets policy for the county. They had, in place, a competent chief executive officer-the county administrator—to tend to the nuts and bolts of county operations. The supervisors are also advised on what they can and cannot do by the county attorney, whose salary combined with that of the county administrator, probably equals or exceeds the entire Clerk’s office budget.

Flannagan, who seems to be unemployed, said he wanted to “help out the county” by running for Clerk. Seems like he’d be helping out himself collecting a handsome salary--$106,000 plus benefits -- while trying to figure out how to be clerk.

When people deal with the Clerk of the Court, they want courteous, competent service. They do not care who the Clerk’s spouse is. Please take the time to vote for Dale Agnew’s legitimate competence and relevant experience. Don’t be taken in by the hysterics of the haters.

This is the entrance to the Powhatan Clerk's Office

The Powhatan Records Room access can be monitored from the service counter in the Clerk's Office.

This is one of two exits from the Goochland records room.

The Goochland Court of Clerk is located on two different floors.


Goochpooch729 said...

Why is it when a conservative person or group of citizens object to the status quo and/or establishment candidate, we are tagged hysterical haters? I also personally take offense to be being lumped into a group labeled "anti-sheriff!" However, in doing so, you have validated and confirmed a major concern shared by many "hysterical RepubliTeas.” A vote for Keith Flannagan does not mean that we do not support Jim Agnew. But your “Anti-sheriff” comment demonstrates that Dale & Jim Agnew are two sides of the same coin. I have a world of respect for both of them, but I firmly believe it is valid to question such a large concentration of power in this county shared with one husband and wife who work so closely together. It is also preposterous to state that I or any other Flannagan supporter count on "little town hate" to sway the election in his favor. I think you should also check out your facts about Keith Flannagan’s experience. You characterize him as an unemployed naturalist and gardener, leading any reasonable reader to ask how could he possibly be qualified? Very effective and very misleading. Mr Flannagan is a very intelligent, creative man who has an extensive and successful history in business and management. He did not enter this race lightly and does not consider the Circuit Court "a party room." Ridiculous statements like that are not productive or necessary and display a nastiness dangerously close to "hate."

Anonymous said...

Do not diminish the deserved concern when governmental power is concentrated in one family with a largely inter-married staff body.

Mr. Flannagan's relevant work experience is conveniently ignored and misrepresented.
Running a long term private business that employees a dozen or more people and deals with different sets of thousands of codes as Keith has done is not mere beekeeping and gardening.
Keith's success allows him to live comfortably semi-retired. Is it really accurate to say someone who has worked successfully and retires is now "unemployed"? of course not. If you had done more research on Keith as you did with the Powhatan CoC your article might have been more accurate, instead of being laced with vindictive "hateful" comments instead of facts.

Inaccurate and demeaning to connect engaged conservative minded citizens with "little town hate" and to invent a intentionally derogatory term of "RepubliTeas"
A election challenge is legitimate albeit inconvenient to what is effectively an incumbent.
We will not engage in name calling and personal disparagement's. We are serious with a simple agenda of service. We clearly see by the article who the real "haters" are.

We appreciate the someone finally having an attempt at an answer for the nontypical staff size in the clerks office. The current clerk herself has offered no explanation.
Physical layout is an interesting notion, but we don't buy it.
The Powhatan CoC may wish to have extra staff, most places do that are busy, but a financial base must be established.
Public servants must focus on keeping costs down and cost effectiveness instead of convenience.
Even with the alleged cost constraint in Powhatan, they do the entire job fully and efficiently.

Unlike Powhatan, It is important to add that cross training is effectively absent in Goochland CoC office, perhaps that would help explain the reason for extra staff and the costs associated with it.
Keith intends to implement long overdue cross training unlike the current and previous Goochland CoC.

Getting a "fair shake in court" is tightly connected to how the clerk handles the court records and proceeding. To say its not a concern and is irrelevant to the Clerks job indicates the exact thing Keith is accused of, is instead a problem with the writer of the article in "Goochland on my mind". What's really on their mind? The "hate" they accuse other of.

Document digitization can be expensive, but if its covered by grants and initiatives by the library of Virginia, which it is, then the costs are covered without burden to the County.

Goochland has fortunately changed since 2011. More is needed. Keith is the answer for the change needed in the CoC office in 2015. Goochland On My Mind appears to be very biased . Everyone is entitled to an opinion but newsworthy reporting should fair and balanced.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Goochland all my life and I voted for Jim Agnew every time and I intend to vote for him again. I will not vote for his wife, I don't care what her credentials are. Clerk and Sheriff in the same bed is plain bad business!

swsackett said...

What a shame that those writing a serious note regarding "anything" is uncomfortable signing their statement....
The issue at hand is one of experience versus another wishing to get his feet wet. And that is perfectly fine except that I do not wish, as a tax payer in Goochland, to have someone with training wheels on taking care of my important records.

Sherwood (Sherry) Sackett

Ben Slone said...


The Goochland County Republican Committee (GCRC) welcomes all legal and qualified voters of Goochland County under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, regardless of race, religion, national origin or sex, who are in accord with the principles of the Republican Party. It has not been nor is it a Party of hysteric haters. I’ll suggest that the GCRC has had a pronounced positive effect on the history of our great County.

The GCRC is comprised of Citizens from all walks of life, economic levels, races, and a wide range of beliefs and is held up as a model across the Commonwealth. It includes traditional moderate Republicans across the spectrum to conservatives and libertarians of all backgrounds. Just because you don’t like the GCRC’s nominees for office there is no need for inappropriate, unjustified, and slanderous judgment. Please report the facts of the race and not the hyperbole.

I’m truly disappointed. The only hysteria and hate I see is what you express in your posting.

Ben Slone
Goochland County Republican Committee Chairman

Carol Salmon said...

Thank you Sandie for saying what needed to be said. All the Anonymous comments seem to imply Dale Agnew is either doing something improper or is about to do something improper. The vague insinuation of impropriety doesn’t wash with me especially if you do not have the courage to sign your name. To vote out an EXPERIENCED, CONSCIENTIOUS & KNOWLEDGEABLE Clerk just to replace with someone that has no experience is just plain wrong. A lot of us have run Companies but that doesn’t mean we can step in and run the Clerk’s Office. Come on folks! Please don’t be swayed by this ANTI-AGNEW nonsense and vote for experience in Dale Agnew for Clerk. Carol Salmon Coe

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! It is so refreshing to hear real facts by someone who had the courage to interview the office instead of the inaccurate allegations the Republi-tea's try to make! For them to comment on how the office is ran when they genuinely have no idea just further reminds everyone why the tea party is so widely laughed at. I will vote for experience, honesty and knowledge every time before I vote for someone unemployed who keeps bees, thinking they're competent of such a high position in the Court system. Goochland County is lucky to have such experience managing the citizens crucial, high importance documents. Not to mention, should you happen to break the law or need something that has to go through a Circuit Court you are at the mercy of the JUDGE, not the Sheriff or Clerk. The Tea Party is doing an excellent job of making a mockery of their committee on their own. Let someone be responsible for managing my deed to my house or my will that has no idea what he's doing? Yeah right!

Goochland Citizen said...

Thank you for writing this article and stating the truth. Dale has worked in the Clerk's office for over 33 years and is highly qualified for the job. Her experience is critical for the office. Mr. Flannagan may be a nice man, however being a business man will not help run a government office.

Goochland Citizens you need to ask yourself the following questions before you vote for someone who does not know anything about what a Clerk does...Does he know anything about the laws of Virginia? Does he know how to probate a will? Does he know how to record deeds? Does he know how to work up orders that are presented from the Judge? Does he know all of the 800 responsibilities of the Clerk?

My guess would be that he does not know the answer to any of these questions. I am sure Dale with her 33 years of experience, knows all of the answers though.

Furthermore, There is not a "Clerk's School" that a "manager" can attend to learn how to do the job. The Clerk position is more than a manager job. Experience is a key element to preform this job. Dale clearly has the experience and has already done an amazing job since January when she was appointed by the Judge.

Also, there aren't any laws that state the Clerk and the Sheriff cannot be married. If you have ever worked with either you will agree that Dale and Jim are both honest and reliable and Goochland should be proud to have them serve this community. Both have always put their job before anything else and go above and beyond the call of duty.

I hope everyone reads the truth that Sandie has written and realize the choice is crystal clear, Dale Agnew for Clerk! Experience does matter!