A quiet contest of wills CAMPAIGN 1994

October 11, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

The race for Howard County register of wills features no fierce politicking, no mudslinging and no issues dividing the Democratic incumbent and her Republican challenger.

But that doesn't mean the two candidates are downplaying the job's importance.

The register of wills -- with an office in the county's Circuit Courthouse -- manages about 400 wills a year.

It also collects more than a million dollars in state inheritance taxes annually and resolves estates worth as much as $20 million.

In the race, Democrat Kay Hartleb, 58, of Ellicott City is being challenged by Republican Catherine Walters, a 39-year-old Columbia resident and former Orphan's Court judge.

The candidates said they're deliberately waging low-key campaigns, leaving it up to the voters to decide who should manage an office that handles the county's probate cases.

Both candidates said that, if elected, they would carry out their duties with sensitivity to residents, who often have a difficult time sorting out the estates of a deceased relative.

Mrs. Hartleb, who worked as a clerk in the register of wills office for nine years before being elected to the post in 1986, said her experience makes her the best candidate.

"I have a proven record," Mrs. Hartleb said.

"I love the job. I want to continue serving the people of Howard County."

Mrs. Walters acknowledged that Mrs. Hartleb's experience will be difficult for her to top in the election.

Mrs. Walters was elected to the Republican Central Committee in 1986 and then as an Orphan's Court judge in 1990.

She resigned from the position in May to run for register.

An office manager at an Ellicott City dental practice, Mrs. Walters said GOP officials asked her to run to provide voters with a Republican alternative to Mrs. Hartleb.

The candidate said her experience in office management and on the Orphan's Court provide her with a solid basis to serve as register of wills.

"I'm organized," she said.

"I've been in office management. I have a background in the Orphan's Court. I work well with people. I'm fair, open . . . and I'm a Republican."

During the last several weeks, Mrs. Walters has been waving signs, passing out brochures and going door-to-door to meet voters.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hartleb has been attending community events, distributing brochures, advertising in newspapers and placing yard signs across the county.

Mrs. Hartleb said she has spent much of the campaign educating voters on the duties of the register of wills to try to interest them more in the election.

"A lot of people just skip it," Mrs. Hartleb said.

"They don't know anything about the register of wills. But if you have a death in the family, it could become the most important office in the county to you."

Duties of the office include appointing guardians for youths who receive property in wills.

The office also presents cases to the three Orphan's Court judges, who meet once a week to resolve contested wills and approve estate settlements.

The candidates said there are no issues facing the register of wills office in this election because the agency's procedures are regulated by the state government.

Neither Mrs. Walters nor Mrs. Hartleb said they expect to bring many changes to the office in the next four-year term.

Rather, they said, they intend to provide services properly and efficiently.

Mrs. Hartleb and her husband, William Hartleb, live in the Normandy Heights section of Ellicott City.

The couple has three children.

Mrs. Walters and her husband, Joe Walters, live in Columbia's Hickory Ridge village.

She has an 18-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

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