A candidate for Pasco Circuit Court clerk says, if elected, she wants to cut spending in that constitutional office. She doesn't need to; the state Legislature already did and the strong response from incumbent Paula O'Neil is one of the reasons she merits re-election.
O'Neil, 56, is completing her first term as Pasco's circuit court clerk and comptroller and has worked to ensure her office excels, even after absorbing a $3 million budget reduction and the elimination of nearly 115 jobs from the payroll.
O'Neil, who completed her doctorate degree in applied management and decision sciences since her election four years ago, isn't satisfied with a status quo. Besides maintaining duties of court clerk, county treasurer, recorder, auditor, finance officer and clerk to the County Commission, O'Neil has embarked on an overdue and several-yearlong project to modernize the antiquated computerized court case information system that dates to 1977. Replacing that Disco-era relic, shared by law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, judges and the clerk, is indicative of O'Neil's quest to improve service to the public. It also shows her collaborative style and even temperament have erased the strained working relationship that prevailed between her predecessor and some of the county's other elected officials.
But O'Neil is also a welcome influence at the Government Center, beyond official duties. When she sees an injustice, she speaks out and advocates on behalf of the community, those in need and her own staff. Last year, she encouraged Pasco commissioners to invest in community mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment after some board members were reluctant to apply for a grant to serve the chronically homeless. Likewise, in a recent interview, she lamented "the lack of appreciation on the state level for what government does.''
That is leadership, something O'Neil admits wasn't her first calling. She said she always saw herself more suited to be an organization's No. 2 person, but after six years with the clerk's office — first as strategic planner and later as chief deputy — O'Neil emerged as the logical successor to retiring eight-term clerk Jed Pittman. Voters concurred in 2008 and O'Neil now is seeking re-election.
Her opponent, Roberta Cutting, 53, is not a credible candidate. Cutting — both her name and her aim, she says — formerly operated a home day care center and later trained as a paralegal. She is basing her no-party candidacy on vengeance and a conspiratorial theory blaming O'Neil's office for a rescinded volunteer internship and what she has dubbed a sabotaged private-sector job opportunity. Spite makes a poor reason to seek elected public office and voters should disregard her vitriol
The Tampa Bay Times strongly recommends voters re-elect incumbent Republican Paula O'Neil to another term as Pasco clerk of the circuit court.
Opportunity to reply
The Times offers candidates not recommend by its editorial board an opportunity to respond. Replies should be sent by 5 p.m. Monday to C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668. By fax to 727-869-6233 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Replies are limited to 150 words.