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Pasco clerk of court candidates tout their resumes

The job of the clerk of the court is whatever judges and legislators say it is.

The clerk is charged with sorting and guarding the millions of records of Pasco County and its residents. But the clerk doesn't decide such things as what's public record or what fees to charge. Judges and lawmakers do that.

The clerk has more responsibility than power.

So why would Paula O'Neil and Dan Tipton want this job?

O'Neil, 51, is the chief deputy clerk. She's a political neophyte who touts her experience from 21 years spent inside the Pasco government system.

Tipton, 56, is a two-term mayor of New Port Richey and a longtime local businessman. He's a veteran politician who touts his experience outside of the government bureaucracy.

Both are running in the Republican primary for Pasco clerk of the circuit court. Here's why:

Paula O'Neil

O'Neil is a divorced mother of two whose career in public service started when she worked for the Air Force in Charleston, S.C., and for the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.

In 1987 she came to work for Pasco County government, starting as a parks manager. She moved to community services in 1993.

In 2002, she got a call from Clerk of the Court Jed Pittman. Soon she was his strategic planner.

"He said he admired how I handled myself in front of the board and he liked my character," O'Neil said. "He thought I would be a good addition."

Then Pittman announced in 2006 that he wouldn't seek re-election after this, his 32nd and last year in office. Who would succeed him? It was a question, O'Neil said, everyone at the clerk's office wanted to know.

O'Neil said she kept hearing another question: Why doesn't she run for the top spot? She had ushered in many of the recent technological changes in the office. But she had never run for political office.

"I have never run before," O'Neil said. "I've seen people run. I knew it would take up a lot of time, but I've always been a hard worker. I thought, 'I can do it.' "

O'Neil's case for herself is her resume, her years spent in government, and as the day-to-day manager of the very office she's running for.

"Nobody understands the clerk's office better than someone who's been there," she said. "It's like parenting. It's easy to say how it should be done, until you become a parent."

Dan Tipton

Tipton, a married father of two, has lived in Pasco County for 46 years. He has owned and operated Dan Tipton Interiors in New Port Richey for 38 years. He has been with West Pasco Little League for 35 years.

But he's not afraid of change.

That's why, Tipton said, he ran for mayor of New Port Richey. He served two terms from 2004 to this year.

"When I went to City Hall to try and do some business," Tipton said, "it was pretty unfriendly as far as the building and development department.

"The talk about town was when a general contractor or a builder came and wanted to do any work with the city they had a hard time getting any permits pulled. They really and truly discouraged people from this in the city."

Tipton ran for office to change that. Now he says it's time for another change — in the clerk's office.

For years, Tipton said, he's heard complaints about the clerk's interface with the public from the legal community. His pet peeve is the automated phone system.

Tipton, who twice ran unsuccessfully for County Commission, also mulled seeking another elected office.

So he decided to run for clerk, and run on his record in the private sector for the public job.

But Tipton isn't just running against O'Neil. He's also running against her boss, Jed Pittman.

The incumbent clerk of the court told the St. Petersburg Times this year that his failing health has kept him from showing up for work regularly but hasn't kept him from performing his duties.

Pittman called himself "handicapped" but said there was no need for him to retire early.

"I thought there needed to be a change after someone who had been there for almost 32 years," Tipton said. "I thought there needed to be a change in the office."

"I thought my expertise would be good for that particular job, my knowledge of customer service and being in business, the leadership qualities needed to move the clerk's office forward.

"I'm known to make changes in whatever I get involved with. I'm willing to work hard. I don't mind rolling up my sleeves and getting in the pits and doing whatever needs to be done right."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco clerk of court candidates tout their resumes 08/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 22, 2008 3:09pm]
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