MINERAL WELLS —
Four ladies. Two seats.
The Republican and Democratic candidates for the offices of treasurer and county clerk in Palo Pinto County addressed about 90 people attending Tuesday night's Palo Pinto County Farm Bureau forum hosted by the Mineral Wells Senior Center.
The candidates gave opening and closing statements, sandwiched around answering questions left them by forum attendees. The forum was presented to help voters with their decisions in the Nov. 2 elections. Early voting is under way.
The forum also included the two candidates – Republican David Nicklas and incumbent Democrat Mike Smiddy – seeking the position of county judge and both precinct 4 county commissioner candidates – incumbent Republican Jeff Fryer and Democratic challenger Lee Saunders.
Democratic incumbent Bobbie Smith faces Republican Janette Green, a former chief deputy under Smith who now works in the county's tax assessor-collector's office.
Smith has held the office 31 years.
“I have a lot of experience,” said Smith. “I try to make everyone welcome who comes to the county clerk's office.”
Green noted she worked more than three years in the office beginning in 2004, including a little more than two years as chief deputy, before moving down the courthouse hall to the tax office.
“I don't regret moving down there,” she said. “I enjoyed my time in the clerk's office and I would like to go back there. I enjoyed the work they do. You get people from all walk's of life, people doing genealogy. It's very, very interesting.”
Smith noted her office records a variety of official papers such as deeds, birth and death certificates, civil and criminal papers and more.
“We have taken it to the 21st century,” said Smith. “Our records are all on computer. You can get back to 1999, the records are there on the Internet. Anyone can look at those records, so it makes it more convenient for people who don't have the time to come to the county clerk's office.”
The questions turned to problems the clerk's office has experienced in recent elections concerning the county's electronic voting machines.
“There are laws and procedures and guidelines regarding setting up an election,” Green said. “These have been out for quite a while. If they are followed precisely, like they should be, there should be no problems.”
Green said she ran two elections when the county first used the new machines, required by federal law.
“When the county first received those voting machines there were problems,” she said. “That's to be expected.”
There are laws and procedures and they change constantly with the Secretary of State's office every legislative year,” Green added. “There are changes, and it is the responsibility of the county clerk-elections administrator to know them and apply them.”
Smith acknowledged problems with the machines and the office's ability to produce results timely.
“Well. we have made mistakes in the elections part of it,” said Smith. “I don't know anybody in here who hasn't made mistakes. We have had bumps in the road and, as Janette knows, she ran one of the elections. She had a technician sitting right there with her, and neither one of them could figure out what was going on. They were on the telephone for hours. People get upset when you can't tell them what their vote is. I understand that. We do our best to get those returns out as rapidly as possible. My people have been trained. They have changed the software since Janette was there. I don't think we are going to have any problems this time. If we do, please forgive me. Thank you.”
Another question from the audience asked about the problem in the March primary elections when voting machines were sent to Graford containing ballots intended for Gordon precincts.
“Again, if the guidelines and procedures are followed by the Secretary of State's office and the federal government, there is a checklist,” said Green. “There are laws and procedures in checking it before you send them out to the voting locations and that needs to be done.”
Smith said corrective steps were taken following the incident.
“This has happened one time,” said Smith. “After it happened I corrected my staff. We have made a checklist, which is signed off on by two people, and everything is tested and re-tested, so hopefully that will never happen again.”
Asked what changes they might pursue or foresee in the clerk's office, Smith said she did not expect any.
“We are not going to cut any services this year and we are not going to lay off any employees,” she said. “Really, I have no changes to make other than doing a better job.”
Green stated, “I would like to become more paperless in the transition. We also need to update our computers. We are still writing commissioners court minutes by hand in a book. We need to be scanning all of our criminal records. There are so many different things we can do technology wise.”
In her closing remarks, Green said she believes she can make the office more cost-efficient and customer focused.
“We can save the county money with changes we can do technology wise,” she said. “Customer service is one of my big priorities. I want everyone to feel welcome when they come into that office and leave knowing that they have an answer. And if I don't have the answers I will find somebody who has the answers.”
Smith said, “We welcome anybody who comes into the office. My office is one of the friendliest offices in the courthouse. My office is always open when it's supposed to be.”
Democratic incumbent Treasurer Mary Meredith Motley is facing a familiar person, Republican Tanya Fallin, whom Motley replaced as treasurer 12 years ago.
Motley noted she has a degree from Oklahoma State University and receives, by law, 20 hours of education annually in finance and business.
Fallin said she came from a family business background and noted her 12 years experience as county treasurer. She said is a certified investment officer and has taken related classes at Texas A&M, University of Texas-Arlington and Weatherford College.
The two candidates discussed how county funds are managed and invested.
Fallin said as treasurer she implemented an investment policy, which was required by law.
“I know from the ground up the things that we are able to invest in,” she said. “There maybe have been some laws that have changed in that time.”
She noted the county by law cannot sink monies into speculative ventures, such as stocks.
“Today's market doesn't pay as well,” said Fallin. “I know each and every one of us in this room have felt the budget cuts because of those investments. Laws say what counties can and cannot do.”
Motley said the county received $210,000 in interest income in 2007, while this year it might make $27,000.
“That's because of the interest rate being low,” Motley said. “We can only do so much. I called a bank when we wanted to invest one million dollars and they wouldn't even talk to me. They didn't want our money. They didn't have any place to go with our money.”
She said certificates of deposit are providing about the best investment opportunity at present. She said the county currently has money in CDs at two banks.
“There's not much we can do,” she said. “There's nothing good out there for us.”
Index editor David May can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3419, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MINERAL WELLS —
Four ladies. Two seats.
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