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Election 2012: Clerk runs on her record; challenger raises questions

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Both incumbent Alma White and challenger Tammie Avant are encouraging voters to ask people in the legal profession about the state of affairs at the Georgetown County clerk of court’s office.

White, a Democrat seeking a fourth term, said lawyers and judges would tell voters that she’s doing a good job.

“Most people are law-abiding citizens,” White said. “Their only contact with the clerk of court may have been as a juror. Everybody knows an attorney. They may very well know a judge. Those people could bear witness to how well I’ve led this office.”

Avant, a petition candidate who filed as a Republican, said the clerk’s office has too much turnover and employees are not being trained well enough to adapt to new digital record keeping.

A paralegal for 26 years, Avant said other counties’ clerks of court are doing a better job than White.

“I’ve worked in a lot of different counties,” Avant said, “and it’s gotten to the point here that something needs to be done.”

Avant said 27 employees have left the clerk’s office in the past eight years. “With 23 full-time employees,” Avant said, “that’s a 117 percent turnover rate. That’s huge. People go in and out of there so fast there’s no way they could be trained and be effective at their jobs.”

Former Georgetown County Clerk of Court Betty Williams endorsed White for re-election last week.

“She is presently serving her third term,” Williams wrote in a letter to the editor, “and from what I’ve witnessed she’s made a great impact.

“As a former clerk of court, I can honestly say that this is a position that involves dedication to the office itself, but most importantly to the citizens of Georgetown. She has met with many challenges along the way and has been successful.”

White said the clerk’s office has made strides, both large and small, over her three terms.

“In 2001 when I came into office,” White said, “I met with the staff to try and get a feel for the needs of the office.”

She saw employees using an archaic fax machine that used “thermal” paper that allowed ink to fade. Faxed documents had to be photocopied before they could be filed. She upgraded the fax machine.

One employee spent days calculating jurors’ pay and typing their checks on a typewriter. She computerized the task.

The old county courthouse had Internet service but not the clerk’s office, White said. She upgraded the office equipment and filled vacant positions.

“The office at that time,” White said, “needed a different kind of leadership.”

She said she lobbied county leaders to build a new judicial center by taking them on “field trips” to see hallways crowded with defendants and lawyers and a courtroom that was no longer safe for judges and court officials.

“I worked closely with the county administrator and County Council worked with me and we began to plan and budget. The administrator met with Judge Paul Thomas and me and brainstormed about the needs of court,

and we came up with a new judicial center.”

Avant says the mandate to digitize court records and make them available online through the state’s Case Management System is running nearly six months behind schedule — April’s records

are being scanned now — and files are being mishandled.

“Lost files are typical,” Avant said. “It’s unfortunate.”

She said a paralegal from Horry County came to Georgetown to retrieve a court file but left empty-handed after employees couldn’t find it.

“They told her they would e-mail it to her,” Avant said.

She said she wants to emphasize cross-training and better efficiency.

“There’s a wealth of knowledge in the clerk’s office,” Avant said. “With the right people in key positions, I feel like it can be run much more efficiently. I also believe the clerk should know what’s expected of each job. I’d have to sit down and evaluate and talk with each employee to see what their job entails. I will tell them, ‘If you know your job and do your job there won’t be a problem.’”

To learn more about Tuesday’s election, there is a sample ballot online.

To check your voter registration information, go to the state Election Commission website.

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