Let the Race Begin
The races for clerk of the court in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties promise to be interesting. Eight candidates are already making the rounds.
By David R. Corder
It's been about 23 years in Pinellas County, 19 years in Hillsborough County, since voters picked a new clerk of the court. Pinellas Clerk Karleen DeBlaker and Hillsborough Clerk Richard Ake won re-elections over those years with limited opposition. That's not the case for the declared candidates who want to replace these retiring constitutional officers.
Already three candidates in Pinellas and five in Hillsborough want the job that serves not only as the county chief financial officer and auditor but also as custodian of local public documents from deeds and mortgages, to court records, to county commission minutes.
The race also bears signs of strong partisanship, with two Republicans and one Democrat filed as candidates in Pinellas. In Hillsborough, four Republicans and one Democrat filed to run.
Each candidate, in interviews with GCBR, stressed their intent to create an administration with business-oriented goals. They talked about the need for improvements in customer service and technology. Each talked about their career experiences and education as the qualities that separate him or her for the other opponents. These are the candidates:
× Brian J. Aungst, 50, Republican - He is Clearwater's mayor. Elected in 1999, Aungst also works as Bright House Networks' Pinellas regional director of public affairs. He earned a master's in business administration from Wilmington College in Delaware.
Aungst says he will stress to voters his experience managing a $300 million city budget, in addition to his work in the private sector. "I'm a successful change agent," he says. "That's what I bring to the table. After 24 years, it's time to come in and make changes."
× Ken Burke, 44, Republican - Over the past 21 years, he has worked as the legal administrator at the Seminole law firm of Deloach & Hofstra PA. He also is vice president of Seminole Title Co. A certified public accountant, he earned a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida.
Burke wants to improve the efficiency in the recording of mortgages and deeds, because of the impact it has on buyers and sellers and intermediaries such as real estate brokers, title agents and lawyers. "I'm a person who works well with others," he says. "It's important to work as a team."
× Carolyn A. "Carrie" Wadlinger, 58, Democrat - A health care consultant, she divested her ownership a few years ago in Wise Management, an Ohio-based Medicare/Medicaid collections service. She earned a bachelor's in accounting and a master's in business administration from Baldwin Wallace College near Cleveland.
Wadlinger wants to first upgrade the clerk's computer systems. She also wants to eliminate what she considers duplicative data entry work. "Communications between the county and the clerk from a personal standpoint has not been the best," she says.
× Jim Downum, 52, Republican - Since about 2001, he worked as an administrator for the Hillsborough state attorney's office. He resigned to run in this race. He previously worked at the Hillsborough court administrator's office and the state Department of Corrections. He earned a bachelor's in criminology from the University of Tampa.
Downum wants to focus first on the courts to improve customer service and take advantage of existing technology. "I want to make it more user-friendly," he says. "There is technology available that is not presently being utilized."
× Stephen H. Hall, 56, Republican - A 25-year court employee, he is a senior fiscal analyst/project manager in the county court administrator's office. He earned a master's in public administration from the University of South Florida.
Hall says he well focus on his experience with budget management, accounting and court programs. He, too, wants to improve existing technology. "I would accelerate automation," he says. "The idea is the workers can do a better job with better tools."
× Chris Hart, 59, Republican - A former county commissioner and banker, Hart is president of Tampa-based Coastal Water Resources. He earned a bachelor's in business management and economics from the University of Florida. The Vietnam veteran also studied at the U.S. Army Command & Staff College and the Armed Services Staff College.
Hart has concerns with existing technology and public access to documents. "I will demand we have state-of-the-art technology systems to help us reduce the cost of government," he says. "Access is a major issue with almost every law firm I've talked to. We need to come up with a user-friendly (system) for the average citizen."
× Helene Marks, 51, Democrat - Endorsed by Ake as his replacement, she has served the past eight years as his legal counsel. A former middle school teacher, Marks earned a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Albany and a law degree from the Stetson University College of Law.
Marks wants to further "Ake's good work. But there are a number of different projects we're going to enhance," she says. "We're going to be improving the accessibility to records. You're going to see more records electronically available over the next six months, and will continue, if I'm successful, to make records available."
× Bob Zegota, 55, Republican - He is a Grubb & Ellis vice president. He has a bachelor's in political science from Florida Atlantic University and is a certified commercial investment member.
Zegota says he wants to run the clerk's office more like a business. "I'm going to zero in on making it a user-friendly office," he says. "I'm going to start right up front. When you pick up the phone, you're going to reach a live person."