When military-minded Tim Fitzgerald, a Republican, was appointed Spokane County clerk by the Board of Commissioners last April, he knew it would be up to voters if he would keep his job beyond 2014.
Now, Fitzgerald must fend off a challenge from Mary Wissink, a Democrat who boasts experience in legal matters.
The clerk is charged with managing legal filings and case records for the Superior Court. The job was vacated by the longtime clerk, Tom Fallquist, who retired.
How long have you lived in Spokane County? The quick answer is over 55 years. If we were waiting in line at the county clerk’s office, I would have time to share that I was born at Sacred Heart in 1956 to parents Al and Mary Wissink who established their small business, Almar Appliance Service in 1960, which is still serving the greater Spokane area to this day. I attended Spokane schools K-12, graduating from North Central High School. I am married and raised four children in Spokane and have spent nearly all of my professional career working in the Spokane legal community.
Why did you decide to file for this office at this time? Today, my cell phone has a faster processor than the computers in the Spokane County Courthouse over 20 years ago when I began working as Judicial Assistant for Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue. While our legal community has made upgrades, the county clerk’s office is still pushing paper. With the retirement of my friend, Clerk Tom Fallquist, we have an opportunity to bring the office up to speed.
The good men and women at our county clerk’s office have been placed in impossible situations and they need the technology tools that are necessary to serve the public. It’s time to put the pride back in public service.
The clerk’s job is about helping people, not just paperwork. As a member of the Spokane County legal community for over 25 years, I have been directly involved with the people who work for, with, and through the clerk’s office. I am proud to have earned the endorsements and encouragement from my colleagues, retired local judges, prominent area lawyers, law-enforcement officials, even my dog-groomer and people from all walks of life throughout our county.
This is not a retirement project for me. I have a personal passion for being your county clerk!
Why should voters choose you over your opponent? We are not getting our money’s worth from our current clerk. My opponent only recently moved to our area and was appointed under six months ago by politicians. He has no prior Spokane legal experience and is just beginning to understand what those of us in the Spokane County legal system have known for decades. We can’t afford four years of on-the-job-training.
My opponent recently described the clerk’s office as the middle of an hour glass. I call it a log-jam. We don’t need lectures about leadership, promises of technology-to-come, or an executive idea-man. I am a roll-up-my-sleeves and get-the-job-done gal.
I don’t believe that the person best-suited to bring about the necessary changes in our clerk’s office is a newcomer from an entirely different field who was appointed by politicians. Haven’t we had enough with cronyism? When it comes to a position of this importance, we can’t be expected to pay for someone’s on-the-job training because they have friends with power.
What issues do you feel are most pertinent to the clerk's office going into the next four years? We need to speed up services and work smarter. The technology is available. Many other counties and the city of Spokane are using technology to their advantage and saving citizens time and money. Unfortunately, our county clerk’s system is still in the paper-pushing era. This not only costs money, it compromises the safety of our citizens. It currently can take a whole day to make law enforcement officials aware of orders of protection. This is inexcusable.
As clerk, I will establish an office culture and create conditions that empower staff to treat each file as someone’s friend, parent, child or spouse. Dealing with a divorce, defending a client or obtaining information about children who are in the system. These are some of the real-life events that are currently lost in a log-jam by unnecessary bureaucracy. I will reopen the office during the lunch hour and after 4 p.m. and institute a performance recognition system. And, for heaven’s sake, if I can pay my car insurance on my cell phone, the clerk’s office should be able to accept credit cards.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? People are very surprised to learn that I’m running to be the first woman clerk of Spokane County.
How long have you lived in Spokane County? I have brought my family to Deer Park to visit with our extended family since 1989. I planned to retire here once I completed my military service. In June of 2011, I moved my family up here permanently to our newly built house. In July 2013, I retired from the United States Marine Corps after 30 years of service and permanently returned to Deer Park to join my family.
Why did you decide to file for this office at this time? I am a big believer in public service. I served as a public servant for 30 years as a Marine Corps officer. I wanted to continue my public service and still make a difference in the community. The county clerk position is the perfect office for me to continue serving the public and using the skills I have acquired in my military career. The clerk's office is the second busiest office in the county on a daily basis as well as being very dynamic at times. My extensive leadership and executive level management experience coupled with my strong relationship building skills are a perfect fit as the county clerk. I wanted to continue serving the public, and I have the ideal qualifications to continue the job as your county clerk. I am committed to doing this job as long as I am needed.
Why should voters choose you over your opponent? The county clerk is an executive level manager. The position involves directing multiple departments, financial management, administrative actions and detailed coordination with several other departments. The position requires the clerk to be a critical thinker on very complex issues, yet creative enough to have the vision to modernize the office in a holistic approach. This approach must involve the other stakeholders and be designed within the current fiscal environment. As the chief of staff for Regional Command (Southwest) Afghanistan, I directed a staff of 440 personnel with 19 separate departments directing the efforts of a 28,000 person multi-national force. Additionally, I allocated and authorized a $300 million dollar budget. This experience enables me to coordinate and integrate the clerk's five departments with all the stakeholders in the court house, primarily the Superior Court and Superior Court administrator's office. We have already started the modernization process and my relationship building skills have enabled all the stakeholders to move forward with a common objective in sight. As a member of the Law and Justice Council and as a member of the Judicial Liaison Committee I am in the right position to usher in a new modernization program for the clerk’s office that will save us money in the long term. I have the vision, financial management skills, the executive level leadership and management experience, and most important of all I have the full confidence and trust of the clerk's office to take it into the future.
What issues do you feel are most pertinent to the clerk's office going into the next four years? Mike, the biggest one is modernizing the office with an updated Electronic Case Management System. In concert with this we need e-filing for the attorneys and the public to enable them to draft, and present documents electronically. Furthermore, the clerk's office needs to implement an electronic payment system. All of these are in work now in various stages of draft implementation. I plan to continue the implementation while coordinating with the other departments in the county all the while staying within the budget constraints. Finally, I am in the process of making our bail bond process far more efficient. This effort will require a mix of process updates involving tracking and monitoring of the bail bond program and the addition of electronic resources to make the system more timely and efficient. The final goal is to make the bail bond process timely, accurate and protect the tax payers' money.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? By far the biggest question I have been asked by the vast majority of the public is: "So what does the county clerk do?" It is my favorite question to answer. Folks really want to know, and I really want them to know. It gives me the opportunity to brag about true public servants and that is the men and women of the county clerk's office. They are highly intelligent, hardworking and very dedicated county employees. They really care about public service and helping all who enter the office whether they are attorneys or folks handling their own legal matters. You can stand in awe and watch them help a customer who is working through a significant individual legal matter. Clerk’s office personnel have a well earned reputation of courteous, patient and knowledgeable customer service. I am extremely proud of them.