The race for Register of Wills has turned into a contest of wills and ideologues, of tried experience vs. technological innovation.
Kay K. Hartleb, the Democrat incumbent running for a second term, insists that "someone cannot simply come in and decide how the office should be run. The register must be familiar with all the probate rules and laws. And they are extensive."
William A. Thies Jr., 31, her Republican opponent disagrees.
"Kay brought experience but she didn't bring an attitude of what's new in the marketplace. That stifles objectivity and pushes an office into a rut, of doing things for years the same way."
The Register of Wills serves four years and settles the estates of the deceased who have assets in their own names; collects inheritance taxes; and handles legal heir transfers, guardianships of property of minor children, and the overturning of a will. The job pays $40,000 a year.
Hartleb, 54, was elected as register after working in the office for nine years. Since then she has taken evening college classes in state administration and attended numerous seminars on interstate laws in an effort to keep up with all the changing statutes.
Last spring, legislative auditors who examine the register's records every two years gave her office a perfect audit.
Hartleb is also proud of her office's service to the community. "When someone comes in to our office, we try to make it as simple as possible for them. Many times they don't need an attorney because we guide them through step by step. It's a stressful time and I know we deal with them in a compassionate way."
Thies has praise for Hartleb's office but worries about its ability to keep up with the county's rapid growth.
"I don't see Kay planning for it. More volume of information is going to come through but they, like other government offices, don't see an impending problem."
Thies believes the office will run more efficiently if someone from the outside is brought in. "I found that people in government will do what they have to do to get the job done. In the private sector you try to get the job done in the most efficient way."
Thies said he would draw on his experience as systems analyst for Chaselle Inc. of Columbia and implement a more cost effective way of operation.
"In my work I try to bring the departments into a more technologically current status and cost cutting," said Thies. "I think I could do that exact thing in the register's office, having experience at working with large amounts of documents and money."
Thies would like to introduce computers to the office gradually before the office becomes overwhelmed.
Hartleb argues that as a state agency, her office cannot make such decisions without the approval of the Comptroller of the Treasury's office.
"The register can't come in and say this should be done and that should be done. He cannot and I cannot," said Hartleb.
Hartleb explains that although the office wanted computers for years it will not get any for at least another year and a half when the comptroller's office computerizes registers' offices throughout the state.
Thies argues that since the operating budget set up by the comptroller's office is paid through inheritance tax, some of that should come back into the county.
"I wouldn't sit back. I would raise a stink if I thought something was needed sooner," said Thies.