Political newcomer challenges incumbent in Houston State Court clerk race

bpurser@macon.comApril 26, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- In the race for Houston County State Court clerk, a political newcomer is seeking to unseat the appointed incumbent in the May 20 Republican primary.

No Democrats are on the November general election ballot, so the winner of the primary will take the seat.

Kendra Simons, 37, the incumbent, was appointed in October 2011 by the governor to fill a vacancy when the prior state court clerk retired before finishing a term. Simons said her experience makes her the best qualified for the job, having worked in state court for many years.

She first served as a secretary for the prior state court judge from 2000 to about 2004 and then as deputy state court clerk until her appointment as state court clerk, she said.

Alyson “Aly” Stuckart, 30, a former victim’s advocate for Hodac, is challenging Simons. She said she is a perfect fit for the post with her experience helping crime victims. Stuckart served as a victim’s advocate for Houston County State Court, which is under contract with Hodac to provide those services, she said.

Stuckart, who is now enrolled in graduate school, said she left the job when her husband was deployed to take care of their children. He has since returned.

Stuckart has raised questions about Simons’ handling of the partisan post, including an extended absence from the job. Simons said she was off for about three months because of a Nov. 18 neck surgery that turned out to be more extensive than expected.

Stuckart questioned whether Simons had taken medical or some other form of leave. As an elected official, Simons said she wasn’t required to take leave and continued to receive her regular paycheck while out. Ken Carter, the county’s personnel director, confirmed elected officials are paid their regular salary when out of work due to medical issues.

The post’s annual salary is $61,300 plus benefits.

Simons said she has not been released by her doctor to return to work full time but is now averaging six to seven hours a day.

Stuckart also questioned the fact that Simons has been campaigning during regular business hours. Simons said she didn’t think there was anything wrong with that, adding that serving as state court clerk is an all-the-time job. She said it’s not uncommon for her to take calls after regular business hours from law enforcement officers requesting information.

Stuckart also questioned the absence of the publication of second drunken driving offenses in the county’s legal organ as required by state law. She said the required notices were not published in 2012 or 2013.

Simons acknowledged the “oversight” and said the problem has since been corrected, and the publications have resumed.

She said the $25 collected from each defendant for the publication fee in 2012 and 2013 remains in the county’s general fund. Simons said she’s now in the process of determining what names should have been published and what needs to be done to correct the situation related to the unpublished names.

Stuckart also questioned the handling of bond forfeitures by the state court clerk’s office. Stuckart said she found 242 failure to appear warrants issued in 2012 and 372 in 2013. But she found no bond forfeiture letters issued in state court traffic and criminal cases for 2012 and only 19 in 2013. However, Stuckart said she was not able to ferret out how many forfeitures were actually issued or how many should have been issued but were not.

Simons said bond forfeitures are being handled correctly, and Stuckart’s data did not include the bond forfeiture letters on a computer program that only she and her deputy clerk access, which would make Stuckart’s numbers off.

Also, those who forfeit a bond have an opportunity to rectify the problem, Simons said. She said the process is complicated.

Nonetheless, Simons said she did not think there were any forfeitures in 2012, said she did not know how many may have been issued in 2013 and would have to check.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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