Clerk of Courts candidates Ruth Wilson and Holly Bowie squared off for the first time Saturday for the Candidate Forum sponsored by the Rockdale NAACP, Progressive Club, and New Rock Legal Society.
Challenger Republican Holly Bowie and incumbent Democratic candidate Ruth Wilson shared a handshake as supporters and candidates for other elected offices packed the Bald Rock Baptist pews for the forum, which also featured candidates for Board of Education, Superior Court judge, Magistrate judge, and Probate judge.
The forum featured a mix of questions from the audience and from the sponsoring organizations.
In response to a question about the main issues the clerk deals with daily, Bowie emphasized her background and ability to understand the requirements coming down from the state legislature. Bowie previously served as legal affairs manager for the Board of Commissioners until 2009, working for the county for a decade.
“The main issues the Clerk of Superior Court deals with are ensuring the records of the court are maintained in a professional manner and in the manner that was set by the legislature.” She pointed out there were 15 bills in the past session alone that had a direct impact on the Clerk of Court.
“I have the experience and I have the knowledge and I have the ability to take those bills, the legislation, to make sure the requirements that are put upon the office are followed through and that the staff is trained appropriately. We need to make sure when you come to the office, the documents are easily accessible to you. That you can find them easily and to make sure they’re properly recorded and properly maintained.”
She added, “We need to make sure we have someone in that office that not only understands what’s existing now but what’s the legislature doing. What are your representatives at the Gold Dome doing that’s going to have a direct impact, not only on this office but on this community.”
Wilson, who is running for re-election to her second term, said more than half of the Clerk’s office operations are consumed with personnel matters. “It’s a large organization, complex, dealing with massive amounts of paper, people, regulations, laws. The clerk has to be able to manage all of those personalities, all of those functions and make it look easy. Yes, it is true the overarching responsibility of the clerk is the care, maintenance and control of all of these documents. But that’s why you hire good people.”
“It takes experience, sensitivity, communication skills,” Wilson said, pointing out she had more than 25 years of doing that in the corporate, nonprofit and public service sector.
“This is much too important a responsibility to give to someone who does not have that experience,” she said.
She also said the Clerk of Courts needed to be in front of the legislative process and involved in shaping the laws.
The discussion turned to zero-based budgeting after a question submitted from the audience.
Bowie said, “In 10 years as a department head of Rockdale County, every single year I did the zero-based budgeting. Many other department heads did not do that. I functioned that way. I was not going to be one of those that would say close to the end of the year I need to spend the money I have left over so they’ll give me the same amount next year. I think that’s improper leadership.
“There are certain years we’re not going to be able to ask for an exuberant amount of money, based on the economy. You have to be fiscally responsible as well. I did that for 10 years, and I’ll continue to do that.”
Moderators presented a different question to Wilson, on what improvements she planned to make for the Clerk’s office, but Wilson also addressed the issue of zero-based budgeting.
“Zero-based budgeting has no role in the clerk’s office,” said Wilson. “The clerk is under mandates from the state of Georgia. If you were to assume there were no laws starting January 1 you could have a zero-based budget. That is not the case in the Clerk’s office. If all you’re responsible is paper clips and pencils, you can do that.”
As for improvements, Wilson said she would expand technical capabilities and resources and pointed to the new ability to pay traffic citations online as an example.
“You don’t have to take a day off to pay your fine. Do it from your home. That same kind of convenience and accessibility to the courts and appropriate use of technology is what I’m going to do.”
She also said she would expand the Family Law Information Center, which provides free 30-minute consultations with an attorney every Friday at the courthouse.
“That’s right, it’s already there,” Wilson said. “The better prepared a person is before they come to court, the better it can run.”
She pointed out the Clerk of Courts office has a budget of about $1 million and handles about $5 million to $8 million of flow-through revenue.
The two candidates are running unopposed for their party’s nomination and will likely face off in the November election.