Meet The Candidates: Five competing for open circuit clerk seat

From left: Teresa Davis, Sheryl Elmore, Tony Rook, Stephanie Morgan Snyder and Elaine Boykin Turner
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
SDN EDITOR

Voters will have a wide slate of candidates to choose from as five local names have thrown their hats into the ring for the open position of Okitbbeha County Circuit Clerk.

The position was vacated by Glenn Hamilton in July after he pleaded guilty to felony possession of methamphetamine in Clay County Circuit Court. Hamilton was first elected to the position in 2011 and re-elected in 2015.

Since Hamilton’s resignation, the position has been held by former Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis, who will serve in an interim capacity until the Nov. 7 special election sees a winner named.

McGinnis was approved as the interim circuit clerk with a 4-1 vote by the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors, with District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard opposed.

The Oktibbeha County Circuit Court is part of the 16th Circuit Court District, which includes Lowndes, Clay, and Noxubee counties. Three circuit court judges handle both civil and criminal cases in the circuit court.

The Nov. 7 special election ballot will also feature the race for Oktibbeha County Chancery Clerk, the Mississippi House of Representatives District 38, District 1 Constable and the referendum to decide the future of OCH Regional Medical Center.

Polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

The Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk’s office will be open to complete an absentee ballot during normal business hours during October and will be open on Saturday, Oct. 28 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and on Saturday, Nov. 4 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Nov. 4 will be the last day to complete an absentee ballot.

The five candidates were provided a written questionnaire by the Starkville Daily News to help voters better understand their platforms and why they believe they are best suited to serve as Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk.

Read the profiles below to learn more:

TERESA DAVIS

Age: 40

Birthplace: Born in Starkville, Mississippi and raised in Sturgis.

Occupation: Receiving Services Coordinator, Accountant

What is something you plan to bring to the office if elected?

“I plan to bring a more transparent and community friendly approach to the office. I want to make navigation of the Circuit Court less intimidating and more service oriented to the residents. The courtroom is usually the last place that anyone wants to be. With that being said, the Circuit Clerk’s Office should have a welcoming and citizen-friendly atmosphere. Another priority is to increase voter turnout by educating our children in the community, beginning with Kindergarten students, on the importance of voting and how our local positions affects us as citizens, as well as, increasing voter registration and voter participation.”

If elected, will you register as a member of a political party?

“Yes, however, I pledge my loyalty to all taxpayers of Oktibbeha County regardless of political affiliations. I am dedicated to working with both political parties to produce fair and efficient elections. “

Why do you feel you are qualified?

“I feel that I am qualified due to my education, professional experience, my due diligence in performance of all areas of responsibility, and my love for Oktibbeha County as one of its lifelong residents. I am a graduate of Mississippi State University where I received my Bachelor’s degree In Accounting (2000). I’ve worked in both the private and the public sector of business. My professional experience includes accounting, banking, budgeting, and property, asset, and data management. The Circuit Clerk’s Office has the responsibility of ensuring the funds received in the office are recorded and disbursed and court records are maintained properly. I will work with the county board to keep a balanced budget within the Circuit Clerk’s Office. I have built my reputation on trust, honesty, fairness, and integrity in my field. I know that I can provide the best services to the taxpayers of Oktibbeha County. I have a wealth of experience and knowledge in managing employees, working within a budget, and leading an office. As a responsible, conservative-minded professional, you can be sure I will spend your tax dollars wisely and with great care and make sure our judicial records are being prepared in a timely manner.”

What are some places the office could improve?

“Customer Service, Poll Worker Training and Office Cross Training would be my focus of improvement. The Circuit Clerk’s office works as a conduit between court participants, judges, attorneys, citizens, and entities of local government. I will work with my staff to ensure that each one of these individuals experience professional customer service from the Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk’s Office. Since the passage of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) our poll workers have been asked to do more. The skills needed to serve as a poll worker have not changed while requirements continue to increase. I will make sure that I provide the education and best practices needed to prepare our poll workers for their primary task: administering voting. Poll workers are the link between election administrators and voters. I will must make sure that our poll workers are educated and trained well enough for undertaking such an obligation. Cross-Training addresses budgets issues, makes the office more efficient, allow employees to handle various jobs that result in better service to the taxpayers of Oktibbeha County, and greater job experience for employees which may provide them the opportunity of advancement either in house or with other career options.”

What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

“Knowledge and Efficient Service. I want to provide easy access to public information and services offered to the taxpayers of Oktibbeha County. In order to maintain these services, I will work closely with the Deputy Clerks, Election Commissioners, Judges, and Board of Supervisors to ensure that we are all communicating effectively to establish a positive and professional vision for the future of the citizens of Oktibbeha County in the Circuit Clerk’s Office.”

What is something the public may not know about the office?

“The Circuit Clerk’s office provides an array of serves as Clerk of the County and Circuit Courts. This office receives and files all lawsuits, indictments, motions and other related papers in all Civil and Criminal Cases filed in the Circuit or County Courts. The Circuit Clerk’s Office also issues all process including summons and subpoenas, draws jurors and qualifies juries, keeps a record of all judgments and executions, issues marriage licenses and keeps record of marriages, records medical and other professional licenses, and registers citizens to vote and has other duties in handling elections. It is solely responsible for the countywide elections of Oktibbeha.”

Why did you decide to run?

“I believe that the people of Oktibbeha County deserve better. Rising to the challenge is what makes democracy work. It’s what others have done before us, and it’s what has made us a county in which we can be proud of. I am deeply committed to my city and county and desire to influence the community’s direction in a positive manner. I am passionate about voter’s rights, and the integrity of Oktibbeha County. I have and still continue to serve my family and church tirelessly because servitude is my calling. I would like to further my calling, and give my time, service, and efforts to the citizens of Oktibbeha County. I will value your vote.”

SHERYL ELMORE

Age: 60

Birthplace Miles City, Montana

Occupation: Deputy Clerk, Circuit Clerk Office

What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

“I would like ensure adequate training for all deputy clerks so that they will be able to perform their jobs as deputy clerks to the BEST of their ability. I would also make sure that everyone is crossed trained to be able to help if the need arose. I want to assure the public that I will be an active and working clerk.”

If elected, will you register as a member of a political party?

“Unknown at this time. Need to research each to determine. Responsible leadership and being a good steward of the citizens’ trust and money can be achieved and should be achieved without regard for political affiliation.”

Why do you feel you are qualified?

“I am the ONLY candidate who has experience working in the Circuit Clerk’s Office. I have been with the Circuit Clerk’s Office for over eight years and have worked in the civil division where you process all civil cases (assigning case numbers, creating a docket cover page, issuing summons, garnishments, judgments.) I will also make sure all case files are available to Circuit Judges when needed. I assist the Jury Commission when determining random and key numbers when pulling the jury wheel for the next year. I am now the Elections Deputy Clerk and process all voter registration applications, print voter registration cards. When it is time to open an election. I set-up the Election in the SEMS (Statewide Election Management System). I do absentee voting (except this time) and process ballots in the system. I am the Passport Manager. I do marriage licenses and restitution payments.”

Where are some places the office could improve?

“Having all case files up to date and available to the public. Making sure all deputy clerks have knowledge of all areas of the office. Assuring the citizens of Oktibbeha County have a Clerk that will be here working for them.”

What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

“To help the public understand how each of the different offices works and how it all comes together. We have a wonderful staff and facility the taxpayers have provide for us. I want to maintain and improve all services we provide to the citizens of Oktibbeha County.”

What is something the public may not know about the office?

“We handle a multitude of functions: elections, passports, marriage licenses, civil court, criminal court, lower court appeals, jury panel selection, and restitution and fine collection.”

Why did you decide to run?

“At this time we do not have a sitting Clerk. It is my opportunity to fulfill a dream of mine. I have wanted to be Circuit Clerk since shortly after starting with this office. Angie McGinnis hired me and trained me and it lit a fire in me to be a public servant. I love the people of this county and want to give back to this community which has given so much to my family.”

STEPHANIE MORGAN SNYDER



Age: 46



Birthplace: Sturgis, Mississippi 



Occupation: Educator



What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

“Provide more digital services.”



If elected, will you register as a member of a political party? 

“No. I believe the Circuit Clerks office is a non-partisan position that is tasked with serving all of the residents of Oktibbeha County. Party affiliation is not as important as fulfilling job responsibilities to the public and ensuring their needs are met.”



Why do you feel you are qualified? 

“I have lived in Oktibbeha County all my life. I hold both Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Mississippi State University in Office Systems and Technology, Instructional Technology, and Teacher Technology Education and have completed the rigorous National Board Certification process, the highest achievement for professional teachers in the United States. My experience working with the public, as well as my extensive technology background, makes me a uniquely qualified candidate to lead the Circuit Clerk's Office into the future.”



Where are some places the office could improve?

“I think public access, speed of services, and high standards can be improved upon. The standard must be set high, and as a teacher, I have been held to an extremely high standard over the course of my career. I hope to continue this as your Circuit Clerk. The people of Oktibbeha County work hard and pay taxes to pay for the public services that our local government provides, and they expect a well-equipped, well-staffed Circuit Clerk's Office, one that I can assure you we will have with your support.”

 

What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

“I would like to continue the courteous service and work ethic that our current interim Circuit Clerk exhibits.”

What is something the public may not know about the office? 

“The Circuit Clerk is responsible for many services to the county. During my campaigning, I learned that most voters are aware that this office is responsible for voter registration, jury summons, and marriage license applications, services that most citizens have utilized at some point in their lifetime. However, some constituents were unaware that the office processes passport applications, keeps records of Mississippi medical licenses, and collects any fees associated with the courts. These various duties require experience working with the public, which I have done as an educator for 15 years.”


Why did you decide to run?

“I decided to run for Circuit Clerk because I have come to a point in my professional life where I believe I can serve my fellow residents more directly. As a lifelong learner and a fifteen year veteran teacher with Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, I have incorporated a strong work ethic, exhibited a passion for teaching and education, and have taken an ethical and moral stance. If elected, I will continue to strive for excellence, while serving the citizens of Oktibbeha County.”

TONY ROOK



Age: 46



Birthplace Starkville, Mississippi



Occupation:  Municipal Court Administrator



What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

“I will bring 18 years of court administration experience to the circuit clerk office. My immediate and primary goal is to earn the public confidence. This will be accomplished through my character, integrity, and work ethic. I will ensure that we maintain a well-trained, professional, and impartial staff who will follow the law and provide quality customer service. Every individual will be treated with the proper courtesy, dignity, and respect that they deserve.”



If elected, will you register as a member of a political party? 


“All candidates are currently required to run as an independent because this is a special election. The Circuit Court Judges are required to run nonpartisan in all elections, and I believe the circuit clerks should be required to run nonpartisan as well. However, that is not the law as it currently exists. Regardless of party affiliation, circuit clerks and their staff must remain fair and impartial at all times. If elected, my focus will not be about joining a political party. My focus will be on performing the best job possible for the residents of Oktibbeha County. I will consider whether or not to make a party decision at the appropriate time.”


Why do you feel you are qualified? 


“I am the only candidate who has a proven track record of successfully managing a court, and my experience will be an invaluable asset to the citizens of Oktibbeha County. My daily duties are extremely similar to those of the Circuit Court Clerk. I have a total of 24 years of court related experience. As the Municipal Court Administrator and Department Head of the City of Starkville court system for more than 18 years, I manage all administrative operations of the court, and I have received extensive experience in records management and court organization. I have been designated by the Mississippi Judicial College and Mississippi Supreme Court as a Certified Court Administrator, and I have received over 18 years of continuing education training in court administration. During my career as a court administrator, and in addition to other duties, I have spent approximately 10,000 hours overseeing court procedures inside the courtroom, and an additional 30,000 hours supervising court clerks outside the courtroom. I am responsible for the management and organization of approximately 12,000 new court cases per year. My daily duties include working with judges, prosecutors, attorneys, law enforcement officers, members of the public, and the supervision of court clerks. I am also responsible for the preparation and management of the court budget, technology and computer software.”

Where are some places the office could improve? 

“I will ensure that we have a fair, impartial, and ethical election process. Every vote is important, and every legal vote must count. We must constantly update and maintain voter rolls to ensure accuracy. I have been very fortunate to be part of a dedicated team that has given the Starkville Municipal Court the reputation of being one of the most efficiently and effectively run courts in the state. I will work tirelessly to bring that same reputation to the Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk office. I will apply many of the same procedures I have implemented in the Starkville Municipal Court that have contributed to the great success of the office. I will work diligently and collectively with the Circuit Judges, District Attorney, Sheriff, attorneys, current staff, and citizens of Oktibbeha County to identify and implement procedures that will maximize office productivity and efficiency.”


What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?


“The circuit court has three judges who have tremendous experience and knowledge. Our District Attorney has also employed a staff of assistant D.A.’s who have an abundance of experience and expertise. The entire circuit court system has enormous potential. I will ensure that we employ individuals who have a sincere desire to serve the citizens of Oktibbeha County and who will provide a positive image for the entire judicial system.”

What is something the public may not know about the office? 


“Many individuals, unless they work in the judicial system, are not aware that Oktibbeha County contains four different courts, and there are many notable distinctions between circuit court and the other courts. Circuit Court has the highest jurisdictional maximum for all criminal and civil matters in the county. The slang term often used is “Big Court.” Some circuit clerk duties take place inside the courtroom, and some duties take place outside the courtroom. One critical responsibility of the circuit clerk is the election process. The circuit clerk is the registrar of voters, and they assist in all county, state, and national elections. They are also responsible for voter verification, qualifications for political candidates, the issuance of registration cards and absentee ballots, and for ensuring that the voter rolls are accurate and continually updated. Examples of other office functions include the issuance of marriage licenses, passports, jury lists, and the maintenance of medical licenses and disability lists. In the courtroom, the clerk is present for all sessions of court. They work collectively with the judges, district attorneys, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials and other staff. They are responsible for the maintenance and security of all court documents and record keeping. Examples of other duties include the issuance and maintenance of all summons and subpoenas, civil and criminal dockets, court minutes, judgement rolls, collection of court fines and assessments, swearing of witnesses, and the docketing of appealed cases from municipal and justice courts.”


Why did you decide to run? 

“I am a lifelong resident of Oktibbeha County. I am a product of the Starkville Public Schools and Mississippi State University where I graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1994. My career in public service began when I joined the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office in 1993. I joined the Starkville Police Department in 1996 and the Starkville Municipal Court in 1999. I am deeply vested into this community, and I have many friends and family members who call Starkville home. My wife, Lisa, and I chose to raise our family in Starkville. Our daughter is a freshman at MSU, and our son is a sophomore at Starkville High School. I simply want what is best for this community. I believe that the most qualified and experienced individuals should hold public office. It is imperative that we elect a circuit clerk who has great experience, qualifications, organizational skills, and integrity. We should elect a clerk who has a proven track record of successfully managing a court staff, maintaining a court budget, and working collectively with all members of the judiciary. It is critical for a circuit clerk to understand the importance of being fair, courteous, and impartial to all individuals. Further, an experienced circuit clerk understands the significance of maintaining the public confidence in the office. These are qualities I have realized and implemented while leading the Starkville Municipal Court. I am ready to continue these practices while serving the citizens of Oktibbeha County as their next Circuit Court Clerk, and I ask for your vote on November 7, 2017.”

ELAINE BOYKIN TURNER

Age: 58

Birthplace: Starkville, Mississippi

Occupation: MSU CAVS Administrative Assistant

What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

“As Circuit Clerk I would have three important changes to address immediately. First, I will begin a cross-training system for myself and the staff, providing efficient and effective service for the community. Secondly, I will evaluate the technology being used and address any improvements which may be needed to provide the most cost effective and secure system, increasing overall cybersecurity against computer viruses and hacks within the system. And last, but not least, I will bring professionalism and accountability to the office. I will expect courtesy, honesty and integrity to be the main objectives for all personnel.”

If elected, will you register as a member of a political party?

“Registering as a particular political party member is not a decision I have made at this time. I am, and will always be, a candidate for all people and am excited for this opportunity to be so.”

Why do you feel you are qualified?

“I am well qualified to be circuit clerk because of the diversity of work experience, training and responsibility I have received over the last 40 years. I have completed college business management courses and attended report writing, payroll, purchasing/invoicing, and many other training programs to enhance my office management skills. I have managed and supervised staff, provided assistance to and served the public. I have also worked with and assisted law enforcement officials and agencies.”

Where are some places the office could improve?

“The Office of Circuit Clerk requires a professional who will assess the needs of the office, its policies and procedures and assemble the staff to perform the tasks at hand. Maintaining records, insuring accuracy of documents and completing reports in a timely manner is essential for a successful office. As a professional, I can and will establish a respect for this office, the service it provides and all it represents.”

What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

“The Circuit Clerk Mission Statement states the duty of the office is to serve the public, the judicial system, county government, law enforcement and other agencies. It is my desire to fulfill these duties as completely and professionally as possible. I will earn the confidence and respect of all citizens and court officials by providing a professional service and a positive image for myself, the office and our county.”

What is something the public may not know about the office?

“In addition to establishing, maintaining and keeping all records of the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court and assisting with all of the court process; the circuit clerk also serves as the voter registrar and assists with elections and receives the required documents when candidates qualify to run for public office.”

Why did you decide to run?

“Philippians chapter 2, verse 3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” I am a candidate for Circuit Clerk because I love Mississippi and I especially love Oktibbeha County. I believe Oktibbeha County is the epitome of southern living at its finest, exemplifying the character and grace of the old and the new. Serving as Circuit Clerk has been a dream of mine for a long time and I want to give back to the community that means so much to me.”

Category: