CLAY COUNTY — After years of working as deputy clerk, county commissioners appointed Sandy Baldwin to the top spot in the county clerk’s office.
“I’m so proud that they trust me in this job. Being the clerk, a lot of people don’t really know what the clerk does and you really have a lot of responsibility in the county. My main concern is making sure the taxpayers are taken care correctly and connecting them with the right people and helping them through,” she said. “I am going on 15 years here and I just love this job. I love to do what I do and I like all the people I work with. I work with a lot of cities and schools and there isn’t one person that I think isn’t awesome or great to work with.”
Under the new county constitution, which went into effect at the start of the year, the county clerk is no longer an elected office but an appointment. That change, Baldwin said, will not mean much a difference in how her office operates. What has changed, thanks to having a new county commission and constitution and not having three county assistant administrators or high-priced outside legal firms representing the county, is which county office is responsible for maintaining commission records and responding to open records requests.
According to state statute, county clerks’ offices are responsible for maintaining commission records and typically reply to Sunshine Law requests. However, that responsibility had been previously stripped from the clerk’s office and reassigned to then-Assistant County Administrator Nicole Brown with assistance from Spencer Fane Law firm by then-Eastern and Western County Commissioners Luann Ridgeway and Gene Owen. The action created a lag in access to records by the public and situations where county residents and journalists complained of hefty fees the law firm demanded for access to public records.
“At the end of Dec. 31, it was like a relief because the waste and the air and attitude around here was gone. It was like breathing new, cold, fresh, crisp air from Alaska. Nobody should have to work under those kind of circumstances and the taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for things like that like they did, and they won’t now,” Baldwin said of the change in personnel and responsibilities. “(My office) is going to work closer with the commission. I think it’s going to work out really well. When people work together, it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
Having the county clerk’s office back in control of public records, Baldwin said, will hopefully result in improved public trust and will definitely mean more transparency, Baldwin said.
“It’s a new day,” said Baldwin, adding her office is going to go back to a system that was in place years ago, when members of the media and the public didn’t necessarily have to fill out legal forms for records or wait days for a response that may or may not include requested items.
While records are being transferred to her office and that process may take time, once complete, members of the public, Baldwin said, can send an email asking for documents and get them in a matter of minutes or hours.
“We are going to be like we should be,” said Baldwin. “Before, some people had been charged something like $300 or $400 for a couple of pages. It’s not going to be like that. We are going to be fair about everything and we are going to do it right. Our office is always open to people stopping by and asking questions. That’s what we are here for, taxpayers asking questions. That’s what we like to do, do as much as we can for the people that pay us; which is the way it should be. Good government takes care of the people.”
To contact the clerk’s office, call 407-3570 or email email@example.com.