Candidates plead their cases

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 11, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Five of the seven candidates vying to become the city’s next clerk of court told East Suffolk residents what they would bring to the office, met Wednesday at C&C Restaurant, giving members of Suffolk Civic Forum an opportunity to listen to their reasons for seeking the office.

Candidates W. Randolph Carter Jr., Barbara X. Gayle, Clinton Jenkins, Robert Nelms, and Kirk Pretlow attended the event. ere all on their toes and ready with a brief biography on themselves. Johnnie Edwards and Tony Brown were absent from the lunchtime meeting, however,

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&uot;I think it was a good meeting each candidate represented themselves well,&uot; said Charles Christian, president of the Suffolk NAACP. &uot;Each of them had similar remarks about how the office should be served, and they all believe that it is a people oriented office and one of the most important offices in the city of Suffolk.&uot;

nCarter, deputy commonwealth’s attorney and assistant commonwealth’s attorney for the past 17 years, is confident his 22 years practicing law has aptly prepared him for the position.

The clerk of the court serves the public from birth to death, with responsibilities including the filing of wills, deeds, land transfers, divorces, marriage licenses and many other documents.

&uot;I also spent five years in private practice,&uot; Carter said. &uot;I spent time then drafting deeds and probating wills and things of that nature.

&uot;…A legal background is important because it (the clerk) is an administrative arm of the court. You act on behalf of the judges, keeping the legal documents for them.&uot;

He also pointed out that the clerk of the court oversees a budget of more than $700,000 a year, takes in $7 million in fees and 13 employees work in the office, and has 13 employees in the clerk’s office. He noted that he oversees 25 people in the office of the Commonwealth’s attorney.

Community service was an issue brought up by each candidate and Carter’s involvement with the people of the city includes King’s Kids, Action Inc., the Citizens Academy Alumni of Suffolk, and Suffolk Ruritans, among many others.

Carter also noted that he was endorsed by the late Henry C. Murden, clerk of the court for 51 years prior to his death Aug. 11. He was also endorsed by Suffolk Police Officers Association; Sheriff Raleigh H. Isaacs Sr.; Commonwealth’s Attorney, C. Phillips Ferguson; and the Suffolk Democratic Committee.

nGayle said she has 11 years in the administrative field, serving as a criminal paralegal court administrator. She was also a deputy clerk of court in Portsmouth, and worked for three months with Murden. She noted that she seeks the clerk of court seat because it is the &uot;next natural extension&uot; of her work career.

&uot;The job itself requires someone experienced in dealing with policies and procedures,&uot; said Gayle. &uot;It’s important that Suffolk citizens understand that this position requires someone with keen technological literacy and managerial skills. We can’t make promises to the general public other than having a great staff.&uot;

She said that because of budgetary restraints, she is not expecting to hire any new employees. She also said that cross-training is important to improve service to the public.

Gayle said she wanted to create a community awareness of the office of clerk of the court so that citizens may feel comfortable going to research any documents.

nNelms began his statements by saying that he had not been called to attend the meeting, and showed up only because he read a notice about the event in the newspaper.

He also noted that none of his challengers had accepted his invitation to hold a debate.

Nelms, a former Republican Delegate, said he is the only candidate to have already held public office in both local and state government and that he’d worked for Senators John Warner and Paul Trible.

He also said that the clerk’s office is one of public service and that none of the candidates has more public service experience than he does.

&uot;I served in the General Assembly for six years, was elected to three terms, serving the cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake and County of Isle of Wight,&uot; said Nelms. &uot;I’ve worked with all the local, state and federal agencies that work to help you and to help the city operate.&uot;

He added that his community service is also extensive including the Driver Fire Department, serving on the executive board. He also coached with the Bennett’s Creek Little League and worked for the school board and city council.

Nelms said that he’s been out of public service since 1998 and that he looks forward to serving again.

nPretlow pointed out that while he’s not a politician, he’s an attorney who is a native of Suffolk and old Nansemond County, graduating from John Yeates in 1970, and the University of Richmond in 1974. He has practiced law in Suffolk since 1980.

Working as an attorney in civil, criminal and real estate, Pretlow said he can say that Murden had one of the best clerk’s office for real estate search in Tidewater, and probably in the state of Virginia.

Pretlow also noted that he’s heavily involved in the community through service as member and president of Suffolk Jaycees, the Nansemond River Athletic Boosters and the Chuckatuck Ruritans.

Along with his community service, Pretlow said he is committed to prompt and courteous service and to maintaining the hours of operation of the clerk’s office even in times of budget restraints.

Pretlow also countered Nelms’ statement about carrying a Bible to law school by saying he didn’t carry his Bible to law school, but that he’s served 15 years as superintendent of Sunday school at Wesley Chapel Church in Chuckatuck, and he’s the secretary/treasurer of United Methodist Men. He added that he’s committed to service to the public and the courts.

nJenkins quoted from his campaign literature describing his professional experience. He has 19 years of legal and technical documentation management experience with government and defense logistics agencies, and he’s managed and warehoused the largest inventory of classified documentations and files in the Tidewater area, he said. He also noted that he’d recorded, field and processed court documentations for judges at the juvenile receiving home in Washington, D.C.

&uot;I’m also a student at Regent University, and I have a bachelor’s degree in human resource administrations,&uot; said Jenkins. &uot;I have an associate’s degree in criminal justice. With my experience, and expertise, I can do the job.&uot;

He said he would like the opportunity work for the people of Suffolk and asked for their vote.

Following the discussions, there was a question-and-answer period in which one woman brought plenty of laughter to the occasion. Helen Daughtrey asked the candidates to name who they would vote for if they were not running.

Carter said he’d vote for Pretlow; Gayle said she’d vote for Carter; Nelms said he’d vote for Jenkins; Pretlow said he’d vote for Carter, and Jenkins said he’d vote for Jenkins.

As for party affiliations, Carter filed as an independent but is endorsed by the Democratic Committee. Gayle is an independent as is Nelms and Jenkins said he is a Democrat running as an independent. Pretlow is running as a Republican endorsed by the Republican Committee.

Jenkins said he had approached the Democratic party for endorsement, however, they had already endorsed Carter.