GREENFIELD — When it comes to keeping court records and running countywide elections, incumbent Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore says she’s lived up to her promises of cleaning up the office and making improvements.
But her challenger, Patte Cole, says more can be done.
The two are vying for the Republican nomination May 6. There are no Democrats or minor-party candidates yet running for the seat, so the GOP winner could hold office for the next four years.
For Moore, the next term would serve as a continuation of what she says are positive strides she’s already made.
“I ran my last campaign on being honest, efficient and dedicated,” she said. “I believe I have restored integrity in the clerk’s office. We’ve brought the office in compliance with the State Board of Accounts… we have endeavored to do the things that would benefit the taxpayer in an efficient type of way.”
Moore, 55, is seeking her second term; before becoming county clerk, she was a deputy clerk-treasurer 16 years for the city of Greenfield.
Moore says she’s cleaned up accounts, cross-trained employees and set the county up for vote centers, which will begin this spring with sites throughout the county.
“My goals are to just kind of carry it through now and allow it to kind of go forward because we’ve really accomplished a lot,” Moore said. “The way I look at this re-election process is, if you’re in private employment and you’re doing a good job, you’re either promoted or kept on. That’s a similar situation here. I feel like I’ve shown I’ve done a good job, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Cole, 59, is currently a bartender at the Morristown American Legion Post, but she has a paralegal background and is getting an associate’s degree in business management.
For 16 years through 2007, Cole worked in the Hancock County prosecutor’s office, mostly on child support collections. Cole says with her experience in courts and documents, she’s considered running for clerk for years.
“I think (the clerk’s office) needs to be more user-friendly, more organized,” Cole said. “I’m not saying she’s done a bad job, I don’t really know – I’m not in that office anymore. But I know how to motivate people and make people satisfied in their jobs.”
While Cole acknowledges Moore’s strides in the office over the past three years, she also says there have been some missteps.
Cole points to a child support fee collection program shortly after Moore took office as a cause for concern about how Moore handled a sticky situation.
The office hired a private firm to collect $79,000 in child support court filing fees that hadn’t been collected in decades. Moore acknowledges the program was unpopular at the time because people didn’t realize they had owed the fees.
Cole says Moore should have researched the collections first before sending letters to hundreds of county residents, and that some people might have paid fees without actually owing them. But Moore says the office created a spreadsheet of everybody who voiced concern and said their cases had been closed.
Moore says she doesn’t know of anybody who paid a fee but did not actually owe it.
In retrospect, Moore says she should have placed a legal advertisment about the program first to give local residents a chance to rectify the fee before the collection company was drawn into the process.
“You’re not going to be in office and not make some mistakes or hiccups, but… we find a problem, we address the problem and try to find a positive solution for them,” Moore said.
Another hiccup came with the 2012 general election. There were counting errors in three precincts, and Moore and the other two members of the election board decided to suspend counting ballots on election night and wait until two days after Election Day to finish counting ballots. The election board members said they were too tired that night to complete the counting process and did not call a special meeting for the next day, leaving local candidates and the pivotal Mt. Vernon referendum in limbo.
Moore says in retrospect, she regrets that there were errors in precincts and machine malfunctions, but she was just one of three members who decided to hold off on counting. The election board later decided to make Hancock a “central vote” county, meaning absentee ballots will be counted in one location. Counting absentee ballots was part of the problem on election night in 2012, and the change should remedy the problem in the future, she said.
Cole said she wasn’t familiar enough with the 2012 election to give an opinion on the matter.
Many improvements have been made to the office in the past three years that are hard for the general public to see, Moore said.
She points to a number of bookkeeping measures, from reconciling bank accounts, to digitizing court records, to saving money in postage with a bulk-mailing system, to cleaning out old voter address records. In 2012, the Indiana State Board of Accounts issued a letter to the clerk’s office for having a clean checkup for the first time since 1997, Moore said.
Her challenger says more can be done.
“(I will motivate employees) to be more helpful to people, make sure the documents get in the right files and that things are filed properly and things are organized,” Cole said. “She walked into a huge mess, and I think things are better than they used to be. But I think there’s always room for improvement.”
Cole thinks her strength is in court records, and she acknowledges she has little experience with supervising elections. Moore, on the other hand, says her forte is election law and says she’s constantly learning the judicial side of the job.
“I’m so excited about vote centers,” Moore added. “I really believe the public, once they see how they can go anywhere to vote – whether they’re on their way to the grocery or on their way to McCordsville, even if they’re on the east side of the county, they’ll be able to vote anywhere, and I’m so excited about that.”
The success or failure of vote centers this spring could affect the outcome of the clerk’s race, because Moore has been such a proponent of the change.
Cole, however, said she has concerns about the cost of equipment for vote centers and doesn’t understand why the change was made. While Cole acknowledges it might be more convenient for some to be able to vote at any location, many others will probably show up at their old polling site on Election Day and be confused.
But Moore points to savings with the vote center model. Fewer poll workers will be used, cutting costs in staffing, for example. She’s also been spreading the word about vote centers the past few months, sending cards to voters and getting information on local websites.
Moore adds that vote centers bring more integrity to the election process. In 2012, there were 83 ballots that could not be counted because they were cast in the wrong precinct. With vote centers, there is no chance for a voter to show up at the wrong site.
Cole says if she is elected in May, she will go to nearby counties to learn more about the clerk’s role. Moore says she hopes voters give her another term to serve and that she’s made a difference in the office.
“I’ve told my staff I hope my legacy with them has been one for them to know where to go to get answers,” she said.