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Circuit court clerk candidates convey qualifications, considerations

April 22nd, 2014 10:46 pm by Becky Campbell

Circuit court clerk candidates convey qualifications, considerations

Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn, left, will face challenger Suzan Mitchell to retain her position in this year's election.

Operating the Washington County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office carries a lot of responsibility and the weight of that falls on one person — the elected court clerk.

It’s a position held currently, and for the last 12 years, by Karen Guinn. She has a challenger this time around, with Suzan Sell Mitchell also seeking the position from voters.

Guinn began her work in the clerk’s office in 1974 and was the chief deputy clerk for 20 years before her boss retired. She first ran for office in 2002 and won the position.

She’s been re-elected twice and if she wins the Republican primary May 6, she’ll serve her fourth term.

Guinn said her 12 years in office have been highlighted by “upgrading services, systems and conservative fiscal management.”

During Guinn’s service, court records have moved into the electronic world as technology advancements have provided court system software. All court minutes are scanned into an electronic system, which she said saves her clerk’s time and the public’s money.

Last year the Clerk’s Office handled more than $9 million, which was distributed to the county, state, city, as paid restitution, judgements and trust money.

“I am grateful for the vote of confidence (voters) have shown me and sincerely appreciate the voters for giving me the opportunity to be your Circuit Court Clerk,” she said.

Sell is no stranger to service the court system. She worked 17 years as the juvenile court services director for Washington County. She also has experience as a juvenile probation officer.

Mitchell said she has a “new vision” for the clerk’s office to “provide cost effective advanced online technology to better meet the needs of Washington County; communicate and collaborate with judicial, law enforcement, legal community and agencies providing services to the court; and provide professional, efficient and courtesy service to the citizens of Washington County.”

Early voting began April 16 and continues until May 1. The primary is May 6.

Below are four questions the Press asked the two candidates for Circuit Court Clerk:

What are some of the challenges facing the Circuit Court Clerk’s office with technology advances today?

GUINN:

Having the money to be able to keep up, to be able to be cost effective with taxpayers money, making sure security is the best it can be, getting a company that has all our needs for our civil, criminal and juvenile software as well as a good bookkeeping program. The office handled almost $10 million last year, so it is very important that we have the best bookkeeping software we can get. Also, making sure it has all the reports and requirements we need to comply with the Administrative Office of the Courts, Department of Safety, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the State Revenue Department.

MITCHELL:

Technological advances in today’s world are both a challenge and a necessity. As your new Circuit Court Clerk I will be researching new technology that will increase efficiency and decrease operational costs for Washington County. My goal is to make certain court documents are available online so they are conveniently accessible to law enforcement, attorneys and the public.

What is your position on Internet-accessible public records?

GUINN:

I am not opposed to having Internet accessibility with the right company and the right security. I have people’s private information that I must keep secure. The Circuit Court Clerk’s office, Clerk & Master, Trustee and the County Mayor’s office have been looking for the right computer vendor since last fall. The company must meet all our needs and be progressive so we can continue to keep going forward.

I am not afraid of change. I have been here many years and have seen many changes. I, myself, have made many changes since I became the clerk — scanning (documents) to save money and storage, credit and debit card payments at the window and online, new computers and printers and an in-house collection department that has brought in over $2 million in outstanding fines and costs. Officers and many other agencies already have the ability to look up cases from their offices, saving time and trips to the Clerk’s office.

MITCHELL:

The Circuit Court Clerk’s office is governed by the Tennessee Code Annotated. Court dockets and dispositions should be available online to law enforcement, the legal community, private agencies serving the court and the public. However, there are some confidential records and personal information that, by law, would not be accessible online and this information will be password protected and remain highly secure.

This technology will not only help law enforcement and the legal community to access information at their convenience, it will also allow the deputy clerks to serve the Washington County residents in a more efficient and expeditious manner. “My New Vision” is to move Washington County forward. Currently, Washington County is lagging behind some of its neighboring counties in embracing the newest technology for the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.

What are your goals for the next four years if elected?

Guinn

To continue to keep improving the office through technology, to run a cost effective office, to make the office as accessible as possible, to continue attending seminars to keep up with all the laws, to continue to be a good steward of taxpayers money, and to never forget that I am a public servant.

Mitchell

My goals are to communicate and collaborate with the judicial, law-enforcement, legal communities and all agencies providing services to the court. I will be committed to ensuring every citizen of Washington County is provided with and satisfied with the professional and courteous service they deserve and should expect.

Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Guinn

Experience. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I served eight years as deputy clerk, 20 years as chief deputy and I am in my 12th year as the clerk. I am a proven leader, a working clerk, and I know how to manage 38 hardworking employees, a budget of more than $2 million, how to handle and process over 20,000 cases a year, work with seven judges, attorneys and many different agencies.

I love my job and I am a dedicated public servant. I am very grateful for the opportunity the voters have given me to be the Circuit Court Clerk.

Mitchell

I know I am the best candidate for the office of Circuit Court Clerk because I have “A New Vision” for Washington County. I have more than 22 years of experience with Juvenile Court and I thrive on serving the people of Washington County. I will be a hands on clerk. I am a strong advocate of teamwork and cross-training, and look forward to working with the highly knowledgeable staff currently employed by the clerk’s office. I know our team will provide compassionate and professional service making the Circuit Court Clerk’s office something the citizens and county will be proud of.

Follow Becky Campbell on Twitter @CampbellinCourt.

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