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.