The candidates or Ellis County Clerk include Republicans Krystal Valdez, Jessica Irwin, Denise DeLara, and Democrat Vicki Alcala Spaniel. Alcala Spaniel did not respond to the Daily Light questionnaire.
1. What is your background knowledge of records the County Clerk's Office handles and what experience do you bring to the job?
Krystal Valdez: The County Clerk’s Office as set out in the Texas Constitution serves as clerk for the County Court and the Commissioners Court. In Ellis County, the clerk also serves two County Courts at Law. The duties, requirements, and fees of office are prescribed by the Legislature. There are various responsibilities assigned to the County Clerk, not the least of in which is the recording of legal instruments. The complexity of the recording process along with the volume of work places much responsibility on the clerk. Among the various records that flow through the County Clerk’s office are instruments that prove ownership or interest in real or personal property along with instruments that facilitate or restrict transfer of property. The County Clerk is the Local Registrar of Births and Deaths and issues and records Marriage Licenses. Military discharge records are also filed with the County Clerk. The County Clerk supports the Commissioners Court and maintains the records. For County Court at Law #1 and 2 the clerk supports and maintains Civil, Probate, Guardianship, Mental Health and Criminal Misdemeanour Cases. I have over six years’ experience as a Deputy County Clerk for the Ellis County Clerk's Office, I started as the Receptionist where one of my duties was to assist customers in researching real property records, several months later I was moved to the Vital Statistics Department handling Vital Records such as Birth and Death Certificates, Marriage Licenses and DD214's; I was then promoted to the Lead Civil Desk Clerk where I handled all Civil Cases for Ellis County Court at Law No.1, I also assisted with Probate and Guardianship. As a Deputy Clerk I directly assisted leadership with the implementation of e-filing; e-filing was the largest technological advancement in the history of the Clerk's Office, this experience will prove to be vital in the future for further necessary technological advancements. I am currently the Chief Administrator for Ellis County Court at Law No. 1, a Court supported by the Clerk's Office. As Chief Administrator my duties include trial and jury management, maintaining and preparing records and reports, participating in continuing professional education programs and public relations. While in this position I utilized my experience in the Clerk's Office to improve interdepartmental communications and assisted the Judge in making policies and procedures that have created efficiency, and in doing so we have saved the taxpayers time and money. I have also been through several budget cycles, maintaining the budget for County Court at Law 1 and ensuring we are always fiscally responsible with your money. Additionally, I completed my Paralegal Studies at Navarro College giving me the legal training to research the law, the law governs everything the Clerk does, the ability to research the law, interpret current laws and stay up to date with new legislation is an integral part of the clerk’s responsibilities; researching the law is something I have practiced doing in both my roles in the Clerk's Office and County Court at Law 1.
Jessica Irwin: The County Clerk is responsible for a wide range of duties mandated by Texas law. The clerk serves the public as the official keeper of county records. These records include items filed by citizens and public officials. Examples include real estate related filings, mortgages, plats, DD 214’s for discharged vets, public notices, leases, liens, DBA’s, birth/death certificates, brand registration, and Marriage licenses. The County clerk also collects fines, fees, and court costs. The county clerk receives, records, and preserves all these records. In addition, the county clerk prepares agendas and maintains meeting minutes for meetings with other county officials in the community at commissioner's court.
My background knowledge and experience of the County Clerk’s office comes from the other side of the desk. My mother is an 8 year employee of the Ellis County Clerk’s office. I have seen the office, and county, grow from the time she worked in Human Resources at the Ellis County Court House over 10 years ago to when she began her new role as the Vitals Clerk.
My Professional experience as an Ag Educator has given me the tools to be a leader with a servant’s heart along with other duties similar to that of the County Clerk. I must complete detailed documentation on a daily basis. I protect confidential records in accordance with numerous state laws. I am frequently called upon to electronically file reports and records in an attempt to streamline the sharing of information. With my background in Agriculture, I also have the added bonus of understanding the importance of record keeping and registering cattle brands.
As an Agriculture Educator and an advisor of a nationally recognized organization, I have a number of financial responsibilities similar to that of the County Clerk. I must access and maintain accurate records of the budget for the agriculture department at one of the largest schools in the nation. I am frequently called upon to place purchase orders and keep track of public money. Being attentive to detail, keeping track of all expenditures, and generally being efficient will enable me to manage any size budget for the County Clerk’s office. I supervise the teachers and students in Agriculture Department at one of the largest schools in the nation. Beyond my direct experience, I believe the education I received at Tarleton State University has prepared me for this opportunity. While at Tarleton, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Services and Development and interned at the Ellis County Agricultural Extension Office. My work ethic, passion for service, and work related skill sets will help me serve the citizens of Ellis County.
Denise DeLara: I like to say the County Clerk’s office documents you from the cradle to the grave. The County Clerk issues marriage licenses, and records death records, certificates of release or discharge from active duty (DD 214), property deeds, deeds of trust, liens, and cattle brands. The County Clerk also serves as clerk for the court for all misdemeanor criminal and civil courts at law, as well as commissioners’ court and probate court; and maintains those records as well. As clerk of the county courts, the county clerk collects and is responsible for money paid in court costs, fines and fees and for the payment of juror fees.
My extensive 20-year background in office management, information technology, software training, staff supervision and employee training makes me uniquely suited for the office. I am hard-working, service-oriented, technologically-proficient and I am all about the details. I worked for 6 years as a Technology Specialist for Red Oak ISD at Shields Elementary. I was responsible for all technological issues and implementation of programs and software on campus. I also taught every student and staff about technology and how to use computer programs.
I am the only candidate with extensive supervisory and leadership experience, both in the private sector and the Republican Party. I currently supervise a medical clinic. I have the personal skills to interact with the citizens of Ellis County on a daily basis. I am customer service oriented and that will be a top priority when I am elected.
2. How do you plan to reproduce dated records as technology becomes more innovative?
Krystal Valdez: The chosen medium at present points to imaging of records. Records are reproduced from image and I think they are backed up also with film. Records are also stored safety in an off-site facility. Until such time that technology points another direction I would continue that practice.
Jessica Irwin: I plan to have dated records scanned into an online database to increase your ability to access them. Many of the County Clerks Offices across the state offer access to these kinds of scanned and preserved documents for a small subscription fee. This appears to be one of the most user friendly and cost effective ways to give people immediate access to complete versions of dated records. As technology continues its march forward, it would be my job as your county clerk to ensure that our records keeping and distribution systems are always user friendly and implemented at a minimal cost to the tax payer.
Denise DeLara: We need to exercise careful quality control when scanning older documents, as they need to be preserved for the future. We also need to implement the E- Recording system which is the program that allows title companies to send files electronically, as we already have the capability, which needs to be implemented. We need to also have records more readily accessible online. I also would like to have Commissioner Court Minutes available in a timely manner. I will host round table discussions with title companies, judges, attorneys and department heads to work together to become more efficient and implement new processes.
3. What experience do you have handling confidential information?
Krystal Valdez: As a Deputy Clerk in the County Clerk's Office there are many records that are considered confidential. While working in the Vital Statistics Department I issued Birth and Death Certificates. Birth records are closed for 75 years and Death records are closed for 25 years making it extremely important that those records are only issued to qualified applicants and never accessible to the public. As the Civil Desk Clerk, I handled Non-Disclosures and followed each step carefully to make sure that all records were properly sealed. As Chief Administrator for County Court at Law 1, I am in constant access to confidential information relating to Mental Health, CPS and Adoption cases ensuring they are taken care of properly while in our office.
Jessica Irwin: As an Agriculture Educator I have extensive experience protecting confidential records in accordance with numerous state laws. These documents include transcripts, grade reports, 504 documentation, and other personal records.
Denise DeLara: In my current role on a daily basis I am responsible for medical records, which require adherence to strict HIPPA guidelines. HIPPA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a US law designed to provide privacy standards to protect patients' medical records and other health information provided to health plans, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
4. How do you plan to make documents more accessible to the public?
Krystal Valdez: Records that are permitted to be made public should be available on the internet. Most of the records are already imaged into the County system, my plan is to make them accessible to the public through the current County Online Info Search and charging the appropriate fee per copy and payable online or through a paid subscription service.
Jessica Irwin: To meet the growing needs of our community, I want to implement systems similar to Tarrant or Denton Counties. Many of the County Clerks Offices across the state offer access to scanned and preserved documents for a small subscription fee. This appears to be one of the most user friendly and cost effective ways to give people immediate access to complete versions of documents.
Denise DeLara: I will work to ensure records are accessible according to the Government code and what can be accessed publicly via online Internet connections using any standard Internet browser or smartphone.
5. What are pros and cons to making records more accessible to the public?
Krystal Valdez: Ease of access to the records is very important especially with regard to land research and development. The pros would be the general public including title companies and attorneys’ offices would not have to travel to the Clerk's Office to obtain a document allowing them the ability to easily access it from their home or office. Additionally, if court appointed attorneys are charging for travel to retrieve a document having them available online would essentially save the taxpayers money by cutting out fees for travel to and from the Clerk's Office. I believe the only con would be that the Clerk's Office staff would have to be very diligent in ensuring that any documents that are considered public record are scanned for sensitive information before it is accepted to ensure that sensitive information is not made public.
Jessica Irwin: The primary benefit to making records more easily accessible to the public is the obvious increase in efficiency. As your County Clerk, I would love to see Ellis County citizens access the physical office as much as they wish to; but I also realize that many of our citizens would prefer to access records quickly and from their home or place of business. Having online processes for record procurement ensures you will have fast, accurate, and reliable access to the county records.
As with any new process or technology, there will be some getting used to. My goal is to implement the most user friendly online services at the lowest cost to the tax payers. Office Staff will have to be trained and our website and servers will have to be examined to make sure they can handle the online traffic.
Overall, I believe the pros out-weigh the cons by a considerable margin. The easier people can access county records, the more transparent our government can be.
Denise DeLara: Pro - Free and easy access to research and access records without having to come to the County Clerks office.
Public records provide notice to all citizens of the official actions and allow them to be informed regarding ongoing matters in the county.
Con - In today's society everyone is concerned with privacy and identity theft, as well they should be.
We need to be extremely careful and diligent with pubic accessibly while maintaining individuals right to privacy with sensitive personal information, such as social security numbers. I will work with county IT to make sure that any new computer system has efficient security measures with firewall and anti virus protection. I will also work to make sure it is compatible with all devices and standard Internet browsers.