Commissioner Larry Henry believes the job of Circuit Court Clerk requires an effective manager but not necessarily someone who comes in with an insider's knowledge of the office. Attorney Lisa Zarzour Bowman, on the other hand, says someone who is an attorney and who works nearly daily with the office is a better fit. Both have good points, but we believe Henry's nearly 40-year business background, his calm hand and his experience with county government over three terms as commissioner give him an edge in the Republican primary.
Bowman says Henry couldn't qualify to work in the office, which maintains the Circuit and Sessions civil courts, but Henry says five terms wrestling with the budget as chairman of the County Commission and his investigation of the duties of the office provide an ample background.
Both candidates want to explore additional ways to put more information online, both want to cross-train office staff members, both say they'll run a tight ship to be sure salaries don't outpace revenue (as they did last year when present clerk Paula Thompson had to come to the Commission to ask for excess funds back) and both say they'll be more aggressive in collecting money.
"You can't get blood out of a turnip," Henry said, "but you sure can squeeze it."
In 20 years as Hamilton County register of deeds, Pam Hurst has ushered her office into the electronic age and returned $25 million in excess fees to the county but maintains "you always want to get better."
For those reasons, we strongly recommend her re-election over Hamilton County Corrections Deputy Ryan Epperson in the Republican primary.
After winning initially in 1994, Hurst moved the office from large, heavy title books to remote access of titles within four years. In 2006, the office officially began electronically recording land record documents such as deeds, mortgages and reconveyances submitted by title companies, abstractors, banks and attorneys.
Even while converting the office, she has tried to make it friendly to and accessible by the public. The register's office, for instance, has longer hours than most county offices, provides unlimited database usage for a $50 monthly access fee, offers online training guides, makes available free copies of single-page documents where possible and has reader printers for public use.
Epperson, who is "big into computers," says he believes "form-fitting software" can save the office money and that grants could be applied for that might provide needed technology, office equipment and other items.
However, even he admits the incumbent "has done a lot of good with the register's office," and we believe her good work deserves re-election.
Incumbent Gwen Tidwell shepherds a staff of 64, which works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep up with the criminal division of General Sessions Court, the Criminal Courts and the delinquent collection division.
During her 20-year tenure, she has opened an office at the Hamilton County Jail to speed the paperwork process for arresting officers, worked to get records online and to have electronic images of arrest reports, and currently is working toward an app where records could be retrieved on smartphones or iPads. She also is able to pay the salaries of most of her employees from the fees the office gets and annually is able to turn in excess fees to the county.
We strongly recommend her Democratic primary election over Brian White, who did not return numerous phone messages inviting him to meet with the Times Free Press editorial board. In August, the winner will oppose Republican Rep. Vince Dean, who is leaving a safe state House seat to seek the position and is unopposed in the primary.
Tidwell, an attorney who calls herself a "fiscally conservative Democrat," also has hired two collection agencies to seek outstanding fees and has a goal of making the office "paperless."
"You cannot put a dollar sign on [experience]," she said. "You just can't walk into this office and know what you're doing."