EDITOR'S NOTE: This is another in a series of profiles of candidates running for local offices in the Nov. 6 General Election.
CONYERS -- In her campaign for re-election as Rockdale County's clerk of courts, Ruth Wilson said one of the biggest concerns she hears from constituents involves physical access to her office and the rest of the county courthouse.
"The biggest and most frequent complaint is lack of parking at the courthouse," said Wilson in a recent email interview. "In addition to causing a major inconvenience to the public, it makes it difficult for us to conduct the court's business when people are not able to arrive on time for jury duty, traffic court, etc."
Wilson, who was elected in 2008 and will be opposed by Republican Holly Bowie in November, added that now that the construction of a new courthouse "is no longer on the table," she suggests the establishment of a county records center, as recommended by a recent Rockdale County grand jury pronouncement.
"The major long-term issue facing the clerk's office is the limitations imposed by our historic courthouse," she said. "While it is a rich piece of living history which is to be treasured and preserved, it was not built for the realities of the 21st century. The space and technical limitations of the building make it impossible to perform certain aspects of our jobs. The grand jury has recommended and I support the consideration of a county records center, since the option of building a new courthouse is no longer on the table."
The Clerk of Courts Office maintains all court records -- civil, criminal and real estate -- for the county's superior and state courts. The office also oversees the jury selection process and collects assessed court fines and fees, including passport fees, which have proven to be a controversial election-year topic.
State law allows the clerk of courts to keep fees related to processing passports as personal income, and the issue arose earlier this year when it was reported that Wilson had collected some $44,000 in passport fees. In April, Wilson said she would no longer keep any fees for herself and would donate one-third of the funds to the county's general fund, one-third to her office for year-end bonuses and one-third to local charitable organizations.
When asked if the passport fee issue was the primary topic of discussion on the campaign trail, Wilson said, "Early in my administration, I established a separate bank account just for the purpose of tracking and reporting the passport fees. This was years before the public had any interest in the subject. I have been sending those monthly bank statements to the Board of Commissioners ... for years. There has never been an attempt to hide the money. When it did become an issue, we were able to comply immediately with requests to examine the records.
"Soon after that, most people recognized that this is a statewide legislative issue that originated prior to my taking office. I have repeatedly offered to make available for inspection the official accounting records on the passport fees going back decades ... As I have publicly stated, I am prepared to make the funds available to the Board of Commissioners, the clerk's office operations and the clerk's staff in equal proportions. In an unprecedented move, I have posted the current month and year-to-date amounts on my website (www.rockdaleclerk.com) for public review."
Wilson also said that another frequent complaint she hears from voters is the lack of credit and debit card acceptance on the clerk's website, which she added is a portion of her plan to continue to upgrade constituent service through technology.
"We will continue to leverage the investments already made in process improvement technologies to keep ourselves lean and nimble in the rapidly changing economic and legislative environment we face," she said. "Finding ways to work smarter within our space and budget limitations has been the secret to our effectiveness."
Wilson sought election as clerk of courts after 25 years with BellSouth and AT&T, specializing in information systems management.
When asked how her re-election campaign was progressing, Wilson said, "I am generally optimistic that voters will make well thought-out decisions and choices based on qualifications, accomplishments and capabilities to provide value to the public. If that is the case, I am confident I will return to provide leadership and forward momentum in the clerk's office on behalf of taxpayers."
For more information, visit www.ruthforrockdale.com.