Running on a record of experience, Charles Baker won the job of Hall County clerk of court Tuesday by a razor-thin margin of 77 votes.
In one of the tightest local elections in recent history, Baker defeated opponent Jennifer Gibbs with 50.76 percent of the vote to her 49.24 percent.
According to complete but unofficial results, Baker had 2,564 votes to Gibbs’ 2,487 votes in the decisive Republican primary runoff. There was no Democrat running for the office.
"I’m just thankful to be in this position," Baker said. "It’s a feeling of humility, because I know it could have gone the other way when it’s this close of an election. I was never, ever comfortable with the returns."
During his campaign, Baker touted his more than 30 years of experience in the clerk of court’s office and portrayed himself as the only candidate with an in-depth knowledge of its operations.Gibbs, a certified public accountant, has no experience in the clerk of court’s office, but said she could offer a fresh perspective.
Gibbs was the leading vote-getter in last month’s three-candidate primary election, leading with 3,553 votes to Baker’s 2,682 votes. Former Hall County Sheriff Bob Vass trailed both with 1,974 votes.
"We had a lot of ground to make up after July 15," Baker said. "We were pretty well behind then. But I’m very appreciative of my committee and the ones who supported me. This was a team effort."
Gibbs, who ran an aggressive campaign that included flyers alleging financial mismanagement of the office, did not return a message left on her cell phone Tuesday night.
Baker will become the first new Hall County clerk of court in 24 years when he takes office Jan. 1, succeeding Dwight Wood, who first was elected to the post in 1984.
The clerk of court has numerous and varied duties, including the filing and maintenance of civil and criminal court records, the keeping of real estate records, collection of traffic fines and fees and the summoning of jurors. The office has about 50 employees and a budget of $2.5 million. The position pays $125,545.
Wood chose not to run for re-election this year after a controversy surrounding his handling of passport application fees. As permitted by law, Wood took $86,000 in fees last year as personal compensation in addition to his salary of $122,000. He opted for retirement after coming under heavy criticism for the practice.
Baker has said he would return all fees from passports to the county’s general fund.