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Clerk of court race a muddy one

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LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett County clerk of court isn't the most glamorous of elected positions -- but, at least this election cycle, it may be the most divisively run.

Current Clerk of Court Richard T. Alexander, who took the position after stalwart Tom Lawler passed away in late 2011, is facing opposition from Democratic challenger Brian Whiteside. And Whiteside, an attorney and former law enforcement officer, is bringing one muddy opposition.

Whiteside alleges that Alexander and secretary Lori Taylor engaged in an affair that broke up Alexander's marriage, and that the relationship produced a promotion and "taxpayer-funded raise" for Taylor. The Democratic challenger has circulated fliers and emails broaching the topic and directing those interested to a YouTube video filmed by a private investigator -- hired by Alexander's wife, Joan -- that allegedly shows Alexander and Taylor leaving a hotel together.

Court records show Alexander's wife filed for divorce in May.

"That's a public official having a relationship with a subordinate," Whiteside told the Daily Post. "Is there any morality in this world? I think he's getting away with murder."

Both Alexander and Taylor declined comment on the nature of their relationship.

"I won't discuss my personal life as a campaign issue," Alexander wrote in an email to the Daily Post.

That said, both vehemently denied that Alexander's move to clerk of court prompted or had any influence on Taylor's own promotion.

"Ms. Taylor was promoted by Mr. Lawler during his tenure as Clerk of Court and not by me," Alexander said. "I did not promote Ms. Taylor nor give her a raise of any kind and she has not had a raise since her promotion by Mr. Lawler."

Said Taylor, in a separate conversation: "I started out at the very base salary for this position, not a dollar more. And I have not received a raise, like everyone else in the county."

Spokesman Joe Sorenson confirmed that the county has no real rule or regulation prohibiting employees from having relationships with subordinates.

County personnel records show that Taylor was officially promoted to "confidential executive assistant" in the clerk's office on Jan. 1, 2011, months before Lawler passed away in November after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.

Taylor was actually offered the position and began training for it in June 2010, she said.

Whiteside contested the documents, saying, to paraphrase, that the records were the equivalent of semantics because Alexander had already more or less taken over clerk duties while helping an ailing Lawler.

"It's the biggest scandal in Gwinnett County," Whiteside said.

Documents from the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the ethics commission), meanwhile, show that Whiteside owes $250 in outstanding fees. Those resulted from not filing a campaign contribution disclosure report, dated June 30, and not filing a separate financial disclosure report, dated June 8.

Whiteside could not be reached Thursday for further comment. He has previously said he attempted to email the documents but they had evidently not gone through.

Alexander is an attorney and former chief deputy clerk of court in Gwinnett County. The father of two touted a new case management system he helped usher in under Lawler, which he said was acquired more than $500,000 under budget.

Whiteside is a Lilburn-based attorney and former law enforcement officer who led an unsuccessful bid for Gwinnett County sheriff in 2004. He described his political philosophy as "the restoration of integrity, accountability and organization throughout the clerk's office through intense training, a standard operating procedure and adhering to Gwinnett County rules and regulations."

Candidate bios and questions

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Richard Alexander

Richard T. Alexander, Jr. (i)

Age: 60

Political Party: Republican

Education: A.A. Administration of Justice, B. S. Criminal Justice, Juris Doctor

Occupation: Attorney

Political Experience: Succeeded to Clerk of Court by statute on Dec. 2, 2011

Family: Daughters Courtney Alexander-Lowe and Claire Margaret Alexander; grandchildren Chance Kevin Alexander and Arabelle Martha Lowe

• What is your political philosophy and how will it drive your role in office: I am a fiscal conservative and make every effort to the reduce costs to taxpayers. As an example, since becoming Clerk of Court I have reduced the number of employees in the office from 106 to 102 and returned almost $400,000 to county government. I will continue to seek advances in technology that increases efficiency and reduces costs.

• Name your top goal or issue you want to tackle: I was able to acquire a new case management system while working as chief deputy clerk for Mr. Thomas C. Lawler, III. The new case management system was acquired under budget by over $500,000. It will house our case management database, document management and accounting software. This is a multi-year software implementation and I want to see it to conclusion.

• What sets you apart from your competitor: Efficient operations and cost containment to taxpayers are the key issues in this race. Under my management the cost to handle a single file has been reduced by 4.2 percent. This was accomplished with a caseload increase of 4.8 percent per year since 2007. Digital storage of court records is a critical issue in this election since the clerk’s office had 382,130 paper filings in 2011.

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Brian Whiteside

Brian Whiteside

Age: Not provided

Political Party: Democrat

Education: Bachelor’s in political science from Purdue University; law degree from John Marshall Law School

Occupation: Attorney, former law enforcement officer

Political Experience: Unsuccessfully ran for Gwinnett County sheriff in 2004

Family: Wife of 30 years; three children; one grandchild

• What is your political philosophy and how will it drive your role in office: I expect to accomplish the restoration of integrity, accountability and organization throughout the clerk’s office through intense training, a standard operating procedure and adhering to Gwinnett County rules and regulations.

• Name your top goal or issue you want to tackle: The key issue in this race is corruption and organization. A sitting incumbent in an improper relationships with a subordinate who gets a taxpayer funded $25,000 raise. Another key issue is the overall security of deeds and records which are in jeopardy by the current clerk.

• What sets you apart from your competitor: Integrity, honor, courage, the ability to work with the judicial branch, the ability to organize date in a workman-like manner distinguish my bid for office. Another distinction is the overall goal to preserve the citizens’ documents and deeds.

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