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Court clerk touting experience as advantage

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The incumbent Clayton County Clerk of Superior Court says she's the only one with the experience to run the office, but two challengers say their corporate resumes would be better than on-the-job training.

Linda T. Miller, who was first elected as clerk in 1992, said people don't understand the many facets of the office, which is one of the four constitutionally mandated offices in the county.

"Most people associate me with jury duty, or filing their property deed," Miller said, "but to do this job, you have to know civil law, criminal law, land deeds, document management for documents dating back to the 1880s, how to disburse filing fees and fines, tax law, office management and also be a clerk for the juries."

Miller, who grew up in Clayton County, started working in the office in the late 1960s and, 23 years later, ran for the clerk's position. She was the first woman elected to the post, and in 2006, was named Georgia's Superior Court Clerk of the Year.

Despite a lot of political upheaval in the county, Miller said her office has been untouched by controversy in the last 15 years.

"I've had 15 years of successful audits from outside audit services," she said. "We have no problems in the clerk's office, and we're progressive."

Miller is running on her record aggressively, with the campaign slogan: "THE ONLY EXPERIENCED, QUALIFIED CHOICE FOR CLAYTON COUNTY. (No one else can make these claims)."

Miller is facing two challengers in this race, though, and both of them, Tony Antoine and Michelle Thomas, say her experience doesn't make her the best candidate.

"She's been in that office a long time, and there's a lot of things, out in the world, that she's not aware of," said Antoine, who recently retired from Delta Airlines, where he was a project manager in charge of process and workplace engineering.

According to Antoine, the court clerk's office under Miller, has been "too passive," and needs a new, visionary view.

"The status quo is not working for us," Antoine said. "We just cannot keep doing this same old stuff. This is not Mayberry anymore."

Antoine's vision for the office includes using it as a "collaborative tool," and sharing the office's data freely, making jury rolls, land deeds and case file information available online to neighborhood watch associations, chambers of commerce, law enforcement agencies and other organizations.

"All that information can be made more collaborative," Antoine said. "That information should be made available ... We have to open the office up, to benefit the citizens, as well as the courts."

Antoine said his 40 years at Delta and at Western Airlines give him a lot of experience with strategy, budgets, and "looking for ways to improve the process."

He described the clerk's position as basically a "data management job" he is more than qualified to do.

Miller's other opponent echoed a similar claim. Thomas said the position struck her as something she was qualified to do, with her years of experience working with Coca Cola. If it were a job in the private sector, Thomas said, she would send her resume to a headhunter, but the spot is in the public sector, so she's campaigning.

"I don't see myself as a politician," she said. "I feel like I have the qualifications, and certainly, the competence to bring to the office."

Thomas -- who is married to Kevin Thomas, the head of the county Democratic Party -- currently works for an internal, employee-relations program at Coca Cola and has previously worked in the legal department at Coca Cola's global legal center.

"I've dealt with a lot of people from different time zones, different areas and different cultures, and I've managed it successfully," Thomas said.

Thomas said she would bring a different perspective to the clerk's office, and would always be looking at ways to improve things, do things more efficiently.

"I'm used to doing jobs where you're always looking at 'how do we improve,' and, 'how do we get better,'" she said. "In the business world, you don't just get to stay. You always have to improve. I don't know that doing something for a long time always makes someone better ... Does that mean they're always looking for better ways to do things? Or are they relaxed?"

Thomas said she would, if elected, start electronic filing and streamline the jury process. She said she wouldn't rashly transform the office, but would push it forward.

"We're not going to go in there, willy-nilly, and turn everything upside down," Thomas said. "I really want that point to be clear. There are things that are working well, there are things that just need small adjustments, and there will be some things where we just need a change of thought."

Miller said there are, in fact, many things that are "going well" in the clerk's office, and that, far from the image her opponents project of an exhausted office with outdated procedures, she has consistently made improvements.

"It's disappointing," she said, "when these candidates talk about doing things that can't legally be done. My opponents don't understand this office."

Miller said she has, recently, gotten approval from the Superior Court judges to start e-filing for child support cases -- something they have to approve -- and she hopes, once she demonstrates the system works, that they will authorize her to move all the documents onto an online system.

She is also working on moving some parts of the jury-call process onto the Internet.

"There's a lot to it," Miller said. "There's a lot to do. It's a challenge everyday."