Student faces incumbent in Clerk of Courts race

Amanda Hooper and Amanda Hooper

In 16 years of service as the Wood County Clerk of Courts Rebecca Bhaer has never been challenged for re-election. Now, in 2004, she finally has opposition, University Senior Matt Lyons, 27.

Lyons is embarking on his first run for public office against the incumbent Bhaer.

“I can’t imagine coming into this office with no experience,” Bhaer said.

Bhaer worked as the deputy clerk of courts for six years in Wood County before deciding to run for clerk in 1988. Managing 28 employees, 18 million dollars worth of tax money, and over 2000 pages of documents a day adds up to a lot of work. Bhaer supervises and handles all of this each day from the 2nd floor of the Wood County Court. She compares the position to “being the CEO of a fair-sized company.”

Teaching business classes many years ago prepared her for current position.

“I like to solve problems for people. This job is about customer service,” said Bhaer. “It’s also about planning, management and evaluating. All of these tools I used teaching business, I just use in a different way now. Running the Clerk of Courts office is like being the CEO of a fair sized company.”

Matt Lyons is running because he says his ideas for new innovations to update the office, including satellite offices, downloadable forms on the Internet, case records online, and information on the Clerk’s office available at the county libraries.

“There are a lot of customer service changes that I think could be improved and enhanced immensely,” Lyons said.

Bhaer believes changes to the Clerk’s office over the last few years have embraced technology and benefited the community.

“I think I’m a little bit innovative. I’ve had to be,” said Bhaer. “We’ve been in the same amount of space and employees have almost doubled since I’ve been here. Saving space is an issue.”

Moving from the standard file cabinets to the latest moveable file shelving is one of the space saving techniques that Bhaer has overseen. A recent innovation for the office is a scanner.

“The scanner scans and indexes the documents for anyone to see,” she said. “This saves staff time because they don’t have to handle the original documents when the public needs them. We have three computers here for public use to pull up the documents.”

The Clerk of Courts Web site has recently expanded to include downloadable forms and is prepared to offer case records online once judges make suggestions about privacy issues.

“The technology is in place,” Bhaer assured. “But, I don’t make all the calls, judges have authority.”

Lyons is glad that the office is making progress since he first began his campaign last year.

“There is obviously substance to what I’m saying or they wouldn’t be making these changes,” Lyons said. “But, just because one thing I’m advocating for has gotten done doesn’t mean t here is not more.”

Lyons believes that people are still limited by the hours and location of the legal office. He would like to branch out and open satellite offices for citizens who live farther away or can not come to the office during weekday hours.

Bhaer counters that it would not be fiscally responsible to open satellite offices.

“They are not necessary,” she said. “Most people do not need to travel to the Wood County office on a regular basis. Post offices now have passport applications available and many title papers are available online in the downloadable form on the Clerk of Courts Web site.”

Bhaer cites her many years of service as teaching her that “this is a balancing act.” She was formerly the President of Ohio Clerk of Courts Association.

“People throughout the state look to me for leadership,” Bhaer said. “I’m pretty knowledgeable about what’s going on.”

Lyons admits that “some will immediately dismiss me because I have not previously held office.” However, he sees a need for change as the motivation to challenge for the office.

“We are still not where I think we need to be,” he said.

The two candidates have met twice in formal public question and answer forums. They will meet at least once more before the election on November 2.