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Clerk of court candidates discuss experience, challenges

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Jake Magee
July 30, 2014

JANESVILLE—The three democratic candidates running for Rock County Clerk of Courts agreed at a forum Tuesday their focus would be on the public.

Peter Severson said the clerk's customers include anyone who comes to the counter, whether it's a person coming to get case files or pay filing fees.

“The customers are people like us that have traffic tickets or whatever type of hearing,” Sue Enloe said.

Jacki Gackstatter agreed, saying defendants, plaintiffs, people reporting for jury duty and attorneys are the clerk's clients.

All three noted it would be their priority in office to attend to those customers' needs.

“We work with judges and the county board and the county administration, but our boss is who votes us (in),” Gackstatter said.

“Really, we only answer to the voters of Rock County,” Severson said.

The candidates will face each other in the Aug. 12 primary, and with no Republican opposition, the primary winner will likely be the next clerk.

They took turns answering questions prepared by the Democratic Party of Rock County and the audience at Basics Cooperative Natural Foods grocery store.

EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE

Gackstatter has been working in the Clerk of Courts office under incumbent Eldred Mielke for four years. Mielke, the Rock County Sheriff's Office and the district attorney's office all have endorsed her, she said.

Gackstatter has an accounting degree and has taken management and supervision classes.

“You need to have leadership skills. You need to be able to go with the flow,” she said.

Gackstatter said no two days are the same and that she's ready and willing to face new challenges, including upset clients and customers.

“You have to be able to work with those situations in an ever-changing environment.”

Severson noted he's worked with CCAP for nine years. He's served as a child protection worker and with social services, he said.

Severson said he has technical expertise, knowledge that's vital to a clerk's position. His history helped him accumulate several contacts throughout the state.

“I know the counties that are doing good things, and I can copy those best practices for Rock County,” he said.

Enloe studied for a year at Madison Business College. She's been a deputy clerk at the clerk's office, which gives her the experience to succeed, she said. She also has strong relationships with attorneys and public defenders, she said.

She said “being a good leader, a good organizer in the office” is important.

“I will work hard each and every day for Rock County,” she said.

PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES

Gackstatter noted that difficulties in the office will be a daily struggle, but one she's ready to take on.

“It's never the same thing twice. There's always a challenge,” she said.

Gackstatter said the teamwork in the office has never been better but that there's always room for improvement. She embraces change because the office itself is always changing, she said.

“It's time for some new ideas and some new blood,” she said.

Severson noted that budget issues are another concern the clerk must face. The county board sets the budget, and the office's budget this year was short roughly $45,000 because revenue didn't meet projections, he said.

“It's a challenge to deliver on that budget,” he said.

Severson said he wants to “build back some of the bridges” with other agencies that would help the clerk's office succeed, including the Rock County Sheriff's Office, child services and the district attorney.

“Working with the other agencies is critical. We wanna work well with other county agencies,” he said.

“I feel my biggest challenge … is adjusting to a different role in the office,” Enloe said.

She wants to be a good role model to staff, she said. She'd ask staff for ideas on how to make the office run better and would encourage teamwork.

Enloe would talk to other clerks across the state to brainstorm ideas, she said.

LEADERSHIP STYLE

Gackstatter said she would “lead in a team concept” with input from employees.

“For me, it's take charge, but work as a team,” she said.

She sees herself having regular meetings with staff to make sure things are running efficiently, and she'd have an open door policy, she said.

“I feel very strongly about giving back,” she said. “We've always been raised to do your work, do it well and give back.”

She's the only one of the three candidates currently working in the clerk's office.

“I really respect the office and the employees that work there,” she said. “It's a really great office.”

“You lead with honesty,” Severson said. “People know that they can trust you. Honesty is building that trust relationship with your staff.”

Severson said he'd deal with staff in a consistent manner and use evidence-based leadership.

“My experience is broad,” he said. “I will be able to come into this office and be up and running right away.”

Severson would improve his staff to better serve the public and Rock County, he said.

“For me, running is about service,” he said. “I'm looking to serve you again as the Clerk of Circuit Court.”

“I care about my staff,” Enloe said. “I will make my staff feel they can approach me, on or off the job.”

Enloe struggled to answer some of the questions throughout the forum, but laughed it off.

“As you can see, I'm not a politician,” she joked, noting she's been a dedicated employee for many years and would make the office run as efficiently as possible if elected.

“I'm just an honest, hardworking person like everyone out there,” she said.



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