Short time to make an impact

Published 10:44 am Friday, November 28, 2014

To serve or to be served?

Those six little words sum up the thin line between good government and corrupt government. For those who take unlawfully from the public trust, the first two words of that phrase are forgotten altogether.

Warren County voters spoke in low numbers Tuesday — just 14 percent turned out — but those who cast a vote had a loud message. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, they believe Jan Hyland Daigre can restore a sense of integrity to the office that was sorely missing in the final, scandal-plagued years of the Ashley-Palmertree era.

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Daigre is a former public servant herself, having represented District 4 on the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees from 2002-08. Prevailing wisdom seems to be that she’ll take the whole serving thing seriously for at least the next 11 ½ months.

The hope is that the voters’ apparently strong sense is correct.

Interim clerk Greg Peltz, a career retail store manager, waged his first campaign for public office, one that fell short of his expectations Tuesday night.

He is to be credited for chipping away on some work on which the previous administration had fallen woefully behind — namely restitution to crime victims, and civil settlements that had mysteriously gone down a laundry sock-hole of sorts.

Customer service and professional courtesy to the public and other offices within the courthouse had slipped in the past few years, and that improved under Peltz as well.

Much has been made of fee-based clerks’ salary in Mississippi, thanks to instances that happen each year of clerks overpaying themselves.

They show up on audit reports all the time, but most pay the overages back. Palmertree didn’t, and the state’s case that $12,000 of it was taken feloniously in 2012 was strong enough to prompt a plea deal that a special judge case set aside in favor of a five-year jail term.

Still, circuit clerking is a multifaceted job.

For their $90,000 annual salary allowable by law, circuit clerks maintain all court records, filings, paper and accounts for all court costs, fees, fines, and assessments for Circuit Court, County Court and Youth Court. In addition, the office keeps marriage licenses, jury lists, civil and criminal trial dockets and licenses for doctors and other professionals.

During elections, the office serves as the registrar of voters and assists with elections. Candidates for county-level offices turn qualifying papers in to the office.

It’ll be short transition indeed from candidate to clerk once Daigre is sworn in early January. Qualifying for the 2015 state and county election cycle begins Jan. 5.

She might well find herself in extended campaign mode, depending on how alluring the office appears to anyone who may file to run next year.

Any question on remaining interest in the job by those who ran in this past special election might well be decided by Daigre’s handling of the job before she ever raises her right hand.