By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -
Incumbent Joe Smith is running against Bill Hardman for the St. Lucie County Clerk of Court seat on the November ballot.
Hometown News asked the candidates the same questions about their campaigns. Their answers are below in alphabetical order.
Hometown News does not endorse any candidates for political office, but instead provides information about each candidate for voters to make an educated decision.
Name: Bill Hardman
Family: I have been happily married for more than 19 years to Zandra.
Name: Joe Smith
Family: My wife, Heather, and I have been married for one year, and we are new parents blessed with a happy and healthy baby boy.
Q: How long have you lived in St. Lucie County?
Hardman: St. Lucie County has always been my home, with the exception of the time away serving my country in the U.S. Navy and attending college. I attended local schools, graduated from Fort Pierce Central High and am very proud to say that I have lived more than 40 years of my life in the local area.
Smith: My grandparents became part of St. Lucie County in 1914, and I'm proud to say that I am a Florida native, born and raised here. I've lived here for nearly all my life.
Q: Why should voters choose you?
Hardman: Simply put, I am more qualified than my opponent, not only in education and experience, but more importantly, in ethics, integrity and devotion to the betterment of the people, and not focused on my own political gain.
I have more than 20 years of documented, highly successful, multi-level organizational experience and achievements, coupled with a master's degree in business management, with an emphasis in financial efficiency. My opponent has a background in politics and publically stated his desire to climb the political ladder. I truly believe we've had all of the "career politicians" we can handle and that we are all ready for a change to leaders who put the citizens first, not their political careers or personal gain.
I have managed a local retail business for 11 years, while my opponent has no business leadership experience that we are aware of. The employees at the clerk's office deserve leadership with enthusiasm and energy that cares about them.
In addition to my business experience, I've served 21 successful years with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office that included a host of awards and commendations. This is a position that demands extreme integrity and honesty. The office of clerk of court also is a position that demands extreme integrity and honesty, and there have been numerous occurrences that question this, as well as a violation of public trust, which tarnished that integrity with the incident surrounding Joe Smith and his wedding at the Fenn Center. This type of behavior that displays selfishness, personal gain and deceitful behavior above all is intolerable, and the taxpayers deserve better.
Smith: The voters should choose me to continue serving them because customer satisfaction surveys results show that 99.48 percent of our customers are satisfied with the services they receive from the St. Lucie County Clerk's Office.
The voters should choose me to continue serving them because I am the only candidate who is certified by the Florida Supreme Court as a clerk of the circuit court, after receiving more than 240 hours of intensive training supplemented by my on-the-job experience.
Over the last four years, I have reduced the clerk's budget 27 percent, reduced professional staff by 49, returned $442,385 to the board of county commissioners in excess fees and created a new funding stream for the board of county commissioners by implementation of a credit card rebate program that has generated $138,310.45 so far, which supplements hard-earned tax dollars. I have saved money and in the process, found new ways to make money.
The voters should choose me because under my leadership and with the help of caring and knowledgeable professionals of the clerk's office, our office earned the "Best Places to Work" designation, an award that recognizes best human resources practices, two years running.
I implemented a system where customers can, for the first time in the history of the clerk's office, make payments for many services through the use of an automated telephone system, as well as on the Internet.
The voters should choose me because I was recently elected by my clerk peers to serve as second vice president of the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers organization. I am also the chair of the statewide education committee, and am the vice chairman of the Florida Courts E-filing Authority, the organization that oversees the statewide implementation of electronic filing.
Most importantly, the voters should re-elect me because I am the only candidate who has the facts to support my campaign statements and I am the only candidate committed to three goals: protecting the hard-working taxpayers of St. Lucie County, promoting financial accountability and demonstrating excellence in government.
Q: What are the top two issues you wish to see addressed?
Hardman: First, improving the economic state of St. Lucie County and restoring the balance between available jobs and the unemployed/underpaid citizens. Second, bringing ethical, honest behavior back to the leadership of St. Lucie County, where political appointees are devoted to the betterment of the citizens and not the betterment of their political careers.
Smith: I believe that one of the more important issues facing our community is economic security. These are challenging times and like many, the clerk's office has had to do more with less. There is only one candidate who has a proven record of saving money while expanding services and improving the way they are received.
In difficult times, you need to know your tax dollars are safe, and during my tenure, your dollars have been secure.
Q: If you could, what would be the one thing you would change in the county and why?
Hardman: Unemployment would be the first thing I would like to change. If we could get our citizens back to work, the majority of the other county problems would work themselves out.
Construction is almost non-existent and small businesses are facing greater challenges just to stay afloat while they are working harder and making less. Just when the federal government tells us that things are about to get better, the local layoffs at places such as Liberty Medical and Digital Domain quickly diminish that theory. We need jobs for our people and we need them now.
Having spoken with several candidates and incumbent county commissioners, I am very confident that they are aware of the problem and are working diligently on solutions that will reduce local unemployment. I stand ready to do whatever I can to assist, as well.
Smith: I can tell you three things I did change in the clerk's office because they were the right thing to do. We focus on customer service every day. When elected, I changed the culture of the clerk's office to make it run more efficiently. I instructed my team to focus on taking care of our customers and made transparency for the public a priority.
Many of the services that required you to come into one of our five offices four years ago are now provided either online or through an automated telephone system. We've also consolidated our footprint from five locations with specialized services into three, saving the taxpayers additional dollars in rent, utilities, time and gas money from traveling all across the county to access services.
On my first day as clerk, I moved the office into the 21st century and made myself the most accessible clerk in the history of St. Lucie County by providing "home page" access to the clerk of the circuit court. If you go to the website, you can send me an email. In many cases, emails sent after 5 p.m. are answered before 9 a.m. the next morning because being your clerk does not stop when I leave the office. I was elected to serve, and I'm honored that I have been given the privilege of doing so. It would be my honor to continue serving you.