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Grievance adds sparks to county clerk race

The county clerk’s race will be a heated one as incumbent Kathy Storey is challenged by a former deputy seeking to fulfill a grievance related to her firing less than a year ago.
“I could have filed for wrongful termination, but I didn’t want to sue Washington County citizens,” Sheila Haren said. “I felt this was a better option.”
Haren had been a county employee for more than 36 years, 30 of them spent working with Storey, when she was let go in August 2013.
“She said I was not meeting her expectations, but she had never said a word to me,” Haren recalls. “It was a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. after a busy day, and I had to pack up my stuff in front of everyone while she had the lawyer waiting outside.”
Storey remembers it differently. “I called her in my office with my chief deputy, shut the door and gave her (an official) letter,” Storey said. “Insubordination was the main reason, and her firing was for the betterment of working conditions in the office.”
Haren, who was one of five candidates for county clerk during the 2010 election, said she had no intention of getting into politics again. “I was hoping someone else would run because I’m unemployed and would prefer not to spend my savings, but I’m not going to give her a free ride through this election.”
According to Haren, her long tenure with the county has prepared her for the role. “I know every aspect of the office, and I would be a lot better manager,” she said. “My employees would know their expectations.”
If elected, improving customer service would be one of her first goals. “Some of the girls act like they don’t see (the customer), or that they are a bother, but that would change,” Haren said. “I would make it a more friendly atmosphere.”
Keeping up with technology to make things more convenient for the public, and improving the preparation of the minutes from the county commission meetings are additional goals. “The county minutes are a mess, and I would make them more efficient,” she said, referring to one of the responsibilities of the county clerk.
Though Haren is receiving retirement from her earlier stint with the county and working on her farm, she is willing to return to full-time employment if it would mean beating Storey.
“I do want the office, but I am trying to fulfill a grievance with her,” she said.
Storey chose to not comment on Haren’s candidacy, preferring to focus on her goals if elected for a second term.
Continuing to improve the efficiency of services would be a priority. Since taking office, Storey has led the implementation of online options for license tag renewal and marriage license applications. In addition, a new Johnson City office on Marketplace Boulevard was opened when the Downtown Centre was sold.
Issuing birth certificates and temporary operating permits for motor vehicles purchased from another state are a couple of new ideas she is considering.
One service of the county clerk that had not been provided, at least by the two officials preceding Storey, is officiating weddings. “Some surrounding counties were doing it, and I thought, why not?”
Since being elected in 2010, she has married 674 couples, with one of the more interesting nuptials taking place on Halloween.
Storey has conducted services in backyards, on a boat dock, at the gazebo behind the International Storytelling Center and in the commission chambers in the downtown courthouse.
“I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy that,” she said.
Storey joined the county clerk staff in 1981, and says her knowledge of the office, in addition to her degree in business management and experience with a public accounting firm, make her the right person for the role.
“I love my job,” she said. “I have a compassion to help people.”
Early voting for the Washington County Republican Primary begins Wednesday, April 16.