The Oklahoman Editorial | Published: August 24, 2012
On Tuesday, Republican voters will fill an important but often-overlooked office: Oklahoma County court clerk. Only Republicans filed for the post, so the next court clerk will be chosen in a runoff election pitting Tim Rhodes, the current chief deputy of the office, and state Rep. Charles Key of Bethany.
The Oklahoman believes Rhodes’ experience, professional background and proven competence make him the right man for the job.
The Oklahoma County court clerk’s office is the largest and busiest of its kind in Oklahoma. It handled roughly 125,000 court cases last year; the growth in the number of filings has been about 5 percent annually.
The office is tasked with collecting everything from legal fees to fines to child support payments. It took in more than $70 million last year. Forty programs are funded through those collections. In recent years, the office has adopted modernization initiatives that digitized many records and automated jury processing.
These changes, which Rhodes helped implement, saved taxpayer dollars, eliminated unnecessary hassles for citizens and facilitated timely trials. Some 17,000 jurors are summoned in Oklahoma County each year.
The court clerk is also a member of the county budget board and helps craft the budget. Rhodes has been deputy for more than 15 years, serving with incumbent Patricia Presley, a Democrat who declined to seek another term. During Rhodes’ time in office, the clerk’s office workload has increased 75 percent, yet it employs about the same number of people today as in 1997. The operating budget has actually decreased in recent years.
Those who’ve worked with Rhodes are clearly impressed, as reflected in endorsements. He has the support of numerous past presidents of the Oklahoma County Bar Association, as well as County Commissioner Ray Vaughn, County Treasurer Butch Freeman, County Clerk Carolynn Caudill, County Assessor Leonard Sullivan and former Gov. Frank Keating. On the other hand, Key’s background isn’t relevant to service as court clerk. Ironically for a smaller-government firebrand, his main motivation seems to be the pursuit of another government paycheck, now that he’s termed out of the Legislature. Key simply isn’t qualified for the office. His campaign materials don’t even focus on the clerk’s core job functions.
When the clerk’s office is managed well, voters will seldom hear of the office. But if the wrong person is elected, the potential for chaos affecting thousands of citizens and tens of millions of dollars is possible. In a low-key follow-up to a low-key primary election in June, the runoff would be easy to overlook.
The importance of this office makes it imperative that Republicans turn out to vote Tuesday and select Tim Rhodes. He will keep doing what he’s been doing, just at a higher level, ensuring that the office remains innovative, efficient and professional.