Experience at issue in court clerk's race

October 28, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

The Democratic candidate for clerk of Howard County Circuit Court contends that the Republican incumbent does not have the experience to manage the office, even after four years at the post.

But Margaret Duly Rappaport charges that her challenger has no administrative or supervisory skills to oversee one of the busiest offices in the county courthouse.

The experience issue is one of several dividing points between Mrs. Rappaport and Leslie Jean Cale of Ellicott City in the race for clerk.

Mrs. Rappaport said she does not see any similarities between her and Ms. Cale. Ms. Cale could not offer much more: "We have strong personalities," she said. "That's about where the similarity ends."

But ask either candidate about their differences and you will get an earful. They disagree over how the clerk's office should be managed and what issues face the office.

The clerk oversees 34 employees in an office that processes civil filings and criminal cases, issues a variety of permits and licenses, manages deeds and land records, and conducts courthouse weddings.

The position pays $54,375 a year.

Mrs. Rappaport, 59, was elected clerk in 1990 after serving four years as an Orphan's Court judge. She upset 22-year Democratic incumbent C. Merritt Pumphrey, receiving more votes than any other candidate for a county office.

The Ellicott City resident is married to Paul Rappaport, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.

Ms. Cale, 36, is a courtroom reporter for Judge James Dudley. She has worked in the judicial system for 17 years, with jobs as a secretary-reporter for the Master in Chancery and as a legal secretary for two law firms.

Ms. Cale and Mrs. Rappaport acknowledge that they have opposing philosophies when it comes to management styles.

Mrs. Rappaport said she's an administrator who delegates daily management decisions to her deputies and supervisors. Ms. Cale said she intends to be a hands-on manager who will make decisions on routine operations.

Ms. Cale said one reason why she's running for the post is that she wants to improve morale among employees at the clerk's office.

She said many workers suffer from stress because of Mrs. Rappaport's management style.

Mrs. Rappaport dismisses that issue. She noted that only a few employees have resigned, retired or been fired during her administration.

She acknowledged, however, that some employees may be unhappy with her decisions.

"To run an efficient office, you're not the most popular, but I feel like I'm fair and respectful," Mrs. Rappaport said.

"You're not going to please everyone."

Ms. Cale contended that Mrs. Rappaport can do very few of the jobs in the clerk's office.

"When she came into this job, she didn't know anything [about the office]," Ms. Cale said. "She's had to play catch-up. I still know more than she does."

Ms. Cale said that, if she's elected, she will work in each of the office's departments so she can learn how to do the jobs of the employees, in case she's needed to fill in for ill or vacationing workers.

She said this will help her determine if any changes need to be made in the office's operations.

But Mrs. Rappaport said it isn't necessary for her to know how to do every job in the clerk's office because most employees have been trained to perform different duties in several departments.

Mrs. Rappaport questioned the wisdom of Ms. Cale's plans to have a key role in the daily operations of the office.

She said it's important for the clerk to focus on administrative issues, such as budgets and personnel matters.

"If she's out there, what is she going to do in here," asked Mrs. Rappaport, pointing to her desk. "This is the most important thing."

Mrs. Rappaport contended that Ms. Cale is the one who does not have the experience to manage the clerk's office. The incumbent touted her experience as a teacher and businesswoman, positions in which she had to regularly supervise others.

Ms. Cale acknowledged that she has had little experience overseeing employees, but she said she doesn't think this will affect her administration if she's elected.

Ms. Cale contends that Mrs. Rappaport is using the clerk's office as a steppingstone to other political positions. "This isn't her life's work, where it is for me," she said. "This is all I care about."

But Mrs. Rappaport vowed that if she's re-elected, she will give all her attention to the clerk's office. Even if her husband is elected lieutenant governor, she said, she would not leave her job for a state post.

"I don't look at this job like a steppingstone," she said. "I love it. I've given everything to the people that I can give them."

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