Wood County Clerk race: Meet the candidates

WTAP News @ 11
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 11:46 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - The Wood County Clerk race is up on the ballot. Mark Rhodes is retiring, leaving the spot open for either Republican Joe Gonzales or Democrat J.R. Carpenter.

WTAP talked to both candidates about what they’d bring to the table.

The county clerk has many responsibilities but a lot of people don’t know what they actually do.

It’s something Gonzales has run into on the campaign trail.

“..., while I’ve been campaigning, I’ve run into that. I have so many people ask me on a daily basis, what does a county clerk do?” he said.

To keep it short, they run elections and manage records like deeds, birth records, death records, and more.

Carpenter said they also facilitate tax money coming in from the sheriff’s office and county commissioners.

“We’re the checks and balance of tax monies coming into the county. Neither one of those bodies have the authority to write checks out. They have to come to the county clerk’s office,” he explained.

Carpenter added that they administer civil service exams and physical tests for law enforcement too.

If Gonzales wins the position, he said he wants to make sure the public is educated on the election process.

“..., I think our elections are very secure and, you know, we need to focus on that and make the public comfortable and, you know, even if it’s bringing them in to look at our election machines and how they work to show them that, you know, they are secure…,” he said.

Gonzales hopes that measures like that would increase the public’s confidence in elections.

Carpenter also vouched that elections in Wood County are safe and secure, adding that, if he needed to drive voting data to Charleston himself in order to make people feel more confident in the election’s integrity, he’d do it.

If Carpenter wins, he said he’d focus on getting more records online for people in the real estate business.

He’d also make the office’s services more efficient.

“I want people not to dread coming to the clerk’s office like they do other government agencies,” he said.

Carpenter said he’d work on voter outreach too, giving the public easier access to registration.

“We also have many that are not registered and that maybe don’t have the time to come in so I’m planning on investing more time into going to functions throughout the county and setting up booths to make it easier and more accessible to sign up to vote and answer any questions about the process,” he explained.

While there is no incumbent in this race, both candidates point to their background as to why they’re qualified for office.

Gonzales said, “..., with my background in business, law enforcement, oil and gas, and real estate - it brings a lot of years of service and knowledge to the clerk’s office.”

Gonzales said he worked for the Parkersburg Police Department for 25 years in a variety of positions. He’s also worked in the Wood County Sheriff’s Department’s intelligence unit and graduated from the FBI National Academy. The FBI’s website describes the academy as a professional course for U.S. and international law enforcement managers who were nominated by their agencies because of their leadership skills. It is not just for FBI agents.

Gonzales also reported working for an oil and gas company, in which he worked for the land department. For that position, he worked in court houses, which he said taught him a lot about county clerk offices.

Gonzales said he’s also a licensed realtor and has run a small local business for the last eight years.

When it comes to education, Gonzales said he majored in criminal justice.

When highlighting his background, Carpenter pointed out his extensive management experience.

“I’ve managed facilities with as many as 300 drivers. When I was here locally, I had 76 drivers and office staff. This office has a staff of 15 and a budget of around $1.4 million,” he said.

Carpenter also pointed to his experience with budgets since he’s been on city council for a decade. He said that, if he wins, he will resign from city council.

Carpenter reported working in management and supervisory positions throughout his professional career.

He also owns a local business.

“I’m still all about customer service. Everything I have done is for customers,” he said, adding that this background would help “facilitate people’s participation in the office.”

When it comes to education, Carpenter said he majored in management and minored in finance.

Carpenter added that, if he wins, he’ll shadow Rhodes until he leaves office in order to ensure a smooth transition.

Both candidates applauded retiring Mark Rhodes’ and his staff’s work.

WTAP spoke to Rhodes to clarify what exactly goes into leading an election. He said it includes recruiting and training poll workers, operating polling stations, managing voting records, managing candidates’ financial filings, double-checking ballots, counting votes, and double-checking voter registration.

Election day is November 8th.