Candidates for Clerk of Court Attorney Jacqueline Smith and Del. Jackson Miller went head to head in a Candidates Forum, Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in an event organized by Dar Al Moor mosque, The Prince William League of Women Voters and InsideNoVa publications. It was held at Dar Al Noor in Manassas.
The debate precedes the special election for Clerk of Court that will be held, April 18. Registered voters in Prince William, Manassas City and Manassas Park are eligible to vote.
The Clerk of Court is responsible for an office that employs 40-50 employees and holds approximately 800 varying responsibilities. The office administrates civil and criminal court cases; records deeds and other law documents; keeps records; issues permits, issues marriage licenses and name change licenses; acts as a probate judge; and prepares court orders and jury lists.
Though residents might not give the Clerk’s office much thought, candidates agreed citizens depend upon it often in times of need when a loved one has died, to get married or get divorced, or to settle a civil case.
Though it is a non-partisan position, Jackson Miller has been endorsed by the Prince William Republican Committee; Jackie Smith has been endorsed by the Prince William Democratic Committee.
The debate, hosted by media owner/publisher Bruce Potter, allowed the two candidates to distinguish themselves by answering questions regarding their experience, personal style and how they would manage the office.
Smith, who is a partner in her law firm, presented herself as a compassionate individual and strong proponent of civil justice; Miller presented himself as both a natural and seasoned leader with a career in civil service.
Jacqueline Smith, who ran against the late Michele McQuigg for County Clerk in 2015, said she wanted the position in order to better serve her community.
Her interest in the Clerk’s office began when working pro-bono after Hurricane Katrina, helping families prove the ownership of land and property after land records were destroyed. As a result of the flooding and sloppy management, people lost their homes and land.
“These failures still result in very difficult situations for people in our community,” she said.
Smith emphasized her familiarity with the courthouse as an attorney.
“I understand the issues that lawyers and the employees have with that office, and more importantly, the issue the residents of Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park have with that office,” she said.
Jackson Miller branded himself as an accomplished leader. He is currently serving as the majority whip in the Virginia House of Delegates and representative of the 50th district. He is also an owner in Cross Roads Realty in Old Town Manassas.
Miller had previously served as President of the Prince William Police Association, Manassas Park Council member, Prince William Police Officer and former U.S. Army officer.
He also painted himself as a maverick who challenged a former Prince William Supervisor, and member of his own political party, in defense of the police department. At the same time, he helped to rebuild the Prince William Police Association.
On issues of how to improve the efficiency of the office, both candidates offered similar answers. They began by saying there is a very real need to “answer the phones,” which was not done in the past. Smith said it is a justice issue as residents are forced to travel across county to have simple questions answered.
Both candidates are considering returning to a previously used data management system and training employees to handle system upgrades as the new system appears to be lacking.
Differences emerged in management styles. Miller said would hire first within the department and build morale by rewarding hard work and loyalty. Smith said it is important to open all positions publicly to provide transparency and hire the best people available and to protect against cronyism.
Miller said he would have consequences for employees who made offensive or discriminatory public statements, as that was an issue that arose in the past. Smith said would as well, but additionally, would establish clear expectation so such things are unlikely to occur.
Smith accused Miller of supported the former clerk out of party loyalty though Miller said he had supported his business partner against McQuigg in the primary.
On changes to the process, Smith is a strong proponent of returning to holding wedding ceremonies, something McQuigg removed after same-sex marriages were to be included. Marriage ceremonies, said Smith, would bring additional revenue. She said that religious ideology should not play a role in the office.
Miller said having ceremonies against would likely be a good idea, and he would not discriminate against couples but follow the letter of the law.
Smith advocated for increased transparency in the office. She wants the public to know what fees pay for and where they end up.
Miller said he would want to take the position and take the time to observe before immediately making changes.
Neither candidate believed assuming the position would present a conflict of interest. They plan to leave their full-time jobs and Miller would step down as delegate.
Smith implied that taking corporate campaign money while campaigning as a delegate could compromise Miller. “You have a debt to people who have [given you money in the past],” she said.
Miller took offense. “She just inferred that I would sell myself to donors. Just because I’ve had contributions from corporate donors, doesn’t mean I would sell myself to them.”
Miller accused Smith of being political while saying she would “get politics out of the courthouse.” “She plays politics just like everyone I’ve run against,” Miller said.
Miller said Smith actually politicked in the courthouse by handing out flyers, and that she used the Virginia Bar Association email list to invite attorneys to her campaign fundraisers.
Smith responded that she handed out flyers to friends who asked her for more information, and the emails were primarily “thank yous” to those who supported her.
In their closing statements, each candidate attempted to leave attendees with a clear understanding of their character.
Miller named George Washington as a personal hero along with his grandfather who served in the military. Miller explained that Washington could have been king, but he put what was best for the nation first above his personal ambitions.
Smith emphasized her compassionate and passion for service, saying her heroes are former nuns, who run an orphanage in Maine. She said they allowed themselves to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church in Rome rather than send donations they needed to fund the orphanage.
The election is April 18. Citizens can vote at their usual polling locations. A few changes have been made to polling locations in Manassas Park. For more information on Jacqueline Smith visit her website SmithForClerk.com. For more information on Jackson Miller visit Jackson Miller for Clerk on Facebook.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.