In the Pulaski County circuit/county clerk’s race, the smart voting strategy used to be simple, if perpetually unsuccessful: Vote for ABS — "Anybody But Staley."
We’ve been just as frustrated as many Pulaski County voters by the ongoing quagmire in the clerk’s office — ballot screw-ups, election day nightmares, nothing less than a grand jury brought to look into voting and filing problems (by a prosecuting attorney so frustrated he accused the current clerk of "chronic incompetence").
The problem is, with incumbent Carolyn Staley opting not to run for the first time in over 20 years, we can’t follow our original plan of voting AGAINST her, and are forced instead to make a decision on who to vote FOR: Janice Hay or Pat O’Brien.
Many voters seem likely to end up taking their frustrations out on Janice Hay. An employee in the clerk’s office since 1997, Hay currently serves as Staley’s chief deputy. Though Hay has sought to distance herself from her boss since declaring her intention to run, it’s hard for many voters to believe that the second banana fell far from the tree.
Hay doesn’t see it that way. She said she has had to defer to her superior in the past, but if given "complete control of the reins," her experience will give her the edge in efforts to fix the problems at the clerk’s office. If elected, she said she will focus on expediting military ballots and working with the post office to prepare an audit of physical addresses on the voting rolls, and seek to repair the contentious relationship with the prosecuting attorney’s office by keeping an "open door of clear communication."
"I’m the little girl on the block. I come from a blue-color work style," Hay said. "I believe in the people of Pulaski County, and I believe they are tired of hearing all the bad publicity and that they’re ready to have a change. I am the change."
For those who might find that a hard pill to swallow, there’s Pat O’Brien. A lawyer in Jacksonville, former member of the Pulaski County School Board and former chief of staff for the Saline County prosecutor, O’Brien said his desire to run stems from ballot problems during the 2002 election, when his friend Pat Bond ran for state Senate. During early elections, O’Brien said, many Jacksonville voters who wanted to cast a vote for Bond were unable to because Staley’s office had mistakenly registered them as residents of Little Rock. As the problem grew and cost Bond more votes, O’Brien blew his stack.
"I got angry one day and just yelled, ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something about this?’ " O’Brien said. "And one of my friends said, ‘Well Pat, what are you going to do about it?’ "
Now a candidate instead of just a frustrated voter, O’Brien said that the problems in the clerk’s office are due to poor leadership, from both Staley and Hay. Correcting voting problems will be the biggest issue facing the next clerk, and O’Brien said those problems largely begin with an employee turnover rate in the clerk’s office that approaches 80 percent per year. "When you’re constantly retraining people, constantly putting people into new jobs, they’re not going to be very productive," he said. "You have to ask yourself: Why is this happening? And it’s happening because of poor leadership in that office." To that end, if elected, O’Brien promises an evaluation of every employee, with retraining or replacement if necessary. Beyond that, O’Brien pledges to correct the paperwork headaches that have plagued Pulaski County attorneys, who are dependent on the clerk’s office for court documents and filings. It’s a pledge that he says has garnered him "almost universal support" among local attorneys.