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Circuit Court incumbent faces a challenger

Candidates for Washington County Circuit Court Clerk are offering experienced leadership versus a call for change.
Incumbent Karen Guinn, running for her fourth term, has worked in the court system since 1974. Prior to being elected Circuit Court clerk, she served as the office’s chief deputy for 20 years.
“I do love my job,” she said. “The law is very interesting and challenging, and I enjoy working with the public, the court employees and the different agencies.”
Guinn said her tenure as clerk has been marked by progressive upgrading of services, systems and conservative fiscal management. She has upgraded all computer systems in the office and has implemented a scanning system that will scan all court minutes, saving money and storage.
Credit and debit card payments have been set up at the window and online to make it easier for the public to make payments.
In addition, she has set up an in-house collection department that has brought in more than $2 million in outstanding fines and court costs. The office handles almost $10 million annually in fees, payments and other collections.
In addition to keeping up with the laws as fast as they change, Guinn works with seven judges, supervises 38 employees and manages combined budgets of more than $2 million.
“We also have reports going everywhere, which is another reason to keep up with technology,” she said.
Guinn’s office is working with others in the county in search of a new computer vendor to make additional improvements to the system that will allow them to better serve the public.
“I am a working clerk and a good steward of the taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Challenger Suzan Sell Mitchell believes it’s time to move the Circuit Court Clerk’s office forward. “I’m running on the idea of a new vision,” she said.
Mitchell worked in the Washington County Juvenile Court system for almost 23 years, serving as a probation officer before being appointed Juvenile Court director in 1990.
After leaving in 2007 to start her own business, she began volunteering with Foundations for Life Principles in Johnson City, which she now serves as director of the Moral Kombat program.
“I have a passion for the judicial system, and my heart has always been with the courts,” she said of her motivation to run for public office.
During her years in Juvenile Court, Mitchell said she worked with judges, supervised employees and oversaw the budget. “It was on a much smaller scale than Circuit Court, but I know I could do it,” she said.
Technology is the key to better service, according to Mitchell.
“I would like to greatly improve online access for attorneys and law enforcement officers so they aren’t standing in line for paperwork, which would, in turn, free up the clerks,” she said. “Collaboration and communication with everyone who uses the court is very important.”