By John Filonow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Payne County Chief Deputy Assessor Glenna Craig is challenging Payne County Clerk Linda Hatfield on Nov. 6 for the county clerk position.
The county clerk maintains records on real and personal property, prepares a county budget and pays and maintains the county payroll, among other duties. The county clerk’s annual salary is $61,812 a year.
Craig, 47, has worked in county government for 24 years, and served Payne County Election Board secretary.
Hatfield, 58, has worked in the county clerk’s office for 26 years, and has been county clerk since fall of 2007.
The NewsPress asked five questions of both candidates.
What can you do in your position as county clerk to create more harmony and cooperation among county officials?
Craig: “What I would do is I would strive to work out the fractured relationship with all of them that has occurred over the last several years. Try to mediate situations and be the one to say ‘let’s pause, let’s think about this.’ What’s fair to everyone? How can we put our differences aside and represent the citizens of Payne County, whether they’re on the east side or the west side of the county and what will our decisions do to affect them, and they’re communities. And try to hopefully be one of the ones that’s a voice of reason to speak for the citizens, but to try to mediate what’s fair to everybody. And ask them to pause and think it through, you know we’re all individuals so we’re all going to have our own opinions. I can’t make them agree with me, but I would certainly try to be the one to mediate a good solution, not only for county government, but for the citizens that pay taxes in county government.”
Hatfield: “Well as you know we’re a Budget Board county, which means all the elected officials sit down and make decisions that concern the entire county as well as all the employees. And I think the most important part is for everybody to set out the facts and then we discuss what the needs are. Honestly, working as a budget board, we have had very good rapport among ourselves and we’ve come to some decisions that we felt were fair for everyone. As far as me as an individual, it’s just to continue to work together. I can’t make decisions for the entire county because we are a budget board.”
What improvements would you recommend in the clerk’s office to make it run more efficiently?
Hatfield: “We are working on putting our real estate records online. It’s a very slow progress, because if you start from the patent back in the 1890s and get all of that information on with names and legal descriptions that’s a very slow process, and we’re working very diligently to get more and more of those online where people can actually access them. It is free to Payne County citizens to access the records we do have online, at least to view them. So my goal is to get more and more online, but as you know from listening in the commission meetings how many oil companies and (leases) are going on. We are just flooded with requests for copies and filings of oil leases and extensions and assignments. ... It takes away from the time that we’re able to focus on getting more stuff online.”
Craig: “I think that just because somebody has been doing a job for 26 years, whether it be me or someone else, that there is always opportunities to bring the professionalism and the ethics level up in that office. What I would do is look at everything, at all procedures and how things are done. And is there a better way? Because that’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do it. So I would look at every step of what’s being done, and see is there a better way to do it and to make it more efficient. I think that you need to make sure that transparency is in your office, that consistency will bring up the efficiency of an office, doing it the same way and doing it the right way. And those are the things I’d like to start with: looking at the programs, looking at the phone systems, looking at the way the office is run top to bottom. I think that in any operation, you can find ways to save money, to operate better and to do things more efficiently. And that’s what I’m gonna do.”
What are your goals for being county clerk, specifically what would you like to see happen in your first year in office?
Craig: “What I would like in my first year in office is for citizens to see a difference in the office, to see good customer service, professionalism, transparency. To see cohesion and unity within county leadership. ... I would like to try to make the records of the county office easier and more user friendly, whether it be online or in the office. To update any records that need to be updated, to look at the programs that we use on a day to day basis to do our work and to see if there’s a better way to do that. To integrate our training with the tools that we have. I also want to see the office bring more things to the commission, I know that there was a $20,000 transfer out of a commission account ... out of a cash fund account into one of the commissioner’s accounts that newly-elected (county commissioner) Zach Cavett did not know was going through that never went through a commission meeting. If a $5 purchase order has to go through a commission meeting, then a $20,000 transfer should... whether I’m required by law or not, because I think it needs to be a commission thing and I think it needs to be on public record, and I think it needs to be something that’s seen by everyone there. Commissioner Zach Cavett of county commission district 1 asked the state auditors to do a report on it, the county clerk’s office and my opponent said that’s the way they’ve always done it, state auditor said that is not the correct way to do it, that those transfers need to go through a commission meeting... And I want to make sure that every single one of those things are brought before the commission meeting, so there in a public forum, so the public knows about it. And that’s one of the things, I want the public to feel better about their county government and feel like they have a good county government and can trust us and what we do.”
Hatfield: “To make it run more efficiently and my goals are basically the same. So there’s nothing that’s going to change other than (for) us continue to work toward that goal (of getting records online.) And of course you have to stay up with technology, keep your software up to date and use them efficiently and effectively to process purchase orders.”
What changes would you make to the clerk’s office as far as staff?
Hatfield: “None ... I’m short two persons. One of them has been vacant now for three years. We have used some part-time people to come in and do some data entry. ... Primarily, it was (a real-estate clerk.) My purchasing agent left, so we’re moving one person over into that position, so I will have to replace the receiving agent.”
Craig: “You know, I don’t see any changes as far as staff, I know that it’s been the rumor that I’m gonna fire the whole office if I win, and that is absolutely not true. I think the staff up there and they’re knowledge of the office is very important. They’ve always been good honest people to me. As long as they are willing to work for me as their county clerk, (with) professionalism and customer service foremost, then I will be glad to keep them on as employees as long as we can bridge that relationship and understanding. I think they’re all great individuals with professionalism that understand the jobs that they do. I just might have a different way that I might ask them to do it. ... We will be a citizen-driven public service office under my administration.”
How would you improve access to open records?
Craig: “I think open records should be accessible to the public because they’re taxpayers and their tax money is what produces those records and puts them online, I would like to try to find an effective and efficient way to make all of those records open to the public, with protecting the Social Security numbers, any information we can protect our citizens with, but I think that anybody should be able to dial into our system online and be able to see who owns a piece of property and the information that they need I think that’s a great public service and I will work through the budget to be able to try to do that and make it open. ... I think that the open records of the county clerk’s office, those are the citizens’ records, their tax money operates that office, they should have access to their records. ...That there are no fees to search those records in the public (domain.) And that’ll take budgetary time to do, but I’ll get in there and research all the necessary steps to make that happen.”
Hatfield: “Well, all of our records in the real estate (section) are open to the public now except for dv214s which are not and those are locked. You can’t view them on the computer. ... Those are soldier discharges... The minutes, I have all of those records. ... All of our records from a point are online, I think from like 2002 to present are online. As far as putting everything available online, if you don’t have a name that you can search that’s connected, that you can search by that’s connected to that document, the record online is not going to do you much good. You got to have something to be able to search by and that’s the process we’re working on is plugging names and legals in so you can actually search those records. And I could put all those things online right now, but unless you can search for them... (it wouldn’t help anyone.)”