Democratic incumbent Maryellen O’Shaughnessy, who is seeking a fourth term as Franklin County clerk of courts, is being challenged by Republican Jarrod Golden, in his first race for elected office.
The matchup is one of five nonjudicial countywide offices to be decided by voters on Nov. 3. (The other contested races are for prosecutor, treasurer and two county commissioner seats). Several other Franklin County incumbents, including Recorder Danny O’Connor, Sheriff Dallas Baldwin and Coroner Anahi Ortiz (all Democrats) and Engineer Cornell Robertson (a Republican) are unopposed.
The clerk of county common pleas court earns a salary of about $92,000, a rate that’s set in state law. In Franklin County, the office has nine separate locations and about 200 deputy clerks.
O’Shaughnessy, 70, of the West Side, served three terms on Columbus City Council before her election as clerk of courts in 2008.
She said one of her first orders of business was to improve customer service at the clerk’s auto titling, court and other offices. Lobbies were revamped, as was work flow, quickening processing times and reducing the stacks of paperwork that used to accumulate.
Legal documents, which sometimes took days to process, are now filed in an average of about 4 hours, O’Shaughnessy said. And during the coronavirus pandemic, auto title offices have shifted to an appointment-only setup, meaning no wait time for customers.
O’Shaughnessy also pushed to increase the number of auto titles handled within the county — vehicle titles can be processed anywhere, with a portion of the costs paid by owners remaining with their county clerk of choice.
She said she worked with city and county fleet managers, car dealers and others to ensure more local titling, boosting the county’s coffers in the process.
In 2007, the clerk’s office collected nearly $4.4 million in administration funds through in-county titling. Last year, that number was closer to $7.6 million. And since 2011, the clerk’s office has deposited about $10 million of those funds in the county’s general fund.
The clerk of courts and other offices are in the early stages of a multiyear upgrade of case management systems, replacing an existing 30-plus-year-old system with a new one that will allow the courts, clerk, prosecutor, sheriff, public defender and other offices to exchange data in real time.
It’s a “huge project” and an update that’s long overdue and further evidence of the rapidly changing technologies used by the clerk’s office to provide better public and justice system access to information, O’Shaughnessy said.
Golden, 37, who lives in Westerville but who has spent most of his life in Franklinton, called himself a regular guy who just wants to make things better.
“I just wanted to find a way to actually give back,” he said. “… I’m not looking for a career in politics.”
For more than a decade he’s served in the Ohio Military Reserve, which provides support during disasters. As part of efforts to assist vulnerable residents during the pandemic, his unit was deployed to help with food distribution and to provide other support.
Among other ideas, Golden said if elected he would continue efforts to update and improve information technology systems used by the clerk’s office, but he said he would try to hire more local businesses to handle the work. He said he’d rather see surplus title administration fees go to efforts to counter drug addiction than into the county’s general fund.
Additionally, Golden said he would work to establish a better system for informing residents who are owed money following foreclosures on their properties. The notices are required under state law when sheriff’s sales on foreclosed properties result in at least $100 in surpluses.
The Dispatch reported last year that Franklin County was the lone large Ohio county not sending certified letters to foreclosed homeowners in such instances.
O’Shaughnessy said at the time that her office hadn’t been sending the notices because common pleas judges hadn’t ordered them. She said it was an issue she was working on before The Dispatch coverage, and systems have since been updated to ensure that notices are sent via certified and regular mail and posted online as part of efforts to contact foreclosed property owners.