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Heated forum for Clerk of Courts candidates
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The race for the Clerk of Superior Court's office continues to heat up as a civic forum turned into a debate between the two candidates seeking election to the position Saturday.The Rockdale County Think Tank Forum hosted judicial candidates seeking office this November but, with the absence of Republican candidates in the Chief Magistrate Judge race and Democratic candidate in the Probate Judge race, a majority of the two-hour forum focused on Democratic incumbent Superior Court Clerk Ruth Wilson and Republican challenger Hollie Bowie.

Supporters for both Wilson and Bowie filled a room at Johnson Park Saturday and were allowed to ask the candidates questions ranging from experience to their plans for the clerk's office is elected.

Bowie touted her knowledge of the court system and her experience working with all county departments when she served as manager of legal affairs for the Board of Commissioners, a position she left in 2009.

"There needs to be support for the judges... they don't have that right now," Bowie said. "The leadership is not there. That is why I am running."

Wilson, who was elected in 2009, said her experience in human resources and information technology helped her modernize the Clerk's office.

"I have three and one-half years experience successfully running the Clerk's office," Wilson said. "Contrary to what you have been told, there have been advancements in the Clerk's office under my leadership. The Clerk's office is accountable, transparent, and contributed to the county receiving recognition as a financially transparent organization."

Wilson said her short-term goals if re-elected include implementing a mortgage fraud protection system and continuing improvements in attorney-secure access that allows attorneys to remotely review cases involved in Superior Court. In the future she plans to develop additional online capabilities to help the Clerk's office become more efficient, to assist in making the courts accessible to the public and to expand the Family Law Information Center to include real estate information.

"This is a very important that should not be handed over to someone who has no experience handling large budgets, large organizations or managing technology," Wilson said. "The clerk's office is more than filing papers, as some would have you believe. There is a large component of human resources management, financial management and technology management. Even if my opponent were an attorney who had passed the bar and was licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia she would not be prepared to handle these responsibilities in the clerk's office."

Wilson's opponent said her work with budgeting and her knowledge of the judicial system will aid her in improving the Clerk's office.

"I am more than happy to stand up here and talk to you about my qualifications - what I've done, my experience. I understand government," Bowie said. "Having a degree in marketing doesn't help you understand local government. It's not a business. I know people want to say you should run government like a business. You cannot do that; you shouldn't do that. Because you know why? This is your (taxpayers') money. "

Bowie said her immediate goal if elected would be to support the courts.

"My goal is to restore order in the Clerk's office and restore communication," Bowie said. "It is an award-winning office, it's broken, and I want to fix it."

Moderator Josie Dean, who organized the event, allowed the audience to ask questions but prevented the discussion from becoming accusatory or personal. The topic of passport fees, which are collected by the Clerk of Superior Court and used at the Clerk's discretion, was discussed with each candidate explaining their very different opinions of how the fees should be handled.

"My opponent has peppered my office with open-records requests but she is not interested in the truth about the passport money," Wilson said. "No one from her campaign has been to my office to look at the truth about the passport records. I offer again today anybody who wants to know the truth about the passport records come check it out. I have followed the past practice of the office. I have complied with the law. I didn't give myself anything that was not legally mine to begin with."

Bowie has said she will turn over 100 percent of the passport fees collected in the clerk's office if she is elected in November and use those fees to help off-set the budget.

Probate Judge Lillis Brown also participated in the forum but her challenger Charles Mays was not in attendance. Magistrate Judge candidate Phinia Aten was present but incumbent Rudy Horne did not participate in the forum.

More candidate forums are being held this week. The South Rockdale Civic Association held a forum for candidates for Sheriff, Post 1 Commissioner, and Tax Commissioner on Tuesday.

Two forums will be held on Thursday evening. The Newsmakers Live organization will hold "The New Rockdale County Politics," an evening of interviews with candidates and “infotainment,” on Thursday, Sept. 20, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at Marshall Sports Bar and Grill, 1180 Sigman Road. Candidates for Board of Commissioners Chairman, Post I Commissioner, Sheriff and Clerk of Courts have been invited.

The Newton-Rockdale chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference will hold a local candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20, 7 p.m., at Grace Fellowship Christian Church, 1316 Olympic Court, in Conyers. Candidates for Commission Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Sheriff, Clerk of Courts, Chief Magistrate Judge, Probate Judge have been invited to participate.

The Rockdale-Newton League of Women Voters will also hold a candidate forum closer to the election on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Rockdale Auditorium, 903 Main Street, 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact Allene Eatman (678) 413-9520.