Tuesday, August 09, 2016


Editorial: Lareau paid his dues for Clerk of Courts
Posted: August 9, 2016 - 9:52pm | Updated: August 10, 2016 - 12:01am

The Clerk of Courts contest has an added element, around which the race seems to be gravitating.

Longtime clerk Cheryl Strickland left office last year without completing her term. She appointed her assistant clerk, George Lareau, to act as interim clerk, ostensibly until the office was up for election.

However, Gov. Rick Scott intervened, appointing local attorney Hunter Conrad to the interim clerk spot. There was nothing illegal about the move. Neither was it all that unexpected, politics being what they are in Tallahassee.

Hold onto that thought for a moment.

During our interview with the candidates (which you can watch in its entirety on staugustine.com) both outlined accomplishments during their short stints at the head of the Clerk’s office, and where they wanted to see it heading.

Conrad had little fodder for criticizing the current clerk’s office. Strickland ran a tight ship. We recall more commendations than complaints over the past several years. So Conrad had little substantive to with which to attack. Conversely Lareau had commensurately little to take credit for. Again, neither had been in office for long. So the issues they had were more nit-picky than game-changing.

For instance, both want to reopen annexes in Julington Creek and Ponte Vedra Beach for traffic fines and passports. These were closed during the recession years. Lareau will use clerk’s staff who are paid by the state, not county taxpayers. Conrad wants to have staff from the Tax Collector’s office work the annexes rather than his own. There is a question as to legality of that relationship under state statute. It may be a gray area. But, either way, Tax Collector Dennis Hollingsworth has a Constitutional directive to collect taxes and the Clerk’s is tasked by law with collecting fines. If mixing the two isn’t illegal, it certainly seems irregular.

Back to Tallahassee politics. Conrad is a bright and articulate young man. But we have to wonder, honestly, who spends four years in grad school and thousand of dollars to carve out a career as an attorney in one of the county’s more successful law firms, then wakes up one morning and thinks “I’d sure like to be a court clerk?” It’s possible but plausible?

While Conrad touts his appointment by Gov. Scott, from where we sit, it taints more than recommends. It is no secret that Scott has used his appointment process almost brutally to advance private and political agendas throughout his years in office.

Scott has single-handedly transformed the Department of Environmental Protection into an oxymoron — and is positioning political allies across the state to help advance his eventual U.S. Senate run in 2018. So it is more the process than the candidate that begs mistrust. But we don’t see how to separate one from the other. If you can’t read between the lines in politics, you’re illiterate.

Lareau has been employed in the Clerk’s office three years longer that Conrad has been alive. He’s held several positions along the way. We find few who doubt his ability or honesty. He’s endorsed by both Strickland and her predecessor, Bud Markel.

The one area of the Clerk’s responsibility we see as lacking is its hands-on aggressiveness in oversight of county finances and compliance.

We recommend George Lareau for Clerk of Courts and challenge him to be both vigilant and transparent in that duty.

It’s a responsibility absolutely necessary as a check and balance on how our tax dollars are spent. We’ll watch this carefully whomever the voters return to office.

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