Four Republicans, one Democrat vying for Sullivan County clerk

J. H. Osborne • Apr 10, 2018 at 8:58 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Voters, including city residents, will elect a new Sullivan County clerk in the county general election in August. But first they will narrow the field of candidates in the Republican Party primary on May 1.The Democratic Party primary is the same day, but Jane Davis is unopposed for the party’s nomination, so in August she will face off against the winner of the GOP primary. Those candidates are: Howard “Sonny” Baker; Steve M. Godsey; Teresa L. Jacobs; and Cheryl Russell.

Incumbent Jeanie Gammon is not seeking re-election and has endorsed Jacobs. The job currently pays about $95,000 per year. That’s set to increase by the time the winner takes office on Sept. 1. On July 1, the state-mandated minimum salary for a circuit court clerk in a county the size of Sullivan will increase to $99,133. 

Early voting begins April 11 in Blountville and April 19 at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium and National Guard Armory in Bristol.

The Kingsport Times News sent each candidate questions with a common deadline and word limit for their answers. Godsey did not respond. Here are what the others said. Their responses have not been edited.

Q: What professional experience would you bring to the office of county clerk, and what in your own background makes you the best candidate in that regard?

Baker (R): “Over the past 40 years, I have worked in management and supervision for many companies. As a foreman for the Sullivan County Highway Department in 1977-78. In 1980 until 1992, I worked as a sales rep. and territorial manager covering parts of several states working with both small and very large companies. I gained a wealth of experience in how to manage personnel, inventory, budgets, solving problems and how to make the right type of changes in order to improve performance while maintaining the morale of the employee. Since 1992, I have worked in sales and management for several local dealerships, and we deal with automotive titles, registrations for tags, we also collect all taxes and fees required by state and local government . We send the paperwork to the Clerks office, where they verify the information and issue the title and registration to the customer.”

Davis (D): “Being willing to continually learn and having the aptitude to execute one’s knowledge to your staff and customers is a strong suit of mine. My previous supervisory experience coupled with placing myself among talented Professional Leaders in our community has helped train and guide me to become the strong confident professional woman I am today, and this gives me the confidence to say, ‘I have the abilities to continue building this office in the direction our residents deserve.’ ”

Jacobs (R): “My knowledge and experience make me the leading candidate for this position. I have worked in this office for 14 years and am very familiar with all of the duties required of the county clerk. I am acclimated and familiar with all of the daily tasks, the people, who to go to and how to get things done. I have been mentored and coached by the current County Clerk Jeanie Gammon and this gives me a definite advantage over the other candidates. The experience and familiarity that I bring will accelerate me above all others when it comes to transition time.”

Russell (R): “My professional experience comes from my extensive time leading instead of following. I first managed an Open Heart Surgery Unit with over 75 employees, and my team made life or death decisions daily. My duties also included personnel changes, staffing, scheduling, and budgeting. As both County Commissioner and Chairman of the Sullivan County Republican Party, I continued making difficult decisions regularly, this time using my conservative principles to have a consistently conservative voting record. All of these leadership positions mean that I have ample experience in running competent, efficient, and successful workplaces that are good stewards of the people’s money.”

Q: What does a county clerk do?

Baker (R): “The Clerks office issues registrations, for motor vehicles and boats and they also issue marriage license as well as beer and business license. The Clerks office handles applications for Notary Publics, and also acts as secretary for the county commission meetings and post the official minutes online for public viewing. They also keep many public records on file that are generated by the other county offices.”

Davis (D): “Responsible for maintaining records and collection of taxes related to: motor vehicles, business licenses, marriage applications, notaries, and boating requirements just to name a few. Provides clerical support and takes the minutes for the County Commission meetings, files other county offices’ public records, making both sets of records available to the public. The clerk’s office is mandated by the legislature and the motor vehicle department in Nashville. A clerk’s duties also include, making sure all three offices are staffed with trained professionals to provide services to our citizens. The Clerk becomes a member of the County Records Commission.”

Jacobs (R): “The County Clerk performs a wide variety of functions, some of which include: 1. Keeping the official records of the county legislative body 2. Collecting certain local and state taxes 3. Issuing motor vehicle titles and registrations, dealer plates, temporary operating permits, handicap placards, marriage licenses and business licenses, notary public applications 4. Interacts with the county delegates regarding the county clerks budget 5. Manages and oversees the main Blountville office as well as two satellite offices (Bristol & Kingsport) 6. Our office offers drivers’ license renewal services. 7. Oversees the clerk’s office revenue of over $15 million dollars.”

Russell (R): “The County Clerk is an elected constitutional office holder who serves for a four-year term. The Legislature prescribes the specific work of the office. The regular responsibilities range from conducting a great deal of the State’s taxation duties to serving as the secretary for the County Commission, taking official minutes of each meeting which are then publicized. Other duties include processing notary public applications and issuing vehicle registrations, boat registrations, marriage licenses, business licenses, and beer licenses. The County Clerk also serves as a member of the County Records Commission, keeping numerous public records on file.”

Q: What are the top issues for the Sullivan County Clerk’s office in the coming four years, and what will you do to address each?

Baker (R): “I will improve the time delay for posting the official minutes of the county commission meetings. The taxpayers need to know how their county commissioners vote and how they are being represented. There should be no time lapse in providing this information to the taxpayers. I feel the communication between the employees of the three clerk offices need improvement. I know, this can affect how services are provided if all offices are not working as one. I will cross train every employee in all aspects of the clerks office to help eliminate long customer wait time at the counter. Also, the Clerks office needs to be more accessible to customers with limited mobility or who do not have access to a computer. The Clerks office should be run like a business so, I will make improvements where they are needed and at the same time manage the county taxpayer dollar wisely. The Clerks office should be a place where you get the information and help that you need in a timely manner with a helpful attitude. I also understand that the overall morale of the employee is a very important part of overall productivity so any changes to the clerks office will be done with good employee morale in mind.”

Davis (D): “Working with the leaders of Kingsport to find a suitable location for the Kingsport office. Continuing to provide a safe secure facility for each office and the residents of this county. Issues I hear from customers are; faster more courteous service and better trained employees. As an employee of this office the issues are somewhat different. Knowledge is powerful, and it empowers the confidence of a clerk, I would strive to keep the lines of communication open between offices, which prevents a disconnected attachment among employees. By keeping everyone on a shared balanced knowledge level you keep every employee armed with the same information to perform their jobs faster, better and in a more courteous fashion.”

Jacobs (R): “Customer service will be my top priority to ensure that everyone that visits the County Clerk’s office are welcomed with a smile and receives service that exceeds their expectations in a timely and efficient manner. One of the top issues that I would address as the next Sullivan County Clerk is to bring all three of the clerk’s offices into harmonization. To ensure that they are performing all the tasked duties consistently and more importantly to always remember that our customers are our priority and our main focus. I am aware there is always room for improvement and will always welcome suggestions and input from our customers. I plan to implement a process allowing the citizens to easily provide comments and suggestions. I believe in an open door policy and will always greet you with a smile. I feel that who better to recommend improvements than those we serve. Additionally, The Sullivan County Clerk’s office has always had excellent audit scores and has always operated within budget. I am quite conservative in my own personal life and I will carry that attribute over into the operations of the office. The gift I bring is that of a dedicated, dependable, serving citizen and I would be honored to serve the citizens of Sullivan County and will be grateful for your vote.”

Russell (R): “The top issue for the County Clerk’s Office, both in the past and in the next four years, is the prioritization of its customers. The County Clerk’s office is one of the few offices with face-to-face interaction with the citizens of Sullivan County. Each individual should be treated fairly and friendly. Many complaints have been received regarding this issue with the current office, and I intend to make positive public interactions one of my top priorities. Good customer service is a reflection of Sullivan County and the department. From my experience with teamwork, nothing is accomplished without mutual respect. Another issue is the current inefficiency of the office. In cases like the long lines on specific days of the month, it is well known that many citizens use their lunch hour to renew tags or visit the County Clerk’s office. Even though the office knows this occurs, wait times can still take as long as an hour. I refuse to believe that this is the best the office can do. Knowing that many citizens wait until the end of the month to renew their tags, it is possible to adopt alternative methods or additional lines during these busy times. Additionally, the schedules of the Clerk’s Office employees could be better coordinated to ensure that all citizens can be served in a timely and efficient manner. Lastly, the next 4 years should be a time of change for the County Clerk’s office. With the rise of technology and increasing modernization, I want to harness this change to improve the County Clerk’s Office. I will keep jobs but want to explore how the County Clerk’s office can better employ technology to make the workplace easier for its employees and more efficient for its customer.”

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