Customer service focus: Both Democrat Pat Frank and Republican Chris Hart detail plans to update the office and offer easier access to records, such as paying traffic tickets via the Web.
By GRAHAM BRINK
Published October 26, 2004
The race to become Hillsborough's clerk of court showcases two veteran politicians.
Pat Frank, a current Hillsborough County commissioner, easily beat Helene Marks in the August primary elections. Republican Chris Hart, a former commissioner, drubbed his two opponents.
Hart and Frank are seeking to replace Richard Ake, who is retiring after 37 years in the clerk's office, including two decades at the helm. Frank said her maturity and reasoned decision-making set her apart from Hart.
"This is a race with a clear choice," Frank said.
Hart echoed Frank's comments, though he obviously thought he was the better candidate.
"I have the experience and the demeanor to build that organization," Hart said.
The clerk oversees a staff of about 835 and a $50.3-million budget. The office keeps the county's financial books, and stores, maintains and catalogs its official records. It also is custodian of county funds, responsible for investing about $1-billion in annual county collections.
During the primary campaign, most of the candidates criticized the office as technologically outdated and lacking in customer service. That theme continues now that Hart and Frank have squared off.
Hart, a county commissioner from 1994 to 2002, said the office is too wedded to the old paper system and needs more technological updates. He would like to see the office make better use of the Internet to improve customer service. One example cited by Hart: Residents should be able to pay most traffic tickets on the clerk's Web site.
As more and more court documents are posted to the Web, Hart said, he would apply safeguards to ensure personal information that is protected under the law would remain out of the public domain.
Hart thought his background in banking would serve him well in managing the county's money.
"The core functions of the clerk's office are what I've done during my professional career," he said.
Hart's political career began in 1990 with an unsuccessful bid for a county commission seat. In 1994 he ran again and was elected in Commission District 5, and won easy re-election in 1998.
Term limits barred him from running in District 5 again in 2002, so Hart jumped to commission District 1, where he lost to Democrat Kathy Castor. In 2003, he filed to run for mayor of Tampa, but dropped out of the race before the election, and subsequently entered the clerk's race early this year. Frank was elected to the County Commission in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. She has also been a School Board member and longtime state legislator. Her education is in finance, and she calls herself a fiscal conservative. She has a reputation for closely analyzing the county's financial books.
"I study the facts and the issues, and I make decisions that make sense," she said.
Frank would like callers to the clerk's office to be able to talk to a person. She also thought the office could open a drive-through window for the filing of certain documents or to pay tickets. The window would save people from having to park, she said. Residents also should be able to order closed files using the Web site, instead of having to come down to the courthouse to order the file and then come again the next day to view the file.
"These are little things," she said. "But little things add up to big things."
CHRIS HART, 59, was a county commissioner from 1994 to 2002. He previously worked as a banker. Hart was born in Columbia, S.C., graduated from Plant High School in 1962 and received a business management degree from the University of Tampa. He served in the Army from 1968 to 1988. He has been involved with various transportation-related county boards, including the Hillsborough Aviation Authority and the Transportation Disadvantaged Coordinating Board. He is married and has one grown son. ASSETS: Home, condominium, mutual funds, stocks, life insurance. LIABILITIES: Mortgages. SOURCE OF INCOME: Salary. E-MAIL: email@example.com WEB SITE: www.hartforclerk.com
PAT FRANK, 74, has served on the Hillsborough County Commission for six years. She served in the state Senate for 10 years ending in 1988 and in the state House of Representatives for two years ending in 1978. Before that she was a member of the Hillsborough School Board for four years. She ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives in 1988 and 1996, respectively. In 1951, she became the first woman to attend Georgetown University School of Law. She is married and has three daughters. ASSETS: Home, property, stocks, money market account. LIABILITIES: Mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: Commission salary, investment interest, rental property, Social Security. WEB SITE: www.votepatfrank.com
The Clerk of Circuit Court is the chief financial officer for the county, responsible for tracking and investing more than $1-billion in annual collections. The clerk maintains records of the County Commission and the courts. The clerk also supervises a department of internal audit, issues marriage licenses and conducts foreclosure sales. The office has about 835 employees and a budget of $50.3-million. The clerk serves a four-year term, and earns an annual salary of $139,351.