It’s a largely administrative position, yet it’s a constitutional office.
It’s elected by the voters in each of Georgia’s 159 counties, yet there hasn’t been a contested race for it in Hall County in 24 years.
It’s the office of clerk of superior and state court, and it’s not a political race likely to bring a record number of voters to the polls in Hall County’s Republican runoff election Tuesday.
Charles Baker and Jennifer Gibbs are vying to succeed retiring clerk of court Dwight Wood and land the important courthouse post, which pays $125,545 a year. That taxpayer-funded salary pays for the overseer of roughly 50 employees and a budget of about $2.5 million.By comparison, Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic, who makes $127,954 a year, oversees more than 400 employees and a $30 million budget.
Clerks of court, however, like sheriffs, play a vital role in the state judicial system. Their duties are many and varied. According to the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia, some of them include:
Filing and maintaining numerous records, from notary public commissions to military discharge, attorney bar admission and business partnership records.
Collecting, processing and remitting to the county fines and fees paid by court defendants, with traffic fines topping the list in sheer dollar amounts.
Filing, storing and retrieving civil and criminal court records, from lawsuits, judgments and custody agreements to court sentences, family violence protective orders and appeals of convictions.
Receiving, indexing, maintaining and recording real estate deeds, plats and liens.
Collecting and disbursing intangible recording and real estate transfer taxes.
Maintaining and managing jury pool information and summoning and managing juries for criminal and civil trials.
Clerks of court in Georgia may also, at their discretion, process U.S. passport applications.
It’s that last duty that became a rallying point for the three people who chose to run for the office. Wood, as allowed by law, supplemented his salary with $86,000 in passport fees last year. The revelation caused a stir that eventually led county commissioners to pass a resolution asking for some of the money back. Wood chose to retire, and Baker, Gibbs and Bob Vass, who failed to make Tuesday’s runoff, vowed that the county would get acceptance fees for passport applications.
Baker, 54, is running as the experienced candidate, having worked in the office for 30 years, the last seven as chief deputy clerk before retiring last year. He has often cited the fact that several of the office’s longtime employees are reaching retirement.
"Right now, the clerk’s office is in desperate need of experience," Baker said.
Gibbs, 38, is running as the outsider with no connections to the old administration, with a background as a CPA and auditor.
"This office needs a fresh set of eyes to look at it," Gibbs said.
Only 8,209 of Hall County’s 80,000 registered voters cast ballots in the first round of the Republican primary election (there is no Democrat running for the post), and a much smaller turnout is expected Tuesday, with projections hovering around 2,500. But the job is more important than the final numbers will indicate.