Field for clerk might grow slowly

Published 11:10 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Chief Deputy Chancery Clerk Beverly Johnson swears in interim Circuit Clerk Greg Peltz Tuesday in the circuit courtroom at the Warren County Courthouse. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Chief Deputy Chancery Clerk Beverly Johnson swears in interim Circuit Clerk Greg Peltz Tuesday in the circuit courtroom at the Warren County Courthouse. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

The field for the special election to fill the rest of ousted circuit clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree’s term might take a while to take shape, interviewees for the interim gig said Tuesday, as a trial date is now set in the criminal embezzlement case against the former clerk.

Two of three candidates interviewed by supervisors but passed over the interim appointment Monday afternoon said Tuesday they were leaning away from entering the race, the date for which is expected to be set Tuesday when the county board next meets. The election for circuit clerk is expected to be added to the Nov. 3 general election ballot with other local and federal races. Candidates in a special election will appear on the ballot without party affiliations. The winner in November will be considered the incumbent heading into the 2015 state/county election cycle.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Jan Hyland Daigre, a former school board member and onetime aspirant for the position, when reached Tuesday. “But, no, I don’t plan to run for it.”

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Daigre won 32 percent of the vote in a four-person clerk’s race in 2011. Palmertree won a third term with 49 percent. She was recommended in one of four motions to appoint someone. Greg Peltz, a former Radio Shack district manager, was the county board’s choice on a 4-1 vote.

“I like the role of being a public servant, helping people,” she said, though adding she felt “cured” of the pursuit of the clerk’s job.

Patricia Winston, a retired federal employee, was also interviewed Monday. “I had not made up my mind on it yet,” she said when reached Tuesday. A call to a third interviewee, Stacey Smith, a legal assistant, was not returned.

Peltz spent his first day on the job with the current four-person staff of deputy clerks coordinating with the Office of the State Auditor on the fine points of running the operation. The Warren County Board of Supervisors declared the office vacant in light of documents supplied by OSA investigators that showed Palmertree had declared residency in Madison County last July and planned to purchase a home in Canton. Utility bills and a photo of her vehicle in front of the home were also produced Monday during a nearly all-day session of the county board.

Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley Palmertree.Two cases involving financial misconduct in Palmertree’s office remain active despite Monday’s vote to vacate and replace her. A criminal embezzlement case against her goes to trial Sept. 29 in Warren County Circuit Court, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case. In it, the state says Palmertree inappropriately transferred funds from her office’s criminal and civil accounts to her personal account on two separate occasions in 2012. The amounts total $12,000.

The civil case, which Palmertree filed against State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Warren County in March 2013 and was later countered, is set for a third round of testimony Oct. 6 before Hinds Chancellor Dewayne Thomas. The clerk and the other entities have asked the court to decide whether she owes $671,751.75 in excessive salary and questionable subcontractor payments to her father and predecessor in office, Larry Ashley, between 2006 and 2011. Mediation ordered in the case after testimony in December broke down in January. On Monday, Pickering’s office said the debts total about $817,000, reflective of about $145,000 in overages the county and state contend is owed for 2012 but is not part of the civil suit.

Those specific debts would follow the clerk and not Peltz or any other successor; however any ongoing irregularity in the office’s civil and criminal fee accounts are expected to be reflected on future county audits.

Peltz acknowledged after supervisors appointed him he has a learning curve to round before he becomes comfortable.

“I’ll ask about formal training and attend classes,” he said. “If (officials) suggest something, I’ll listen to that.”

The Mississippi Circuit Clerks Association is composed of clerks from around the state and, typically, holds seminars immediately after the regular state/county election cycle. Circuit and chancery clerks are the two highest-paid positions in county government in Mississippi. Fees paid to the offices fund annual salaries for each, which are capped at $90,000, with limited exceptions.