A fresh approach: Two Republican candidates have differing ideas on the future of the office, which has had the same leadership for 24 years.
By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published August 24, 2004
It is not very often Pinellas County voters get to choose a new clerk of the circuit court.
But with Karleen De Blaker retiring after 24 years on the job, an intense competition between two high-profile Republicans has made this year's primary interesting.
Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst will face Ken Burke, chairman of the board at St. Petersburg College, this month. The winner takes on Democrat Carrie Wadlinger in the Nov. 2 election.
Aungst has been campaigning since April 2003. He's touting 20 years of business experience, including his current position as director of public affairs for Bright House Networks.
If he's elected, his first tasks would be to implement a strategic management plan and survey employees. He wants their input on how the office could improve.
"It's a bottom-up approach," Aungst said. "It will be different from the environment now. It's not being critical. But after 24 years, it's time for a fresh approach."
Aungst said voters should consider his role leading Pinellas County's second largest city the past 51/2 years.
"I'm the only person in the race that has served in a key public role," Aungst said. "It's different from the private sector. But my private sector experience is significant too."
This is Burke's first run for election. A certified public accountant, Burke works as an administrator for a law firm and as vice president of Seminole Title Co.
Burke said his qualifications are essential components for the job, and he would make the clerk's office more efficient. Among his first order of business: make services and forms more accessible online.
"We've changed the way people buy airline tickets," Burke said. "Well, there is so much information with the clerk's office that can be answered on the Internet."
He would also add "greeters" to each of the four offices, so people who come have general questions answered instead of having to wait in line. The idea came about after hearing people complain about the amount of time they spent at the clerk's office.
"They had to wait too long in line for something only to find out the answer was very easy," Burke said. "That's why I am for putting clerk helpers out there, kind of like at Wal-Mart."
BRIAN AUNGST, 50, was first elected mayor of Clearwater in 1999 and was re-elected without opposition in 2002. He is director of public affairs for Bright House Networks. He moved to Pinellas in 1988 and holds a master's in business administration and a bachelor's degree in business administration from Wilmington College. He is a member of the board of directors for Clearwater for Youth, a member of the board of governors and executive committee for Tampa Bay Partnership. He received the Able Trust Award from Gov. Jeb Bush for his work with the disabled in 2000. He is married with one child. ASSETS: home, condo, investments, savings. LIABILITIES: bank debt. SOURCE OF INCOME: Bright House and mayor's salaries.
KEN BURKE, 44, is a certified public accountant, legal administrator for DeLoach & Hofstra law firm and vice president of Seminole Title Co. He is chairman of the board at St. Petersburg College. He moved to Pinellas in 1972 and holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of South Florida and an associate's degree from St. Petersburg College. He is president of Catholic Charities Housing Corp., a provider of housing in the Tampa Bay area for people who are HIV positive. He is married with three children. ASSETS: home, investments, real estate, savings. LIABILITIES: mortgages. SOURCE OF INCOME: law firm salary, rental property, accounting practice.
THE JOB: The clerk of the circuit court manages all courthouse records, serves a four-year term, receives a $135,222 salary and is responsible for about 600 employees. This past year, the clerk was responsible for a $38.5-million budget.