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Elections deputy is asked to fill top job

Gov. Jeb Bush named deputy administrator Deborah Clark to the position held by Dorothy "Dot'' Ruggles.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


Two weeks after losing one of her closest friends, Deborah Clark has been asked to succeed her as Pinellas County's interim supervisor of elections.

Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Clark on Tuesday to the position held for years by Dorothy "Dot" Walker Ruggles, who died May 16 of breast cancer. Clark had worked with Ruggles for 22 years, most recently as her deputy administrator.

"I'm still reeling from the loss of a very dear friend," Clark said Tuesday evening. "It was nice to get the call from the governor's office. I'm happy to receive the appointment. But it's still a sad time for me."

The two were more like family than co-workers. As she grew more ill and considered resigning, Ruggles asked Clark to step into her role. But the final decision was up to Bush, who received several letters from people lobbying for Clark's appointment, which lasts until Jan. 1. Whoever is elected this fall takes office Jan. 2.

One of those letters came from Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart, who said he was pleased that Bush chose Clark for the job three months before the Sept. 5 primaries.

"That's not something I would normally do, get involved in that kind of process, but in this case I felt that Deborah Clark was eminently qualified," he said. "Most importantly, we're looking at some 40 races coming up on the ballot. This is not the time of year to be breaking somebody in."

Bush apparently came to the same conclusion.

"Deborah's abilities and ardent dedication will serve her and the citizens of Pinellas County well in this important job," he said in a statement.

Clark, 51, was not the only one who showed an interest in the job. Pat Baker, a state committeewoman who represents Pinellas County on the Florida Republican Executive Committee, applied for the interim position as well. Baker also has filed paperwork to run for the supervisor's post in the September primary.

Largo City Commissioner Marty Shelby had said that he planned to apply for the job, but he did not. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Clark said she likely will file her own paperwork for the fall elections today.

Clark, who earned a salary of $77,500 a year as deputy administrator, said she believes she will earn a prorated annual salary of $107,000 during the interim appointment. Ruggles earned slightly more than $107,000 a year.

Supervisor of Elections employees have been leaning on each other for support since losing Ruggles, a spitfire workaholic who kept her illness a secret from many. Clark's appointment keeps that team together at least until elections are over.

"I wish so much this were under different circumstances. I'd much rather be working for my little buddy for the rest of my career," Clark said.

"But I know this is what she wanted."

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