MEET THE CANDIDATES: Six personalities vying for Oktibbeha Co. Chancery Clerk

Top row from left: Tina Fisher, Martesa Bishop Flowers and Margaret Monique Jordan. Bottom row from left: Sharon Livingston, Barbara Ann Mitchell and Hattie Ridgel
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
SDN EDITOR

The Nov. 7 special election will see a full slate of candidates in multiple races, with six candidates qualified to run for the open Oktibbeha County Chancery Clerk office.

The Starkville Daily News provided all six candidates with a written questionnaire to help voters get to know each of them better before taking to the polls next month.

In addition to this race, the SDN will also run profiles in the coming weeks featuring Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk candidates, candidates for District 1 Constable, and the candidates running for Mississippi House of Representatives District 38.

Polls will open at 7 a.m. on Nov. 7 and close at 7 p.m. Absentee voting began on Tuesday, with the last day to complete an absentee ballot scheduled for Nov. 4.

TINA FISHER

Age: 44
Birthplace: Columbus, Mississippi
Occupation: Deputy Clerk for Lowndes
County Chancery Clerk's Office

Q: What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

A: "Experience. Twenty two years of it. I cannot expand or emphasize enough how important and valuable those twenty two years actually are. Everyone knows how if you do something long enough, you learn the ends and outs from all of the different trials and errors. You also learn what works best from them. I have been in this office long enough to know how to make it run efficiently. The new computer system I plan to implement, our Open Door Policy that I will ensure, and my experience will all be different things that I will bring to the office and make it the best Chancery Clerk's office possible."

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified?

A: "I am qualified for this position because cause I am already a part of an efficiently ran Chancery Clerk's office. I am the only candidate that has worked in the Chancery Clerk's office for twenty two years. I have worked in all aspects of this office from state audits, delinquent taxes, day to day filings, being a court clerk, to all of the duties that take place in the clerk's office. Our office is nothing less than satisfactory. I have attended different training's in the various areas of the Chancery Clerk's office and responsibilities. I have also completed business computer courses at East Mississippi Community College that will be of use to the office. Lastly, I have had three years of banking experience which will greatly assist in the budget and payroll responsibilities of the Clerk. I work very well with others and I have always done my very best to be the best person, co-worker, and friend that I can be at all times."

Q: Where are some places the office could improve?

A: "The public record keeping system is one area that I definitely would like to improve on. I want to ensure that these records are correctly being put into the system and in a timely manner. This office is in need of an updated computer system that allows you in one place to locate any document needed. This will save time for the customers as well as the staff. The public records also need to be accessible online for the citizens of Oktibbeha County to locate from their home or work place. The records in this office are big part of our Oktibbeha County history so it is very important to me to make sure they are being properly preserved and stored."

Q: What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

A: "If elected I intend on improving and increasing the knowledge and skills among my staff for an exceptional form of customer service. I will have an open door policy where anyone can come into the office and I will do my best to assist them with any questions or concerns that they may have. If I do not know the answer, I will direct them in the right direction and to follow up to make sure they are satisfied."

Q: What is something the public may not know about the office?

A: "A lot of people are unaware of what actually happens in the Chancery Clerk's office until a life circumstance leads them there. In my twenty two years of working in this office I have been a part of some of the happiest days for some and some of the worst of days for others. Celebrating a successful adoption for a child and filing the Order that will place them in their forever home is overwhelmingly exciting. Recording a deed for a young couples first home is always an experience usually filled with questions like, "What do we need next?" or "Where do we go now?". Then, there are the Estates that are handled in our office as well. When someone comes in who has just lost a family member and does not know where to start, that is when it matters who is on the other side of that counter. Through tears and tissues we have comforted and helped many many loved ones through the process after a deceased love one. Having someone listen and care enough to make a customers problems their own is a quality I will make sure is in each member of my staff. The Clerk's office also has the honor of keeping the DD 214's for our retired and discharged military. Who doesn't love a good war story from a Veteran? Working in this office is more than just a job, it is a privilege to be a part of these experiences. I promise to continue to always be one of the smiles and helping hand's in this office."

Q: Why did you decide to run?

A: "I am running for Oktibbeha County Chancery Clerk because it will be an honor to serve the people of Oktibbeha County. I am confident that my twenty two years of experience in the Chancery Clerk's Office will be an asset to the residents of Oktibbeha County. I feel it is a great opportunity to expand my career and allow me to better serve Oktibbeha County. I believe in a functional and adequate public record keeping system as well as improving and increasing the knowledge and skills among the staff for an exceptional form of customer service. I know if elected I will bring fresh new ideas from my work experience to the people of Oktibbeha County."

MARTESA BISHOP FLOWERS

Age: 36
Birthplace: Starkville, Mississippi
Occupation: Contracts & Grants Specialist

Q: What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

A: "Throughout the campaign process, I’ve overly stressed leadership, accountability, efficiency, and transparency; I bring these qualities along with my vibrant persona. The ability to streamline processes of the Chancery Clerk’s office is my primary focus. A previous employer noted they had always appreciated the notion that I was always very resourceful. I am truly dedicated to serving effectively in this role. I have taken the initiative to communicate and visit other chancery offices in the state of Mississippi. My ability to effectively communicate, my passion for Oktibbeha County, my willingness to exhaust all available resources, my honesty and my passion for Oktibbeha are qualities I look forward to interlocking within the office."

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified?

A: "I am a graduate of Starkville High School and a graduate of Mississippi State University earning a dual degree- a Bachelor of Accountancy and a Bachelor of Business Administration. My accounting and business background makes me the most qualified candidate to execute the auditor and treasury responsibilities of the Chancery Clerk’s Office. I possess ten years of combined governmental experience in public and private sector government. I’ve served underneath the City Clerk of Starkville as the Deputy Clerk Accounting Assistant where I was involved in the development and management of budgets, bank reconciliations, insuring proper recording of new purchases and disposals; ensuring the accuracy of departmental assets and inventory records, developing and monitoring internal controls, conducting audits of internal funds, ensuring payments were charged to correct accounts, answering inquiries of department heads, and providing reports for board of aldermen and the news media. I also served as Payroll Clerk for the City of Starkville. Currently, I serve as Contracts and Grants Specialist at Mississippi State University where I’m in the pre-award and post-award process of developing and managing budgets along with several other responsibilities. I have the accounting experience to assist the Board of Supervisors and I know how to streamline the process of the Chancery Court. My record keeping skills will also be an asset for keeping track of public land records."

Q: Where are some places the office could improve?

A: "The chief component of the Chancery Clerk’s office is service. Everyone wants quality service. My vision is to efficiently serve the citizens and constituents of Oktibbeha and streamline the processes of the Chancery Court. As technology is constantly evolving, the clerk and the office must stay abreast of changes and be competent when any issues arise. I’d like to diligently work with office staff to ensure each team member is more knowledgeable, effectively trained in subpar areas, and confirm that each member has the right set of tools in order to fulfill his/her role."

Q: What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

A: "The Mississippi Electronic Courts database has been a great system and is a proven case management and electronic filing system which has very proficient users. I have high hopes to continue to build on this filing system."

Q: What is something the public may not know about the office?

A: "Surprisingly, the most asked question on the campaign for Chancery is, “What does the Chancery Clerk do?” Many constituents are not aware of the importance of the Chancery Clerk’s role nor the responsibilities that lie within the office. Here are a few of the things that the clerk is responsible for and a few ways we serve the citizens of the county: serves as clerk of the Board of Supervisors, serves as county treasurer and county auditor, keeps and preserves minutes of board meetings, receives and deposits all
funds for the current budget of $114 M, receives, files and maintains all papers related to divorces, child custody, equity and land matters, probate of estates and mental health cases, records and preserves all deeds, deeds of trust, power of attorneys, uniform commercial codes, federal tax liens, military discharges, and the clerk also collects and disburses all prior year delinquent taxes.

Q: Why did you decide to run?

A: "After much prayer and consideration, my family and I decided Oktibbeha County had a need for someone to faithfully offer themselves as a servant to move our county forward with new, innovative ideas and bring back moral standards to county offices. There is a need for government officials to connect with the community and keep the community updated because we are here to serve the people. I’ve been deeply involved within the community since childhood; therefore, it’s a place I’ve grown to know, a place I’ve grown to love, and a place I want to continue to providing dedicated service to. I’ve been lead under some of the strongest leadership our county has seen; this makes me passionate about my desire and willingness to serve. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If we don’t stick together and strengthen those weak links, we’ll never rise. World-wide, there have been numerous incidents reported which damper the faith many constituents have in elected officials. The values which I hold to be self-evident are those of integrity, accountability, efficiency, and transparency. It is my promise to obey the laws and rules governed by the state of Mississippi in all capacities and implement these moral values in the clerk’s office. My experience in government, my knowledge of chancery’s role, my ability to streamline the process of the Chancery Clerks office, and my demonstration of compassion and leadership leads me to want to diligently serve Oktibbeha County."

MARGARET MONIQUE JORDAN

Age: 49
Birthplace: Starkville, Mississippi
Occupation: Educator

Q: What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

A: "Provide really available resources for property owners that live in Oktibbeha who have question about their property in this county, via updated technology."

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified?

A: "I believe any leader should be humble as well as a person of integrity, In every leadership role I have had the opportunity to function in I have demonstrated these qualities. My Education and experience background is as follows, MSU, B.S Family Consumer Science, MSU, M.S. Workforce Educational Leadership, MSU PhD(ABD) Community College Leadership. National Honor Society Member. 25 year veteran educator, Who's Among American Teacher, Managed 21st Century Community Learning Centers(CCLC), Data Coach Oktibbeha County Leadership Team, Senior Coordinator."

Q: Where are some places the office could improve?

A: "Create a team work environment. The chancery office has several different employees that perform different tasks on a daily bases, therefore our office will be a working community that focuses on team work to carry out the day to day workload."

Q: What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

A: "Utilizing the support and expertise of the current veteran employees. Which, would allow a stress-free transition. Build upon the professionalism of the office and the knowledge bases of each employee."

Q: What is something the public may not know about the office?

A: "As chancery clerk I would provide the people of the community a questionnaire Survey that would allow me to know the concerns and questions the public has. The answers to the questionnaire would be added to our website."

Q: Why did you decide to run?

A: "As a candidate for the office of Chancery Clerk, I seek the opportunity to offer professional and dedicated service with integrity and honor to all citizens. By being an advocate for the people of the community by providing updated resources via technology with efficiency, fidelity and the willingness to facilitate improvements in the day-to-day operations of the chancery office. As well as be a vital and active communications link between the people and the city. I will also, be a valued partner with the community, by taking advantage of my experience, skills and perspectives, gained from my 25 years of being an educator and advocate for families and children."

SHARON LIVINGSTON

Age: 50
Birthplace: Kittanning, Pennsylvania
(Moved to Starkville at age 5)
Occupation: Interim Chancery Clerk

Q: What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

A: "To move the Chancery Clerk's office forward as a technical office as I have since becoming Interim Chancery Clerk."

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified?

A: "I am a graduate of Starkville High School. I have 18 years of experience through the Chancery Clerk's office. I have obtained the required accredited hours with the Mississippi Judiciary College for Chancery Clerks of America. I have worked in the Chancery Clerk's office as the Court Clerk, Deputy Clerk, Bookkeeper, Officer manager, Payroll and Daily deposits. Also I am currently the Interim Chancery Clerk."

Q: Where are some places the office could improve?

A: "The office could improve in continuing the training for staff. The continuing process of upgrading the computer access for public use. In the process of obtaining credit/debit card use."

Q: What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

A: "To continue to move the Chancery Clerk's Office forward in Technical advancements. To pursue a professional, educated and well trained staff. I would also pursue more interest in our young adults through Democracy and political involvement."

Q: What is something the public may not know about the office?

A: "The Oktibbeha County Chancery Clerk's office is efficient and a well trained staff. With continued education and training, as we will grow our society. This year is the first year that the office has reached a low percentage of citizens losing their property due to unpaid taxes. (With unpaid taxes being 200-250 unpaid taxes a year down to only 62
citizens!) I am accessible with an open door policy to discuss any concerns that you may have. I care about the wellbeing of our county and its citizens as a whole."

Q: Why did you decide to run?

A: "I have been a lifelong resident of Oktibbeha County, I understand the value of good leadership and the development of leaders. I have been with the Chancery Clerks office for eighteen years and this has been my dream career!"

BARBARA ANN ANDERSON MITCHELL

Age: 69
Birthplace: West Point, Mississippi
Occupation: Paralegal/Office Manager/Youth Court Intake Clerk

Q: What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

A: "I want to bring accountability, easy access to all public records, updated equipment, confidentiality, and professionalism."

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified?

A: "EDUCATION: Graduate of West Point High School Business and Office graduate from East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) Paralegal studies at Mississippi University for Women (MUW) Continuing Legal Education classes (CLE) Member of the Mississippi Paralegal Association (MPA) Member of the National Association of Court Management (NACM) Notary Public since 1985 Mississippi Electronic Courts Training (MEC) Westlaw certified since 1991

EXPERIENCE:
35 years of leadership/legal and community service in Oktibbeha County while serving in the following capacities: Paralegal/Office Manager/Youth Court Intake Clerk/courtroom experience Director/Assistant Director of the Oktibbeha County Associational Women’s Missions Advisory Board for International Friendship House and Christian Women’s Job Corp. Member of CrossPoint Baptist Church where I serve on the Stewardship Committee

Q: Where are some places the office could improve?

A: "Professional and efficient service to the citizens of Oktibbeha County Provide educational opportunities for all employees Technology advancement Implement a security system within the Courthouse.

Q: What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

A: "Customer Service, Technology Advancement."

Q: What is something the public may not know about the office?

A: "The primary responsibility of this office is to serve the citizens of Oktibbeha County. The Clerk’s duties are governed by statute. The Clerk’s office is NOT allowed to give legal advice. Once elected every Clerk is required to obtain an 18 hour Certificate of Accreditation provided by the University Of Mississippi Law Center. Chancery Court handles family matters and land matters, it is commonly called the “Court of Equity”. To acquire a tax deed (clerk's conveyance) on lands sold for taxes upon maturity the acquiring party must request the tax deed. Clerk’s office offers a Notary Public to the= citizens of Oktibbeha County."

Q: Why did you decide to run?

A: "I have long wanted to become your Chancery Clerk because of the importance of this position. I know the Chancery Court touches many families through land records, divorce, child custody, commitments and estate matters. My prior law office experience has taught me the importance of friendly, accurate and timely documented court records from beginning to end in meeting the needs of clients. I feel being YOUR CLERK should be a passion, not a job. I have that passion and ask that on November 7, you go to the polls and “MAKE IT OFFICIAL” and “Vote For BARBARA A. MITCHELL”'

HATTIE TUTTON RIDGEL

Age: 58
Birthplace: Starkville, Mississippi
Occupation: Paralegal

Q: What is something different you plan to bring to the office if elected?

A: "Legal experience, higher education and most importantly, accountability"

Q: Why do you feel you are qualified?

A: "My legal experience and higher education qualify me to serve as chancery clerk. A chancery clerk serves as clerk of the Board of Supervisors, clerk of the court, custodian of court records and county treasurer and county auditor. My experience and education as a paralegal of 20 years, residential property appraiser, purchasing agent/contract specialist at Fort Benning Army Installation and chancery deputy clerk. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (University of Michigan), paralegal certificate (Nova Southeastern University), Residential Property Appraiser (Mingle School of Real Estate), Bonded and Security Clearance (Fort Benning)

Q: Where are some places the office could improve?

A: "Timely respond to litigation and regulatory requests. Update antiquated procedures to reduce costs which will result in increased income. Receive feedback from community. Provide accountability and quality control of chancery clerk office."

Q: What are some strengths of the office you would hope to build on?

A: "As custodian of records: make easily accessible and retrievable all records for public viewing and use and to properly store and make retrievable all documents that become historical, aged, settled and closed. As clerk of the court: Help public understand the procedures and processes of the court sessions. As county auditor: To streamline the activities of the office to reduce costs and increase income."

Q: What is something the public may not know about the office?

A: "Accountability and quality control. I believe all job positions should account for its duties and activities. It ensures proper execution of those duties and allow correction of any missteps. As chancery clerk, my first act of accountability is to let the people know the duties of the chancery clerk. I have done this by briefly outlining those duties on campaign card."

Q: Why did you decide to run?

A: "I decided to run for chancery clerk position because I previously work in this office with Mrs. Monica Banks. I learned the day-today operations and was very excited to work with the various tasks. As a paralegal and contract specialist, I was able to utilize those experiences to efficiently complete my duties as well as offer alternative methods to make the tasks more efficient. I enjoy this profession and would like to continue working within it."

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