After Sandy Sopak's 20 years in office, a new Chautauqua County Clerk will soon be sworn in, and two applicants for Sopak's job went head-to-head Tuesday night in the Fredonia Village Hall.
As part of a series of debates sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Democrat Lori Cornell and Republican Larry Barmore, both current county legislators, were given the opportunity to convince voters why they deserve to be voted into the clerk's office.
Right from the get-go, Cornell stressed the importance of cutting costs in the clerk's office.
"The county clerk can play a supportive role in strengthening our economy, in alleviating our property tax burden by cutting the cost of operations in the office, returning funds to the county treasury and, ultimately, to the taxpayers," she said. "I'm a strong fiscal conservative and plan to continue my record in support of Chautauqua County's best interests."
Barmore said he was interested in "keeping the money coming in so you don't have to pay more property taxes."
"The county clerk's office is the only office that operates without any of your tax dollars and even generates enough extra revenue to support our county departments," he said. "Because of the change to an eight-year driver's license, our (Department of Motor Vehicles) stands to lose a lot of money because we're entering the three-year period where we will have no driver's license renewals. That's a loss of revenue from about 14,000 transactions per year. My plan ... is to relaunch the Renew Locally Campaign without spending your tax dollars to do so."
Cornell said she was also interested in starting up the campaign again, which is a push for people to renew their driver's licenses at their local DMV, rather than mailing renewals.
The candidates were then asked what they would do to streamline the clerk's office.
"First, I'm going to cut costs," Cornell said. "My number one goal is to provide quality service but to do so at a lower cost ... by use of our ever-changing technology and innovation. Just one example is the new requirement by the Office of Court Administration to now file court records electronically. I'll work with local attorneys' offices to do that effectively and provide cost savings."
"The only thing you can change (in the clerk's office due to state and federal regulations) is workflow and right now that flow is working very well because of massive upgrades in technology made by (Sopak) just two years ago," Barmore said. "(If elected) over the next four years, we'll continue to look at ways to improve on what's there by continuing to enhance the use of technology that's available by including the staff in the process."
When asked about whether she will pursue policies, Cornell said she will take the appropriate measures to become an administrative leader.
"The position is not a policy-making position," she said. "There's an important difference between management and leadership and Mr. Barmore can criticize me, even though (I) complimented (him) for (his) micro-level management and ... I'm a macro-level manager."
The final question regarded additional tasks for the clerk's office.
"I've been promoting since May, it's not my idea, but we have the Return the Favor Card at the county clerk's office," Barmore said. "It's for honorably discharged veterans. We currently have 55 businesses signed up and 350 veterans. You can come to the clerk's office and they give you a card ... and you can go to any of the listed businesses and get the discounts they offer. One thing I'll push (if elected) is to make sure every veteran in the county knows about this and every business knows about this."
"I've committed to visiting, in person, all of our veterans organizations and seniors clubs in the first year in office so that we can, in person, deliver the services they deserve," Cornell said. "I want to be a hands-on, in-touch, attentive county clerk. I've also pledged to visit all of our local high schools over the course of my term so teen drivers can access important resources."
In closing, Barmore stated he has the proper experience that relates to the county clerk's job, which is a "management position and customer service field."
"Finally, (Sopak) ... wants her work to continue into the future. For this reason, Sandy has endorsed me to be the next county clerk and has actively campaigned on my behalf," Barmore said.
"If you want someone to change your tires and your brakes very well, Mr. Barmore is the man for you," Cornell said in closing. "If you want a county clerk with 15 years extensive experience in a related field of public service, then I respectfully ask for your consideration."