Longtime Hall County Clerk of Court Dwight Wood is taking exception to the campaigning tactics of Jennifer Gibbs, one of two remaining candidates for the office after Wood opted not to seek re-election this year.
Wood, in a report e-mailed to The Times, blasted Gibbs for what he called "slanderous remarks and dirty politics" in a campaign mailing Gibbs sent out this week.
Gibbs responded by saying she is pointing out spending practices that don’t correspond with a downturn in revenue in the clerk’s office, as well as Wood’s controversial collection of passport application fees.
Gibbs’ one-piece, color mailing includes the words "Over Budget ... Missing Funds ... Out of Control Spending ... Who Will Clean Up the Hall County Clerk of Court’s Office?"
Wood responded with a written statement that maintains, according to information from the Hall County Finance Department, that his office has not been over budget, there are no missing funds and no one in the county administration has ever accused his office of having out-of-control spending.
"I have remained silent in this race until now, but I have heard enough of a campaign that is slanted toward me instead of the issues," Wood’s statement says in part.
Gibbs’ campaign slogan, featured prominently on her signs, is "Restoring Trust." She has focused on the controversy of passport fees that Wood legally took as personal compensation, boosting his annual salary by more than $85,000 last year. Faced with criticism of the practice from county commissioners and others, Wood chose to retire from the office after 24 years as the county’s elected clerk of court.
Gibbs’ opponent in the August 5 Republican runoff, Charles Baker, worked as Wood’s chief deputy clerk for seven years and was an employee in the Hall County Clerk of Court office for 30 years. Bob Vass, who failed to make the runoff, endorsed Baker in a campaign mailing sent out by Baker this week.
Wood has not formally endorsed Baker, but he encouraged Hall County citizens to "exercise your voting privileges."
"The clerk’s office is a very important and constitutional office," Wood said.
Gibbs said Wednesday that when she looked at status reports for expenditures and revenues in the clerk’s office, she saw a decrease in revenues of almost 40 percent between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 fiscal years. She believes the decrease is from fewer real estate filings. But Gibbs said Wood has asked for an increase in the budget each year, despite fewer revenues.
"When revenues are slack, you should cut spending back," she said. She also said that spending on overtime for employees went over budget.
She said the "missing money" statement was in reference to passport fees, which went to supplement Wood’s $122,000 salary. Both Gibbs and Baker have said they would turn all passport fees over the county’s general fund. A clerk of court is permitted to keep the fees as personal compensation.
Wood, who sent out the written statement on Tuesday, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Baker said he didn’t have any comment on Gibbs’ campaign style. "She’s working with her consultant, and if that’s what she’s being advised to do, that’s fine," Baker said. "I think I’m running a positive campaign, and that’s what I plan to keep doing."
Baker said he understood why Wood felt compelled to respond to Gibbs’ allegations.
"He’s been reading some of these fliers, this has been building up with him, this thing about ‘restoring trust,’" Baker said. "He’s been very, very quiet in this campaign, until now. I think he felt a need to speak up."
Said Gibbs, "I think we as taxpayers have a responsibility to stand up and question our elected leaders, and that’s what I’m doing."